Lopes conquer mind, body in successful 2019-20 season
By: Mack Drake/GCU Staff
The Lopes ran, biked and swam their way to another successful – albeit brief – season on the difficult tracks around Arizona and Southern California before the coronavirus ended the campaign prematurely.
Although the virus affected every GCU Club Sports spring program, the pandemic was an especially tough pill to swallow for the school’s triathlon athletes, many of whom poured their blood, sweat and tears into countless hours of grueling training sessions.
“As endurance athletes, our team works for months to compete in a handful of two-hour events,” said GCU Co-Head Coach Jake Windauer. “Our athletes spend about 21 hours per week training and prepping their bodies for a single chance at proving their worth on the course. That’s what makes this quarantine so hard for us.”
GCU was coming off a strong mid-February showing at the 14th Annual Tritonman Triathlon in San Diego, where the Lopes conquered a tough Fiesta Island course, and were gaining momentum heading into the home stretch of their season.
But the virus quickly put an end to that, forcing cancellations at the Havasu Sprint Triathlon (which doubles as the Collegiate Conference Regional Championship), USA Triathlon Collegiate Club National Championships and Cactus Man Triathlon.
“We saw the real nature of our team at the very end of our season,” Windauer said. “Racing is rarely about beating other athletes. It’s about beating your own expectations, getting out of your comfort zone and learning to surpass your own limitations. We learned that we don’t need organized events to prove how strong we are. You can get stronger on your own while still encouraging your teammates to do the same.”
Windauer singled out Zach Stetzel, Matthew Johnson, Noah Johnson, Ashley Fuller and Larissa Parker as GCU’s most notable athletes of the season.
A transfer student who already had prior collegiate cross-country running experience under his belt, Stetzel turned heads right away.
“We knew he was fast, and he knew it, too,” Windauer said. “Not a lot of athletes start the season by smashing times, but he was ready to go from the start. Rather than let that get to his head, he stayed humble and worked with his teammates to share his running knowledge and experience.”
Johnson, who was primarily focused on the 400-meter sprint in high school, was one of the most improved athletes by season’s end after steadily increasing his endurance to handle distance runs.
“He came to more practices than any other guy, and was always hungry for the next session to prove himself,” Windauer said. “We love to see that in an athlete, because that fire can lead to huge gains. That’s what we saw with him as he cut his times in half by the end of the season.”
Fuller made the biggest strides of anybody – especially in the water.
During the team’s first training session of the year, coaches needed to assist her in a 25-yard swim. By season’s end, Fuller was holding her own in daunting open water swims.
“Ashley was by far our most improved athlete of the year,” Windauer said. “We were skeptical that she could compete at the collegiate level at first, but we underestimated her ability and will. Nobody came to more training days, and she never missed a swim session.
“We were very proud of her because she proved that this sport is for anyone who is willing to put in the work.”
Interested in improving your mind and body in a friendly team environment? Visit the GCU Triathlon team page to learn more about the program!