That time Joe I. Vigil made the mayor mad...
Updated: Jul 5, 2020
In the early 1970s, Joe I. Vigil started a running class at Adams State College to encourage community members to take up running. He was especially interested in providing an opportunity for local housewives -- many of whom were raising children -- to get out and exercise for their physical and mental well-being.
Several days a week, Vigil would hold class at 10 a.m. for local moms to come run. It became so successful that soon Vigil got permission to open Adams State’s Plachy Hall fieldhouse at 6 o’clock in the morning so that local residents could come run, and then again at 6 o’clock in the evening.
Over 20 years, nearly 500 housewives participated in the class, or routinely showed up to run. Some of them would bring their children, and members of Adams State’s cross country or track and field teams would provide free babysitting.
In the book, Chasing Excellence: The Remarkable Life and Inspiring Vigilosophy of Coach Joe I. Vigil (available from Soulstice Publishing of Flagstaff, Arizona), Coach explains the reason for devoting so much time and energy to this group.
“For me, everything became running involved,” he says. “I was establishing a culture of running where people accepted it as a major thing. And that’s what I was proud of. We involved not just our athletes and our school, but also the community. Bankers, farmers…really the whole San Luis Valley.
“We’d put together indoor track and field meets and people from the community would come to see our athletes run. We’d get members of the community involved as timers, judges and other things. Some of my students were officials. My job was to involve people and help them learn about track. I used to like to tell them stories about great track performances. Kids used to like to hear stories. I was a storyteller.”
In 1974, Shirley Bervig, a mother of six, heard about the class and thought it would be a good way to lose a few pounds. She showed up to her first class one morning and saw several of the runners wearing shirts that proudly displayed, “10 Mile Club.”
She asked Vigil: “Do people actually run 10 miles without stopping?”
Vigil responded: “Sure. You’ll be doing that any minute!”
“I don’t think so,” Bervig responded.
“Have you done any running,” Vigil asked.
“No, I don’t run.”
“Well,” Vigil responded, “today is the day!”
That initial meeting spawned a great friendship between Vigil, Bervig and her husband, Farris, a successful Alamosa businessman who would later in his life become the mayor of the City of Alamosa.
In fact, after Vigil left Alamosa in 1999, the Bervig’s comfortable home on the north side of Alamosa was one of the sanctuaries he could escape to when he returned to his hometown for various running camps, reunions or other visits. Vigil was always in high demand when he came back to Alamosa, everyone wanting to talk with the popular coach and spend time with him. It all was very tiring, so when Vigil and his wife, Caroline, wanted to get away, they would show up – often unannounced – at the house of some of their closest friends.
The Bervigs were one of those.
She’d never admit it, but Shirley Bervig was a bit of a running celebrity in her hometown, which is saying something when the college just up the street from your home is a national powerhouse. Several months after beginning running, she earned her own 10 Mile Club t-shirt and set her sights on running a marathon. Coach Vigil mapped out a program for her.
She was a common sight on Alamosa’s First Street or on the city’s famous five-mile “Loop” that wound past the golf course and the local Hot Springs swimming pool before returning to town. She almost always wore her signature visor and sunglasses. Many in the town viewed Bervig as a quasi-leader of – if not a role model for -- the women’s running group in town.
In 1978, Shirley completed the United Bank Marathon in Denver in a little over four hours, finishing third in her age group. Interviewed for an article in the hometown Valley Courier, she said completing a marathon was nice, but running provided a respite from the rigors of daily life.
“Running is a natural high,” she said. “I see it as a substitute for aspirin, tranquilizers and other things that are used so often by housewives. If you could convince the average woman to set up a physical fitness program, running as an example, she would find many of her physical and mental ailments rapidly disappearing.”
In an interview for Chasing Excellence, Shirley Bervig told me: "I loved running so much and that was my therapy. When I’d get grouchy at home, the kids would say, Mom, why don’t you put your shoes on and go for a run. That’s where I memorized all my scripture, when I was on long runs. I would do chapters at a time. I would write down the verse and keep it in my pocket. And just work on it that way. I was very physically strong and healthy and happy because I was putting the right things in my brain."
Throughout the latter part of the 1970s, Vigil was running quite a bit, as well. And on days when the running class wasn’t meeting, or during semester breaks, the two friends would often run together.
Bervig would tease Vigil about his quick gait, saying his legs “looked like little egg beaters.” Vigil would tease her right back, telling her that if she could run as fast her nose, she’d be a good runner. “Or,” Bervig said, “he’d tell me, ‘Bervig, you’re a mass of corruption!”
Farris Bervig did not share his wife’s zeal for running, but he was a pretty good athlete and he was known to get out and run from time to time. Occasionally, he’d run a local race with his wife, or travel with her to races around the region.
Rarely did he train with his wife, however. So it made one particular instance all the more dicey when Vigil suggested that he up his game.
“We’d usually run about five miles,” Shirley Bervig said. “However, there was one time that Farris was going with us and Coach said we’re just going to do 10 miles; you need to get a 10 miler under your belt, Farris. You need to try that.”
“So we started at Adams State, went past the golf course, and up to Splashland (the Hot Springs swimming pool) and across Highway 17 and kept going east. After a while, I realized we were going to be doing closer to 13 or 14 miles by the time we’d get back to Adams State. By this time, Farris is really complaining. He says, ‘Coach there is no way this is going to be 10 miles…how far are we running?’
“When we got back to the golf course area, Farris is not very friendly. Farris had taken his keys with him; so when we got to the golf course, he tells me: ‘Here are the keys. I’m not stepping another step. Go get the car and come get me.’ So that’s what I did.”
“He was put out with Coach. Talk about keeping your word. That’s not keeping his word very well. Making a guy go out and run this long…”
Eventually, the hard feelings subsided and the friendship remained as strong as ever. Coach Vigil asked Shirley Bervig to give a eulogy at his mother’s funeral in 1998. About the same time, he gave her a bible that he received in 1943 for perfect attendance in Sunday school. Shirley, also devout to her religion, hung on to that bible for years until 2018 when she gave it back to Vigil.
And Farris? Ah, he got over it, and he was one of the most ardent supporters of Joe I. Vigil and the Adams State programs.
Farris and Shirley Bervig