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  • Writer's picturePat Melgares

Joe I. Vigil and the Goddess of Wisdom

I’ve told people a few times that in kicking off research for the book, Chasing Excellence: The Remarkable Life and Inspiring Vigilosophy of Coach Joe I. Vigil, that I took a trip to mecca – Coach’s house in Green Valley, Arizona.

It was just a few days after his 89th birthday, late November 2018, when I arrived at the Tucson airport. Coach picked me up and we made the approximately 25 mile drive south down Interstate 19 to Green Valley.

For the next three days, we talked….and talked. I conducted 16 interviews with Coach while we drove about town, sat around the house, watched football, watered flowers, swam laps in the community pool, ate breakfast, went grocery shopping and more. All told, I recorded about 11 hours of unfiltered Vigil.

My favorite moment, however, was one that was stoked by curiosity.

We all have heard the stories about Coach’s insatiable appetite for knowledge, so much so that to get his studying done each day, he has pulled himself out of bed at 4 o’clock in the morning for more than six decades.

Still, the skeptic in me always wondered whether the stories were true. 4 a.m. – really? Maybe it was 5 a.m., or 5:30 – that’s still pretty early, you know. And, he’s a little older now.

So, the morning after the first night that I stayed at Coach’s house, I rolled over just a couple minutes before 4:30, checked my phone, and realized…this is my chance!

My room was just on the other side of the wall from Coach’s office. I sat up in bed, and stretched my ears. Nothing. Aha, he’s not there…he must be tired, or maybe the stories aren’t true.

I got out of bed, walked down the hall and turned the corner to see…Coach Vigil, books strewn about his desk, lamp on, fully dressed for the day.

“Yeah,” I thought, “you gotta get up pretty early to get one on Coach Vigil.”

“Good morning, you sack rat!” Vigil tells me. Sack rat is his term for someone who sleeps in too late. He laughs. What could I do? I laughed, too.

“You want some coffee?”

So, I pretend to make myself busy while I drink a cup of coffee, leaving him to do his reading. I figured I would go for a run, but it’s still dark out. Another hour and I’ll get out there; after being called a sack rat once, I sure as heck am not going back to bed.

I was not the first, by any means, to be put in my place by Coach Vigil. Five-time Adams State All American Tom White tells a similar story from nearly 40 years earlier.

“In 1980, Mike Maguire graduated from Adams State and he was moving back to Nebraska,” White said. “The day before he’s leaving, he calls me up and says, ‘Tommy, I want to find out if Coach really does get up at 4 a.m. I’ve got to leave really early in the morning; let’s go for a run and let’s stop by Coach’s house.”

“So Mike and I get up at 3:30 in the morning, and we go for a run, and we get to Coach’s house. We walk up to his front door, and we are afraid to push the doorbell – we don’t want to wake Caroline (Vigil’s wife) up – but we push the doorbell. Nothing happens. We push the doorbell again, nothing happens. And we’re thinking, I guess it’s not true. We turn around and we’re walking away. All of a sudden, the door just flies open. There’s Coach. He’s all dressed. He says: ‘Hey boys! I didn’t hear you. Come on in. Come have some coffee.’ He’s got a pot of hot coffee. In his office, his books are all open on his desk. So we come in and we drink coffee. And we’re thinking, ‘Yeah, it’s true.’”

In 2008, Vigil was interviewed for a documentary on the York High School cross country team, coached by his great friend and legendary coach Joe Newton. In a trailer for that documentary, Vigil talks about his lifelong pursuit of knowledge, telling the story of the two goddesses in your heart – the Goddess of Wisdom and the Goddess of Wealth.

It’s riveting stuff. Below is the transcription from the 43-second clip, followed by the video trailer:

“We have a narcissistic culture. Everybody is concerned about themselves individually, and what they’re going to gain out of something materialistically.

You don’t chase money.

There are two goddesses in your heart: The Goddess of Wisdom and the Goddess of Wealth.

What people have to understand is that they have to give all their attention to the Goddess of Wisdom, love her and cherish her, and give her all of your time and attention.

And the more you do that, the more jealous the Goddess of Wealth will become…and follow you.”

Coach Vigil has shared that parable many times over the years. I recently asked him to expand on what he means. Here’s what he told me:

“A lot of people get into things to make money. People ought to spend more time learning about their profession; you know, spend their lifetime studying what you need to know to be better. I don’t care if it’s medicine, education, law, journalism…if you do a good job, you will earn enough money to do what you want to do.

“I’ve traveled the world over and I’m not a wealthy guy, but I’ve been able to do that because of what I know. People think I have money to do all this traveling, but it’s being paid by others who bring me in to tell them what I’ve learned.”

That doesn’t happen by chance. In Vigil’s case, it starts at 4 o’clock in the morning. I can vouch for that.


Chasing Excellence: The Remarkable Life and Inspiring Vigilosophy of Coach Joe I. Vigil is available for $19.95 from Soulstice Publishing of Flagstaff, Arizona, A portion of the proceeds from this book is being donated to the Adams State College foundation to build the Joe I. Vigil Scholarship fund for cross country and track and field athletes.

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