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Webster violinist finds solace in running
It wasn’t until two years ago that Tony Morales discovered his love of long-distance running. Morales, a Webster University senior cross-country and track and field athlete, had never run competitively in his life.
Conversely, Morales found his other love much more easily and earlier in his life. Morales, a violin performance major, has been playing the violin since he was in third grade. When he was six years old, Morales was already making predictions about his future in music.
“My mom was driving me by Powell Hall, and I said I was going to play in the symphony,” Morales said. “When I was six years old, I had no idea what a violin was or anything.
“I’ve always had a love for it. From a very early age, I knew that’s what I was going to do for the rest of my life. I was good at it and I knew I had a lot of potential. I was playing at an eighth-grade level when I was in fourth grade. I took off in the first year, and then everything got better. It just felt right.”
Though they seem to have no correlation at first glance, Morales said running and violin-playing have much in common, especially the mental aspect of both activities.
“You have to be 100 percent in the moment. You can’t think about the future,” Morales said. “In music, if you just messed up, you can’t think, ‘Oh, I just messed up.’ You have to keep going.
“Running, I’m finding out, is more mental than anything. It’s just getting through it, because it’s so hard. We run five-mile races, and those last two miles are just mental. You don’t really feel your legs at that point. It’s just guts; it’s what you’ve got left. To me, it’s not exactly correlated, but they’re both extremely mental. You have to be with it 100 percent of the time, focused.”
Morales gives running a try
Even though Morales had never run in competition before, Michael Siener, Webster’s men’s and women’s tennis coach, recommended Morales to Dusty Lopez, men’s and women’s cross-country and track and field coach. Morales had played two years of tennis at Webster, but long-distance running proved to be the better fit.
“I don’t really know why I wanted to (run cross-country and track and field), but I knew it was something I wanted to do,” Morales said. “I just joined the team without any experience. The thing I liked most about tennis was the running. I’d just run around like crazy. I wasn’t really that great at tennis, but I’m good at running.”
Morales is now in the midst of his third year as a member of the cross-country team, and he will participate in his second season of track and field in the spring of 2012. Tony’s father, Gil Morales, who is the facilities operations manager at Webster, said Tony’s decision to join both the cross-country and track teams brought a smile to his face.
“That was really interesting because I have been running my whole life, and I never really tried to steer him into it,” Gil Morales said. “But just one day while he was here at Webster, he says, ‘You know, I want to try that cross-country thing.’
“I just had to grin to myself because cross-country at the collegiate level is extremely challenging. He jumped right in, he contributes. God knows he can run. We run together now, we race together — we do all kinds of things.”
Lopez called Tony Morales an “unexpected bonus” because Lopez did not recruit Morales while he was attending Parkway West High School, located in Ballwin. But Lopez is certainly happy Morales elected to give cross-country and track a try.
“Siener wound up feeling like Tony might be better suited to running because he just seemed to never wear out,” Lopez said. “Sure enough, Tony came out and showed some ability right away. When you combine that with dedicated training, he’s really been a great find.
“He shows what you can do with hard work, and he shows just how much improvement can be made, regardless of where you start from. If you look at his first year of running with us, he was running 32, 33 minutes for eight kilometers — not too fast. Now he’s consistently in the low 28s, 28 flat. He may even break into the 27s this year. For a kid who never ran a step till two years ago, that’s an incredible amount of improvement. I think that’s a great example for this team to have.”
Even though Morales is the lone senior on the cross-country team’s 2011 roster, Lopez said Morales blends right in with the rest of the squad thanks to his optimistic and easygoing attitude.
“Tony is a great kid in the sense of he’s just got a good attitude. He’s very easy to work with, very coachable,” Lopez said. “You can tell every time you’re talking about something with him, he’s listening and he’s trying to understand it as best as he can, and adapt it to his own experience.
“The funny thing is, you know how bright he is, you understand he gets good grades, he’s a violinist, all that. The joke on the team is that he’s one of our more absent-minded kids, so he’s kind of good for some joking around in that way. If somebody forgets a sweatshirt or leaves their car keys behind, nine times out of 10, it’s Tony. He catches a lot of grief. Just kind of that happy-go-lucky type
more than anything else.”
Morales’s future as a violinist
Morales tries to carry that same positive outlook over to his violin-playing. He has played the violin in the Webster University Symphony Orchestra since his freshman year. He has also been a member of the band “Rocky Mount” for the past three years.
“It’s the best way I communicate. I’m not too good with my sentences or words, so I use my violin to communicate more than anything,” Morales said. “When I sit down and play, it really shows me how I’m really feeling. You feel happy and then you play sad music, and it’s like, ‘Wow, this is what’s coming out of me.’
“You can start creating your own sound; you can make your own genre so to speak. To me, that’s what it’s all about. It’s about creating the best music you can possibly think of. That’s so fascinating to me. It’ll never be 100 percent perfect, so I’m always going to be learning.”
When Morales graduates from Webster in the winter of 2012, he plans on trying to get an orchestral job right out of college. But Morales said because landing a job in music is so difficult, a more realistic option is attending a graduate program at a music conservatory.
Regardless of where he ends up after finishing college, Morales is certain that both the violin-playing and the long-distance running will remain integral parts of his life.
“I got a lot better (at running) in the summer, and I’m still getting experience and getting much better now. It’s a growing process,” Morales said. “I guess that’s the thing I like most about it — I’m just constantly getting better and there’s always a way to push yourself.
“It’s kind of like the violin. I’m never going be 100 percent perfect at the violin. That’s what excites me about it, is that it’s hard. I just like doing things that are hard that I can get better at.”