Doing "the Incredible"

Doing “the Incredible”

By Jeff Gold

Roberto Vives accepts the 2010 America East Conference Indoor Track Coaching Staff of the Year Award from AEC Assistant Commissioner Jessica Descartes.

Spend just a few minutes with Roberto Vives, University at Albany director of men’s and women’s track & field/cross country, 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, B.A.’89, M.P.A.’92, 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 the University’s track program in 1985, he’s demanded the same of himself.

He’s led UAlbany to 43 conference championships. He’s coached 27 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.

“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.”

The success is expected to continue. The America East coaches recently picked the men’s indoor team to win its sixth straight indoor track conference title. The women were also chosen to defend their crown. And with Vives at the helm for the foreseeable future, more great results are likely.

“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.”

The coach’s children, Andres and Ashley Vives, competed on the UAlbany track team as undergraduates.

Vives, 55, grew up in The Bronx. If not for an unusual rule, he possibly would never have gotten involved in track. At just 4’-11”, 90 pounds when he was a freshman, he benefited from a rare rule that allowed him to compete against other athletes his size. It isn’t the norm for track & field competitions to have weight standards, but the league that his high school competed in had such a setup.

Vives was immediately hooked on the sport. He loved the camaraderie of track. 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, then at Seton Hall, 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 in high school and club track, but wanted to coach in college. “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,” Roberto Vives said. “There have been a lot of memorable moments.”

And many more to come.