Samuel Vazquez always knew he would be an Olympian… he just wasn’t sure when.
The twenty-eight-year-old proved his athleticism through his high-school athletic career, when he was named the Adidas High School National Champion in the mile in 2003. Vazquez was also named the All-Time Florida High School Fastest Miler with a 4:03 mile, and owns six individual Florida State Championship titles.
“My successes throughout high school showed to me that I would have a good chance to make the Beijing Olympics squad,” said the Palm Coast native.
After graduating from Flagler Palm Coast High School in 2003, Vazquez attended the University of Arkansas on an athletic scholarship where he trained under coach John McDonnell. He was a member of the 2003 NCAA National Outdoor Championship Team and an NCAA All-American in the middle distance relay.
All that ended when Vazquez failed out of school and stopped running.
“It really dampened my spirits to the point where I wasn’t sure if I wanted to run anymore,” Vazquez said. “Running was my niche, and those years of not running were very tough on me.”
It seemed like Vazquez was looking for some sort of sign that would help him on his journey back to success. But Vazquez got more than he bargained for: he found an angel.
“Meeting my wife and getting back to school was the best thing that has ever happened to be,” Vazquez said, who enrolled at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2008 to revive his athletic and academic career. “I graduated with good grades and performed at the level I was used to.”
In his three years of training under Peter Hopfe at Embry-Riddle, Vazquez became a 2011 NAIA Indoor 1000-meter Champion after posting a time of 2:24. He also became a seven-time NAIA All-American in track and cross country while competing for the Eagles and received an NAIA National Runner of the Week award.
In 2011, he ran the American Miler Series in Indianapolis, recording a 1500-meter time of 3:42. He scored an invite to the Central America and Caribbean Games in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, where he had a fourth place finish in the 1500M. At the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, Vazquez became the eighth-place finisher in the 1500-meter.
“Since graduating last summer, this year was all about training for the 2012 Olympic Games,” said Vazquez. “Every day, all I thought about was training hard to run the standard.”
In June, Vazquez ran a 3:37.60 at the American Milers Club Series in Indianapolis, which was 0.4 seconds faster than the qualifying “B” standard for the Olympics. Although he was born and raised in the United States, Vazquez grandparents are Puerto Rico natives. He will be representing La Isla del Encanto, and his grandparent’s hometown, on Puerto Rico’s track team this summer.
Although Vazquez was ready to take his running career to the next level, he wasn’t prepared to enter the real world. But once again, his own little angel came swooping down and convinced him that he was ready to handle the difficulties he was sure to encounter.
“Having to juggle bills and training, while keeping a positive attitude, was the hardest things I’ve ever done,” said Vazquez. “I didn’t want to live in poverty to chase my dream, but my wife pushed me to continue with my training. No coach, no team and no money is how I set a personal best this year to make the Puerto Rican squad for the London Olympics.”
As Vazquez prepares for his race this week at the Olympic Village in London, he knows that his family will help him “keep [his] head in the game”. Now that he’s in London, only days away from his race, Vazquez reflects on his accomplishments as an athlete and the expectations he will have to overcome to turn his talents into a career. His next goal is to get a professional contract and compete on the same level as all the other runners in the world.
Lucky for him, it seems that Vazquez will not let his newfound stardom as an Olympic contender get to his head.
“The Olympic Village is awesome – an experience I’ll never forget,” he said. “I go to the same lunch room as Usain Bolt and Kobe Bryant, and it’s not a big deal.”
Said Vazquez: “At moments I’m n awe, but for the most part I se myself as an equal because I, too, am an Olympian.”