Bernie Montoya was going into the last lap of the state meet his sophomore year of high school.
He was within reach of the state title for Cibola High School when he was clipped by another runner and lost his shoe.
Montoya could have stopped and tried to put his shoe back on, but he knew by doing so, he would be risking losing the title for his team.
Instead of putting the victory in jeopardy, Montoya ran with only one shoe and endured the last lap of the race, exposing his foot to the rough terrain.
Bloodied and tired, Montoya finished the race and won the title for Cibola.
His high school coach, Kris Norton, recalls the focus and determination the now-ASU freshman Montoya displayed that day.
“It shows how tough he is,” Norton said. “Runners go into that zone and pain just becomes secondary.”
Cross-country is a sport that requires mental toughness, endurance, stamina and a dedicated focus unlike any other sport.
Montoya, one of the most talented long-distance runners to come out of Arizona, initially wanted to compete and play football, his first love.
Fortunately for Cibola and ASU, the realization that he wasn’t big enough led Bernie Montoya to try out for track and field and cross-country his freshman year of high school.
“I was thinking about becoming a running back, but I was kind of skinny and tall,” Montoya said.
Montoya said soon after he started practicing with the track team and fell in love with the sport.
In his first season with the track team, Montoya finished his first mile race at 4:55 seconds, a remarkable time for a freshman runner.
“I wanted to be the No. 1 guy on the team, “ Montoya said.
Montoya won several individual awards in his high school career to go along with the 11 state titles he helped Cibola earn.
Montoya said he loves long-distance running because of the bond it creates among his teammates.
“Distance running creates a unique bond,” he said. “We’re all out there running the same distance, training hard and suffering the same pain.”
Aside from his recognition at the state level, Montoya also garnered national attention early on in his high school career.
Montoya was handpicked to participate in the Adidas Dream Mile, an annual event in New York in which participants are chosen from all over the country.
Montoya finished with a mile time of 4:05.65 and overall finish of fourth place out of 15 runners.
Montoya is one of ASU’s most intense athletes, yet he may be one of its most unassuming.
His work ethic and focused demeanor on the track is a stark contrast to the shy and quiet person he is off of it.
Bernie’s mother, Blanca, said Bernie keeps to himself a lot of the time but that his dedication inspires those around him.
Blanca said that because Bernie’s two siblings were older than him, he spent a lot of time playing by himself.
Blanca said one trait sets him apart.
“Dedication. He’s very dedicated to his sport,” she said. “When he started running he became very involved in researching and changing his diet. His dedication is incredible.”
Blanca said that Bernie was influenced by his older brother Leonardo, who also ran cross-country for ASU.
With such a stellar high school career the recruiting process was intense for Montoya, who ultimately decided to join ASU.
Montoya said he chose ASU, because he clicked with ASU men’s cross-country coach Louie Quintana and because of his close relationship with junior Ryan Norton, who was a teammate of Bernie’s in high school.
Quintana expected Montoya to contribute to the team right away but has been surprised at how well he has done in his first two meets.
Montoya finished in the top 10 in his first meet at the George Kyte Invitational in Flagstaff earlier in the season and just finished 28th overall at the NCAA qualifier in Minneapolis at the Roy Griak invitational last week, helping ASU come in third place overall.
Montoya said he wants to improve in every race and continue to help the team by working hard.
“I have the belief that the work gets it done,” he said. “I’m just a workhorse.”
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