A WALK WITH A HAWK ... FEATURING: PAULA VILAS
March 16, 2012
PRINCESS ANNE, Md. – A wise man once said, “Never let the odds keep you from doing what you know in your heart you were meant to do." It’s a phrase that epitomizes the way senior Paula Vilas (Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic) has lived her life.
While many student-athletes have a tough time balancing being a student and an athlete in college, Vilas finds the time.
She is a member of UMES’ three-time national championship bowling team and plays with the Hawk tennis team. In fact, the marketing major even has a job that requires her to fly home for business several times a year.
Vilas has lived in several countries and has had to adapt to new surroundings most of her life. This way of life has helped her two-sport career, but even more in her growth as a student and service member.
Her employment may be different than any student-athlete you have ever met before; one that is so far different from the norm that one has to ask twice when hearing it.
She is a member of the Dominican Republic Army.
Yes, the Dominican Republic Army.
Her tenure with the army began when she was 16 years old. Ironically, her employment with the army does not require her to train as a soldier. Instead, she bowls for their team and represents them in several tournaments throughout the year.
How does she bowl for the Dominican Republic Army and still have time to attend UMES for nine months out of the year?
“You don’t have to serve to be in the Army actually,” said Vilas. “I have to bowl several times a year for the Dominican Republic, though. When they need me, I have to go back and bowl for them”
When she joined the Army in 2004, she had only been living in the Dominican Republic for three years. Vilas grew up in Argentina and lived there until she was 13. The change, although tough at the time, proved to be a valuable step in Vilas’ growth as a person and as an athlete.
It was not much later when she learned how to bowl.
“I moved to the Dominican at the beginning of December in 2001,” said Vilas. “A year later, I started bowling. I really didn’t know how to bowl at first. The first time I bowled, I went with my sister and she shot a 135 to beat me. I used a nine-pound ball.”
She began to bowl every Saturday at the local bowling lane, but wanted to better her craft with more practice. Vilas asked her mother if she could go more often and was rewarded with going one more day a week. The one day soon turned to two, then three, and before she knew it, she was going every day.
At that particular bowling alley, Vilas met Ricardo Hill and he showed her the basics of bowling. She attributes Hill’s help, as well as that from Craig Woodhouse and Doug Dukes, to her growth as a bowler.
After just two years of bowling, her skills grew so much that she was named to the Dominican Republic National Team in 2004.
Her first trip with the D.R. team saw her travel to Guatemala, before she went to Punta Cana later in the year. Her amateur travels included trips to Costa Rica, Denmark and Mexico in 2005. She has been to Guatemala three times, while also participating in tournaments in Panama, El Salvador, Columbia, Venezuela, Chile, Brazil and Puerto Rico.
Vilas has been a part of several different youth organizations, including PABCON and the Pan-American Games. While participating in the Pan-Am games, she made a pair of trips to Brazil (2007) and Mexico (2011).
Although all of her travels have been important, her first trip to Punta Cana may have proved to be the most influential. It was here where she met teammate Maria Rodriguez; a place where her trail to UMES would begin.
The two later reconnected at a tournament in 2008. They engaged in a conversation that Vilas will never forget.
“I was bowling for the Dominican and Maria was bowling for Columbia,” said Vilas. “We were on a bus and she asked me if I was going to college in the States. I remember going to the mall with her and talking about UMES. She then emailed Coach Brummell and a short time later I committed to UMES.”
The risk in coming to the United States was seen right from the beginning.
She was going to a foreign country and would have to develop her English. She knew a few people at the institution, but was would be far from her family and friends. Although this, her decision to come to Princess Anne was one that she does not regret.
Her career as Hawk speaks for itself.
She began her tenure at UMES by shooting four games of 220 or better as freshman. Since then, she was named the MEAC’s Most Outstanding Performer of the 2011 Championships and has been named MEAC Bowler of the Week twice in her career.
She rolled the first 300 game in program history at the Kutztown Invitational and was named to the MEAC Commissioner’s All-Academic Team in 2010.
The Dominican native has collected two consecutive MEAC All-Second Team honors and bowled a 279 as a junior. That year, she recorded two games of 244 and was named to the Big Red Invitational All-Tournament Team.
Her tennis career began in 2009, when she won all three of the matches that she participated in. As a sophomore, she won UMES’ lone doubles match against St. Mary’s, before winning two games in singles in 2011.
Whether it is her schedule as a student-athlete, travels across the world or being a member of the Dominican Army, Vilas is surely a busy woman.
She teaches many that it is okay to step out of the box and accept challenges. It has seemed that with every challenge she has taken on, her strength as a person has only grown.
“I have accomplished everything I can,” offered Vilas. “I’m about to get my degree and I have a bunch of MEAC rings to bring back home. I love to win and we’ve been able to do a lot of that here.“
We salute your Paula.
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