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Oda, Cleveland named December Athletes of the Month

December student athlete of the month graphic
January 4, 2021

By: Julie Laugel and Giovanni Hicks/GCU Staff

Taylor Oda of GCU Powerlifting and Ian Cleveland of GCU Men’s Rugby have been chosen as the December Student Athletes of the month.

These two competitors are driven by scripture and their joy in helping others. Oda and Cleveland have been immersed into the culture of their respective teams, as they look to bring a sense of faith and community to their sports.

Taylor Oda: Powerlifting Club

Taylor Oda doesn’t see the Grand Canyon University Powerlifting Club as a regular team, but more of a family who pushes her to be the best version of herself – both on and off the floor.

Oda has been an athlete for as long as she can remember. Playing competitive travel volleyball through high school, she lifted weights, but was never competitive with it. When she got to GCU, Oda made some friends that were recent recruits of the powerlifting club.

After attending a practice, joining the team and loving the culture, Oda knew she belonged there.

The club has fully embraced Oda’s hard work and ability to pursue and conquer her goals. Earlier this year, Oda competed in the Lumberjack Open, setting the goal of a 315-pound deadlift, and exceeding it by 15 pounds. She also went 9-for-9 on lift completions.

“When I look at Taylor, I see drive and passion in her eyes,” said Lopes’ Head Coach Jimmy Vasquez. “She hasn’t reached her full potential yet, but she is on the right path.”

Away from the barbells, Oda is very involved with community service as an active volunteer for Grove City Church of the Nazarene in Ohio. Oda has served on several mission trips and helped with youth ministry for the past three years. Oda is also working to bring that volunteer spirit to the club, since she’s involved with Phoenix-area programs offered by the local Living Streams Church.

Ian Cleveland: Men’s Rugby

“Whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men.” – Colossians 3:23

For Grand Canyon University junior Ian Cleveland, this biblical verse is not only one that motivates him but one that he believes exemplifies his biggest influencer, Jesus Christ.

As a major contributor to the GCU Men’s Rugby team and co-leader of a team bible study, Cleveland strives to embody this verse – both on and off the field.  

Cleveland was first introduced to rugby in South Africa, where rugby is an extremely popular sport. Cleveland quickly picked up the sport, and continued to play in the United States throughout high school, where he was selected to play for the Red Hawks, an Oregon all-star rugby team. He was also one of the first recipients of the Premiership Rugby Scholarship during his senior year, which provided him with an all-expense paid trip to England to train and meet with pro rugby teams.

Cleveland decided to put rugby on hold in college to play Division III football at George Fox University, but after two years, Cleveland missed rugby enough to quit football. He then joined with friends to start the school’s first rugby squad before ultimately transferring to GCU to join a larger and more competitive athletic program while also pursing a degree in mechanical engineering.

“I chose GCU for a number of reasons,” said Cleveland. “It was a Christian university with a strong engineering program, a rugby team that competed against other D1A Rugby programs, and it had a team of top fantastic coaches.”

After only one season with the Lopes, Cleveland was reminded why he was drawn to rugby in the first place.

“I love competing against other teams, challenging myself, and being a part of a community, and the GCU rugby team gives me this opportunity,” said Cleveland. “All the guys are bought into the culture and have a high standard of excellence. Being around them pushes me to be the best in my sports, work and academics.”

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