Alex Vargas has always looked up to his brother, Ramon. The two were teammates at Atwater High School when Alex was a freshman and Ramon a senior in 2013.
So one could imagine how excited Alex will be when he becomes teammates with his older brother again at Stanislaus State next fall.
Alex signed his national letter of intent to run cross country and track for Stanislaus State in front of about 200 classmates during sixth period at Atwater High on Wednesday.
“It was very important and special to me, knowing I get to compete at a higher level,” Alex said. “Especially considering the recent Atwater alumni who are at Stanislaus State with Abraham Alvarado and my brother, Ramon. Both have had success there.”
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Alex has watched Alvarado and his brother improve their 800 times significantly during their time at Stanislaus State.
“I’m very happy for him,” Atwater coach Ken Rhoades said. “It’s local, and he has a strong family connection with his brother on the team and thriving there. That’s a positive. There’s also the other runner he looks up to the most besides his brother, Abraham Alvarado, also there. They’re going to be teammates and mentors for him.”
Alex has had plenty of career highlights at Atwater. He’s a four-time all-Central California Conference runner (twice in cross country and twice in track), and he was the top runner on the 2014 cross country team that qualified for the CIF State Championships.
He’s also one of the top students in his class with a 3.87 GPA and hopes to study veterinary science at Stanislaus.
“Ever since I was a child, I’ve loved animals,” he said. “I’ve had many reptiles. I just love animals.”
While Alex’s Atwater career was filled with mostly ups, there were also some down moments, including last fall, when Alex battled anxiety attacks during cross country events. After qualifying for state as a junior, Alex put so much pressure on himself to do well his senior year it overwhelmed him during races.
“It destroyed me,” Alex said. “Knowing my senior year was so important for me, I just put so much pressure on myself. In the middle of races, my body would just shut down. My body would go cold, and I couldn’t continue the race.”
“He had one race where he didn’t finish and another where he just jogged in,” Rhoades said. “It was very real. It was hard to quantify. I hadn’t dealt with anything like that in my 17 years of coaching.
“We just had to take a step back and simplify things. We had to remind him of the time he’s put in and the amount of practice time he’s put in. We had to remind him that he’s not alone on that line. He’s part of a family and he’s part of a team.”
Alex found that meditating before races helped calm him down, and eventually the anxiety attacks stopped. The idea to meditate came from Ramon. It’s something the team does at Stanislaus before races.
“I think it was our first conference cross country meet, and I went away from everybody and meditated,” Alex said. “It helped get myself together. I was finally able to finish that race. That was a big moment for me. I was able to overcome that obstacle.”
Signing his letter of intent was the start of a big week for Alex. He hopes to make a run at Alvarado’s school record in the 800 meters at the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Championship at Elk Grove High School, which began Thursday and concludes Friday. Alex’s personal-best time of 1 minute, 55.69 seconds ranks third all-time at Atwater. Alvarado’s record is 1:54.23.
“I’m going to try to fight hard the next two days to get it,” Alex said Wednesday night. “I know there are going to be a lot of great athletes out there.”