Luke Llamas has a chance to become the second consecutive Cal Poly steeplechase runner to compete at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships. With a top-five finish at the West Regionals in Provo, Utah this weekend, Llamas would be on his way to the biggest race of his collegiate career.
However, his accomplishments on the track are a mere side conversation in the dialogue of his life – Llamas is a devout Christian and puts his involvement with ministry at the forefront of his being. As a religious studies minor at Cal Poly, Llamas plans to spend the rest of his life in ministry with his wife and is currently a chaplain with the county jail.
“It’s pretty intense,” Llamas said. “There are about 50 or 60 guys. I sit in a cell and they come over and talk to me one-on-one about their lives.”
However intimidating it may sound, Llamas said he enjoys being able to preach the word of God and he sometimes forms a bond with the men.
“It’s bad when you’re sad to see guys get out of jail,” he said. “You just don’t want to stop seeing them.”
While volunteering at the county jail is adequate for Llamas right now, he and his wife, Emerald, plan to go overseas as missionaries in Nairobi, Kenya someday, he said.
Life in the church takes precedence for Llamas; running is just another way to show his faith.
“As an athlete I strive to glorify God through athletics,” he said, adding that it is important to Llamas to “use the gifts He gives me to the fullest.”
His time preaching the word of God will take a brief break this week as Llamas heads to the West Regional to compete in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. Llamas has run the 13th-fastest time in the nation this year at 8:45.34, good enough for fifth in the West Region.
Last year Llamas missed a trip to nationals, but gained valuable experience running behind one of the best in the nation and former teammate Ben Bruce.
In 2006, Llamas won the 5,000 and steeplechase at the Big West Championships, a performance that segued to his award for the Big West Male Athlete of the Year.
“Your attitude says a lot,” Llamas said. “This one time at a big meet while I was running the 5k, my shoe came off in the second lap of the race and I couldn’t finish. My attitude could have totally gone to depressed. It is a test of your character.”
For novice track aficionados, the steeplechase is a 7 1/2 lap race – the first 200 is hurdle-free, but for the next seven laps there are five 3-foot barriers to hurdle. At the opposite side of one barrier is a pit of water to hurdle – mistime your jump and you could soon be swimming.
Llamas runs between 60 and 70 miles per week and compliments that with miscellaneous abdomen and core strengthening exercises.
The Canyon Country native draws on numerous motivational forces for training, but one of the biggest changes this off-season was his “beautiful wife” Emerald, whom Llamas married last summer. Since marrying Emerald, who is studying nursing at Cuesta College, Llamas said his training has improved along with his eating and sleeping habits.
Luke isn’t the only Llamas competing in the Big West. His brother, Landen Llamas, runs the 400 and 800 for Cal State Northridge.
The top competition for Luke at the West regional will come from a pair of Arizona State runners – Aaron Aguayo and Ryan Warrenburg, ranked No. 1 and 3 in the West Region. Josh McAdams of host Brigham Young University and Jon Pierce of Stanford round out the top five at No. 2 and 4, respectively.
In spite of his success, Llamas remains humble about his accomplishments. He said his teammates often care more about his success.
“(My talent) is a gift I’ve been given and if it ever gets taken away, I want to accept that too,” he said.