While his teammates jogged the narrow inclines in Banner Forest, South Kitsap senior Mason Villarma followed an unconventional path to success.
Villarma, who will compete in the 800- and 1,600-meter runs and the 1,600 relay at Star Track XXXIII, logged a fraction of the miles some of the state’s top runners produced over the summer.
Instead, he has maintained a regular summer regime since 2011 for two weeks on his father’s 32-foot crab boat — dubbed “Heidi J,” after his mother — and then a couple of months on an 86-foot fishing hull.
“It’s my whole summer, so as far as my training regime — it influences that heavily,” said Villarma, who eats sockeye salmon and rice to intake carbohydrates and lean protein. “But I find ways to work around it.”
That can be difficult at times. Villarma said a typical day on a fishing boat begins at 4:30 a.m. and work does not conclude until near midnight.
“Some days you go for 24 hours straight,” he said, adding that he uses a jump rope on the boat and does as much cardiovascular work as possible. “It’s a rewarding job, though. I definitely love it.”
While that work puts Villarma behind his competitors during cross-country season, he believes it has shaped his work ethic — and more.
“When you’re on the boat, you’re thinking you’ve just got to do all of the little things right,” he said. “There’s no room for error. The same thing applies to track. If you want to be a state champion — and if you want all of these heavy goals — you’ve got to do every little thing right.”
Villarma has experience with that. In 2013, he was a member of the Wolves’ 1,600 relay team — along with LaForrest Church, Adam Gascoyne and Zach Sleigh — that won the Class 4A state championship in 3 minutes, 18.39 seconds. That team was led by Church, who now runs at the University of Memphis. Church also set the school record in the 800 (1:51.82) that year — a mark that Villarma will have one more opportunity to break.
“I think that has been another motivation — wanting to break more records than LaForrest,” South co-coach Paul Zimmer said. “He looked up to what he did.”
“He’s a phenomenal runner and he’s always been a big mentor to me,” he said. “It’s a bit lonelier at South without him just because he was such a good training partner to have. He always pushed me really well.
“He was a competitor and that definitely influenced me in a positive way.”
Villarma, who signed in April to run cross country and track next season at Gonzaga University, plans to pursue a business major and possibly law school. But Villarma, who maintains a 4.0 grade-point average and is one of South’s co-valedictorians, could use those degrees to pursue a different route. Villarma is enrolled in Advanced Placement Government and said teacher Marcus Logue has “inspired a sense of enthusiasm in that class.”
“I just like talking about issues in today’s politics because I find it so interesting,” he said, adding that he views himself as a moderate leaning toward the conservative side. “There’s so much we can do as a society. I definitely like talking about the big-business aspect of things. I also like talking about welfare, immigration, health care — just all of the complex issues because I find them challenging to talk about.”
Villarma’s goals might seem daunting to some. He sees things a little differently.
“You’ve got one life and you want to be able to experience as much as you can,” he said.
And share it with others, as well. Zimmer said when Villarma received his 1,600-relay medal, he gave it to Devon Newquist, a senior alternate on that team.
“You could see his character right from the get-go,” he said. “He’s just very unselfish and is all about the team.”
The 6-foot, 155-pound Villarma is just grateful for the opportunity. Last year, Villarma’s season ended before the 4A Narrows League Championships when he sustained a season-ending left ankle sprain while jogging in Banner Forest.
“That was a rough situation, but I’m just so happy to be back where I am,” Villarma said. “I feel fitter than ever.”
That showed during this year’s league championships, where Villarma won the 800 dash in 1:53.48 seconds. But it was the 1,600 event where he finished second in 4:12.44 behind Bellarmine Prep’s Jack Yearian (4:10.78), where he set the school record. Lou Boudreaux held the previous mark at 4:15.34 in 1973. The only program record older than Boudreaux’s is that held by Gene Daunais, who threw the shot put 59-04 1/4 in 1970.
“I actually wrote the guy a letter,”said Villarma, referring to Boudreaux. “I pretty much told him ‘thank you‘ because I couldn’t have done it without him.”
Villarma is excited to experience stiffer competition at the collegiate level. In addition to Gonzaga’s academic prestige, Villarma said he elected to sign with the school because of his relationship with coach Pat Tyson. A college roommate and teammate of the legendary Steve Prefontaine, Tyson graduated from Oregon as one of the top six runners in Ducks history in the outdoor 3-mile and 6-mile runs.
“My goals for college are to be an NCAA All-American,” Villarma said. “I believe Pat Tyson is capable of getting me there.”
With Tyson’s blessing, Villarma also will continue with his unconventional offseason training program. He said his work in Alaska will help balance the shortfall between his academic and athletic scholarships, and tuition and living expenses at Gonzaga. But the experience is far richer than just as a financial means.
“We’ll go out to Sitka, Port Armstrong and the Inside Passage that a lot of people never get to see,” Villarma said. “Just to see all of nature — all the bears, eagles, fish, whales — is so neat. I’m just so lucky to have this opportunity.”
And lucky for the opportunity at the state track meet, where Villarma seeks to cement his legacy as one of the most decorated runners in Wolves’ history.
“Anything less than a state championship is a failure in my opinion,” he said. “That’s what I’m working for.”