Javier Villarreal is one of Northern Arizona University's elite athletes. The 2005 Arizona state high school champion in both shot put and discus, he immediately found success at the college level, claiming the most-ever Big Sky titles for a thrower in Lumberjack history, and setting a new school shot put record as well. As success continues to mount, Villarreal is already looking to the next level: he's working to earn a spot on Mexico's Olympic shot put team. But all of his collegiate success almost didn't happen. Villarreal says that college was something he hadn't thought much about. But when he came to Flagstaff, what was once a dream became a reality.
"I came here and just fell in love with it," says Villarreal. "Then I talked with my coach about grants and financial aid and saw everything would work out perfectly so we knew that NAU was a great fit for me."
The university has been a great fit. Villarreal has won five Big Sky Conference championships, the most ever by a Lumberjack thrower. This year he also broke the university's indoor shot put record that stood for 20 years. Villarreal finished his student-athlete career with a ranking of 15th in the nation at the NCAA Outdoor National Championships this June. He credits his success to something deeper than physical ability, though. For Villarreal, it's about what's inside.
"I feel everything about me is based on emotion and shot put helps me gather all these emotions throughout the day and release them, taking negative energy and transferring it into positive energy," says Villarreal. "My coach helped me realize that if you have anything negative and try to train you are not going to get much out of it and then you have two negatives. You are going to be emotionally unstable and you are going to be unstable in your techniques because you are worried about this emotion. But if you can take all this emotion and channel it into your throw, you'll find success. I think about these things and bring it all together and when I throw that shot it is the difference of throwing 50 feet and throwing 60 feet based on the emotions that I put into the throw."
Success isn't only on the field for Villarreal. Thanks to his hard work in the classroom, he was also honored as a 2010 Big Sky All-Academic selection. Villarreal will be graduating this December after completing his student teaching in Tucson. And, according to Villarreal, he has been able to harness his passion for shot put to maximize opportunities that go beyond the athletic arena.
"Without an opportunity you are pretty much stuck in a family cycle that goes on for generations. What I really liked about coming here was that I found what I loved to do and I would do anything in my power to continue that," says Villarreal. "Most of why I came to NAU is because they gave me the opportunity to continue what I loved to do. At first I didn't know how college would help me. It took a while, but I knew at the same time that if I didn't make the grades there is no way they would let me compete so I had something to motivate me to get my schoolwork done."
Next for Villarreal is the possibility of joining Mexico's Olympic shot put team, where a representative of the team recently said that his marks would make him the number one thrower in that country.
"I am working on signing a deal with the Mexican national team to continue to throw the shot put for their Olympic team with dreams to make the 2012 Summer Games in London," he says. "I feel confident that I am going to do what I have to do and that is a good mindset going into being part of an Olympic team."
As Villarreal eyes the possibility of international sporting fame, he's learned some hard-earned lessons from his time as a student-athlete that he shares with incoming dreamers looking to achieve their potential.
"My advice would be to know why you are coming here and what you are here to do," he says. "Then, work to accomplish those goals. Don't be afraid to have fun, but be responsible and know your priorities."