Running with Ambition

Behrend-Track-main-resizedA successful athlete and student, Ayla Lopez has worked hard to be where she is today. Entering her senior year of high school this year, she looks forward to another running season and beyond that: college. This is her story.

Often training in the scorching heat of Texas, Alya Lopez has been working hard to reach a new PR (Personal Record, reference to your best time in an event). Determined to break physical and mental barriers, she trains year round to compete in the 800m and 1500m with the hopes of being better than the race before. Training since she was eight years old, Lopez will soon reach the tenth year mark as a runner and athlete.

Lopez wasn’t always a runner; she started off as a cheerleader. Eight-year old Ayla would be practicing her twirls and cheers, but would sometimes watch her older brother train under the guidance of Sam Walker, a legendary track coach of El Paso. Wanting to try it out, Lopez went to a few practices and thought it was “fun.” From there her running career began.

Lopez continued on running even when she was discouraged by others or faced defeat. She was told that running wasn’t “girly enough” and that she should stick with cheerleading. Ignoring these comments  she continued training and in her first race as an eight year old, she got dead last in the 800m race and was told that maybe running wasn’t for her. It was only a year later where she qualified for the opportunity to run at Nationals where she won her first All-American title. Since then Lopez has been going to Nationals across the nation almost every year, visiting Nebraska, Virginia, South Carolina, Texas, Alabama, and most recently Chicago, Illinois where she has earned All-American titles in the 800m and 1500m and PRed almost every year.

When Walker decided to retire from coaching mid-way through Lopez’s running athletic career, her father stepped in and created the running club TexaStrong. Under her father’s guidance, Lopez has able to overcome obstacles as an athlete and achieve the PRs she wanted. Training simultaneously with her high school team and with TexaStrong during the school year, she trains up to 17.5 hours a week with one day off. During the summer, Lopez trains twice a day to become a stronger athlete. However, this can sometimes strain her body, her will, and her spirit.

“Before Nationals [last year], I had bad shin splints and road runs hurt, I was burnt out. But I looked at old pictures and videos of me training [when I was younger] and remembered that [running] is something I love,” says Lopez.

While Lopez is a remarkable runner, she is just as impressive academically and as a community member. She was invited to be a part of the National Hispanic Institute (NHI), an organization geared towards recognizing academically successful Latinos, as a sophomore. Lopez was nominated as All District Academic in Track her sophomore year as well, an award given to a male and female athlete (for every sport) that has the highest GPA within the district.

Lopez volunteers at the local public library, Dorris Van Doren, where she reads to children every Wednesday in the summertime. She has also helped coach the younger kids in father’s running club when she is taking time off or in her off season. Other times she is acts as a volunteer and counselor at Rescue Mission in El Paso or the Yellow Mustard Café (a shelter for the homeless). Lopez has also been involved in the fundraising for donation to a local women’s shelter.

“Don’t compare yourself to others, you know what you can do,” Lopez advices. “Don’t give up, take a moment to look back and ask yourself why it was your passion. You can do so much more. It’s not easy, but doable.”

As Lopez continues her goals as an athlete and student, she hopes to go to a Texas college that will give her an opportunity to run for them. With hard work and dedication, Lopez is a prime example of how it pays off in the end.

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