“Chasing Excellence,” the biography of legendary Adams State University coach Joe I. Vigil, has struck gold.
“Pretty fitting, in an Olympic year, right?” said the book’s author, Pat Melgares, an Alamosa native and a four-time All-American runner for Vigil’s teams in the mid-1980s.
Vigil was born to a single mother in Antonito and attended school there, finding his niche in education and running, becoming one of the nation’s most successful and applauded coaches. The book, a biography of Vigil, was written by arguably, one of his most successful runners.
Melgares was on hand recently when the Independent Book Publishers Association announced its 2020 Ben Franklin Awards online. “Chasing Excellence” was named the gold winner in the biography category, beating out the other two finalists, which earned silver.
“It blew me away,” Melgares said. “But truly this is a great honor and I am so humbled that this book won this award. It’s really a tribute to many people who put in a lot of work, offered support or provided information or assistance during the research and writing of this story. It’s a classic ‘team’ win.”
The Independent Book Publishers Association is a not-for-profit organization serving the United States’ independent publishing industry through advocacy, education and tools for success. It is the country’s largest publishing trade organization with more than 3,600 members.
The Ben Franklin Awards program is regarded as one of the highest honors in the United States among independent publishers. The awards have been presented for more than 30 years. This year’s program included 1,763 entries in 56 categories.
Melgares said he was contacted about one month ago with the news that “Chasing Excellence” was selected as a finalist in this year’s contest. That meant that the book had made the cut to the final three in the biography category; one finalist would be named the gold winner, while the other two finalists would be awarded silver.
“The awards program was held online, which made it possible to see the announcement live,” Melgares said. “It’s really kind of nerve-wracking, even though it was an honor simply to be named a finalist. When our book cover came up as the winner, I was ecstatic, but immediately I thought about how happy coach Vigil would be to hear the news.”
Vigil coached at Adams State from 1965 to 1993, winning 19 national team championships. He is often called the grandfather of the most successful sports program in the United States; since 1971 — 51 years — Adams State has won 56 national championships, most of those in cross country and track and field.
“But ‘Chasing Excellence’ is not just about a wildly successful coach,” Melgares said. “’Chasing Excellence’ is about overcoming adversity; specifically, how coach Vigil escaped the traps that might have kept others from chasing and reaching their dreams. It’s about how despite having all the excuses to be mad or bitter about various circumstances in life, coach Vigil chose to be compassionate, to be kind, to give and to serve. And it’s also about his loyalty to Adams State College, Alamosa and the San Luis Valley.
“I think many people in Alamosa and the San Luis Valley know this already. It’s the honor of my career to be able to detail this story.”
“Chasing Excellence” is also a finalist in an awards program offered by the Colorado Humanities Center for the Book. Winners in that contest will be announced in mid-June.
“Chasing Excellence” is available at the Narrow Gauge Bookstore in Alamosa, or online through Soulstice Publishing, www.soulsticepublishing.com. Interested persons may also order copies signed by the author — at no additional cost — by sending email to [email protected]. The book retails for $19.95.
“We are kicking off a second launch of the book at this summer’s U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon,” Melgares said. “We lost a lot of opportunities to promote the book due to the pandemic last year. Winning this award, especially a gold, during an Olympic year, gives us a lot of openings to promote the book and tell Coach’s story to a broader audience.”
Melgares and Vigil are expected to be on hand Sept. 25 when Adams State University celebrates its 100-year anniversary. Details on a book signing event will be announced when available.
“In my mind, this book is a celebration not only of coach Vigil’s life, but of Adams State and the ‘Vigilantes’ who ran for Coach all those years,” Melgares said. “But I also think of people like my high school English teacher, Jan Watkins, who was a reviewer for the book and kept telling me for the past year that we’ve got an award winner. All these years, she’s still taking care of this kid, and encouraging me on, helping me learn. Winning an award is a shared honor for a lot of people from the San Luis Valley and it really makes me proud to be part of it.”