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Fueled by family, Tucson native Montañez chasing ’24 Olympics

Montañez was the fifth-fastest American at 2023 Boston Marathon
Nico Montañez with baby cousin, mom
Posted at 9:48 PM, Jun 11, 2023

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Nicolas Montañez, who often goes by Nico, is one of the country’s elite runners.

He was the fifth-fastest American at this year’s Boston Marathon, where he finished 13th overall. He ran a sub-five minute mile pace.

Nico lives and trains in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., at staggering altitudes up to 8,000 feet. But he grew up on Tucson’s southeast side.

KGUN asked Nico’s mother, Katherine to describe him.

“Sincere, he’s very spiritual, forgiving, very kind,” she answered.

“He probably is the most talented, locally-born Tucson runner, ever,” said high school coach Tim Bentley.

Nico worked with Bentley and coach Al Buhl, who passed away in 2013, at St. Augustine Catholic High School.

Originally, Nico dreamed of playing football and becoming a quarterback. But Buhl convinced him to give cross country a try, leading to a memorable first run with the team where the group got lost multiple times in a nearby park.

“And I kept going. And I just remember like, ‘Wow this is amazing.’ So I wanted more of that [feeling],” said Nico.

“Coach Buhl, really amazing guy… He saw my potential long before I could see it. And then you add Coach Tim Bentley into the mix and that was a wrap. It was like, guys who cared more about me than my running.”

Bentley took over for Buhl as track and cross-country coach, leading the team from 2010 to 2018.

“I’m more proud of these kids that we coached there and the success they have as adults,” said Bentley. “They wanted to be great. And you know, that became our mantra after a while: ‘Be Great.’ And that became much more than just, ‘Be great at running.’ It was, ‘Be great at life.’”

“Life has not been the easiest growing up,” said Nico. “I’ve seen a lot of my family members go through addiction and pain and a lot of loss… And so I focus more on that. And allow that pain to propel me to do what I do best, and that’s just run, and run fast.”

Nico says he still has a competitive mentality, but that he doesn’t compare himself to other runners or let results bother him as often. He competes against himself.

“I’m trying to beat myself,” he explained. “I’m trying to beat my old habits. My old pain. My old things that have held me back for so long.

“Even at my stage, like no matter what pace you’re running… you have to fight demons out there. Because there is a voice saying ‘Slow Down.’”

Nico is now chasing a spot on the 2024 U.S. Olympic Team. He admits that was not a goal he had when first getting into running, but one that developed as he became more and more successful.

“I’m really excited for him and where he’s taken his career and life,” said Katherine. “It’s definitely a feeling that is un-describable. But it’s an overwhelming joy, for sure.”

“[My family] saw it before I did,” said Nico. “And so they are my Day 1’s. They are my anchors. That’s why I come and visit every time I can, because I wouldn’t be nothing without my family.”

Nico also delivered a message for those following his journey.

“Especially the people in Tucson, no matter how hard you have it, no matter what age you are, no matter if you lose hope in your dreams and goal, you should always pursue that,” he said. “And I hope that I can be that example for them.”