Mexico’s ASU triathlon team’s first rookie looks to set the bar



Freshman MJ Lopez Aguirre, shown here listening to instructions from assistant coach Nicole Welling, is the first Mexican triathlete to sign with Arizona State. (Photo by Julian Rosa / Cronkite News)

TEMPE – The Arizona State triathlon program has had its fair share of international rookies.

Since the program’s inaugural season in 2016, the four-time national champion team has brought in athletes from Canada, South Africa, Israel and Germany.

Now the program has kicked off its 2021-22 season with its first Latin American member.

Freshman MJ Lopez Aguirre is the first Mexican triathlete to sign with Coach Cliff English’s Sun Devils.

“I chose ASU because it’s a really prestigious triathlon team,” she said. “The coach is amazing. He has so much experience. The girls are so strong. I am so privileged to be able to work with them and push each other every day.

Born in San Luis Potosí, Mexico, Lopez Aguirre moved to The Woodlands, Texas with her family when she was 5 years old.

She was 7 when she got interested in triathlon after her brother had taken part in a race.

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“There was this local triathlon that my brother was going to do,” said Lopez Aguirre. “A family friend said to him, ‘You should do this,’ and then I was like, ‘Oh, I want to do this too.’ It’s been a lot of fun ever since.

Growing up, Lopez Aguirre gained experience in all three stages of the individual triathlon: swimming, cycling and running.

She swam for a club team, raced cross country in college, and competed in numerous cycle races throughout her youth.

It became evident that Lopez Aguirre had a future in triathlon.

She won back-to-back titles at the Iron Kids USA National Championship in 2012 and 2013 as well as the US National Junior and Junior Triathlon Championship in 2013.

With a brilliant triathlon career on the horizon, Lopez Aguirre had to start thinking about his career path, but options were few and far between.

Then, in 2015, ASU became the first NCAA Power Five conference school to officially embrace triathlon after being one of 10 NCAA schools to receive the Emerging Sport Multi-Year Grant for Women’s Triathlon. the USA Triathlon Foundation.

The news opened up a whole new opportunity for Lopez Aguirre academically and athletically.

“Growing up, it wasn’t really an option,” she said. “Collegiate triathlon barely entered the scene five years ago. As soon as I found out I was like, ‘Oh, I need this.’ It’s a great way to continue my university career but also to continue my career in triathlon.

Despite being immersed in a completely new environment, Lopez Aguirre, who specializes in mechanical engineering, took on the challenge of balancing school and athletics.

“It’s been a trick,” she said. “It’s definitely an adaptation. It’s not easy because you really have to know what you want. You need to know that you need to do all your schoolwork, you need to get enough sleep to go for a workout in the morning and wake up at 5:30 am. It’s all about time management and prioritizing what you need to do, but it’s fun.

Lopez Aguirre entered the program with international experience.

She is a member of Mexico’s elite national team and won silver in her age group at the 2019 National and National Youth Olympics.

Lopez Aguirre made his presence felt at ASU early on, placing first in a bike assembly, ride and teardown route at the Dual in the Dessert NCAA Challenge in September. The next step for the Sun Devils is the national qualifier in St. George, Utah on October 30th.

With a solid background in cycling and a lot of experience, Lopez Aguirre has joined a talented recruiting class that will continue to grow together.

“She’s an incredible addition to the team,” said assistant coach Nicole Welling. “This is one of the best first year courses we have ever had. They all get along very well, they have integrated very well into the group. The way she looks in training, she’s just always ready to go. She always has fun things to say, always has a great attitude and we have loved working with her so far.

Lopez Aguirre is part of a roster that currently has several international triathletes, a feature that English says is vital for the program.

“With the program being so strong, we really want to have that international feel and that diversity in the team because we know how important it is and what it brings,” said English. “I’ve been a coach for so many years, and most of the time I’ve coached international triathletes, you learn so much about each other’s cultures. It really helps their development, and it’s a good experience.

While his background in BMX and MTB racing has already translated into results, Lopez Aguirre’s actions outside of the sport have caught the attention of his coaches.

“She’s a very thoughtful young person,” said English. “From day one she showed up with little helmet stickers with each athlete’s name on it along with their little national flag and the ASU logo. This has never happened before. It’s really cool because here you have someone who is an elite level athlete and sometimes they can be a little more egotistical but this is someone who thinks about their team and is so excited to be here. She really tries to bring a lot to the team.

With four years of NCAA competition ahead of her, Lopez Aguirre seeks constant improvement in the hopes of competing at a high level – in particular, at the Olympics – and graduating.

“My main focus so far would be to really push my limits, push my limits in what I believe I can do and maintain who I am,” she said. “This applies to school and sport. Just be true to myself, stay on the path I have chosen and not give up on the goals I have set for myself. “

As triathlon grows in the country, Lopez Aguirre says Mexico is not as exposed to high performance racing or sports as
United States.

As the first Mexican triathlete to join the Sun Devils, she hopes to uplift and motivate her country by continuing to push and be the best version of herself.

Lopez Aguirre certainly won’t be the last Latin American triathlete to compete in brown and gold, but she now has the opportunity to set the standard throughout her college career.

“It feels good,” she said. “I hope that in the future there will be more Mexican triathletes and Latino triathletes who will join our team. I just hope to be a good example to them and a good representation of what our people are like.



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