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Tracking the 'Incredible' NCAA Coaching Legacy of Roberto Vives

Twenty-six years, 47 conference titles, 29 All-Americans, and counting, for Bronx native at UAlbany

Roberto Vives has led UAlbany to 47 conference championships and coached 29 All-Americans. (Photos by Mark Schmidt)

Albany, N.Y. (June 22, 2011) -- Spend just a few minutes with University at Albany Track Coach Roberto Vives and you're sure to hear his favorite motivational saying: "Do the incredible."

Corny, perhaps, but it's genuine. Most importantly, it resonates with his athletes.

"'Do the incredible,'" UAlbany women's track captain Sandy Antenor said. "I can't tell you how many times he's said that. He makes you want to go beyond your limits."

"Everyone knows that saying is Roberto's," said Winsome Foderingham, an All-American who ran for Vives in the 1980s and made it to UAlbany's Athletic Hall of Fame. "He'll make you better than you ever thought you could be," added Foderingham, now the University's associate director of Corporate and Foundation Relations.

Vives hasn't simply asked his athletes to do the incredible. Since taking over UAlbany's track program in 1985, he's demanded the same of himself.

He's led UAlbany to 47 conference championships. He's coached 29 All-Americans. He's led the program through a seamless transition from Division III up to Division I, leading his men's team to a ranking as high as 36th in the nation at the top division. His list of achievements is endless.

The success continued in 2010-11. UAlbany men won their sixth consecutive America East Conference indoor title and seventh straight outdoor crown. Women's track and field defended their indoor title and made it three straight outdoors.

"There's a sense that you don't want to be the team that lets him down," men's track captain Tyler Fogarty said. "His teams have had success for so long."

Vives is humbled yet challenged by his teams' legacies. "I really love what I do," he said. "It doesn't happen a lot in sports that each year keeps getting better, but that's what we've had, and we want to keep it going."

Vives, 55, grew up in the Bronx. If not for an unusual technicality in his high school's league rules, he possibly would never have gotten involved in track. At just 4'-11", 90 pounds when he was a freshman, he was allowed to compete against other athletes his size, rather than athletes of all weights. He did well against his competition, and became hooked on track, including its camaraderie.

Not only did he enjoy competing; at age 14, he started coaching younger kids on the street, organizing races and giving pointers. "I'm not sure if I knew a lot about technique back then," Vives said. "But I think everyone saw how much I cared, and that's what matters. I've had a knack of connecting with people."

He went on to become a track star in college, first at Lehman College, then at Seton Hall University, where he set the school record in the decathlon. More exploits – including the winning of three Masters Events at the Empire State Games, an Olympic-style competition for New York athletes – followed.

Vives was successful coaching high school and club track, but wanted to make the step up to the collegiate level. "I would see kids coming back home, failing out, and I knew I could make a difference. You have to show the students that you care, that you're committed to them. It's not win-at-all-costs here. I want good people who are committed to academics and to doing the right thing," he said.

For their part, Vives and his family are also committed to the University and its hometown. He and his wife, Valrene, live in Albany, and their children both were members of his team in recent years. Andres Vives, B.S.'06, graduated cum laude, earning a degree in business administration with a concentration in marketing/finance. Ashley Vives, B.A.'10, was an art major who minored in business.

"Albany has been a great place for me and our family," said the coach. "There have been a lot of memorable moments."

And many more to come.

This story by Jeff Gold was reprinted through the courtesy of UAlbany Magazine, where it appeared in the Spring 2011 edition.

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