Lopes use passion to excel in athletic careers
By: Julie Laugel and Mack Drake
Grand Canyon University Club Sports gives students the opportunity to pursue their passions while having fun, growing as an athlete and being a member of a community.
The GCU Club Sports September Athletes of the Month, Reina Walker and Troy Sanchez, have transformed their love for competition and school spirit into an athletic career in which they have both excelled and shown excellent leadership.
Women’s Rugby: Reina Walker
A junkie for contact sports, Reina Walker wasn’t sure how she was going to satisfy her aggressive streak upon arriving at Grand Canyon University in the fall of 2017.
Walker had wrestled in high school, but that was over and done with. With no clear alternative in sight, she considered giving up sports altogether.
That is, until she stumbled into a Jamba Juice on the GCU campus three years ago.
“There was a flyer on the wall that caught my attention,” said Walker, a senior pursuing her Bachelor of Science in Justice Studies. “It was all about the women’s rugby team here, and it had contact information for people interested in signing up. I sent an email a few hours later and was told to buy a mouthguard and come out to the next practice. The rest is history, I guess.”
Featuring big open-field hits and physical scrum pileups, the GCU Women’s Rugby team gave Walker a chance to scratch her itch for competition and contact in a high-octane team environment.
Learning a sport she had no familiarity with was the only catch.
“I didn’t know exactly what I was doing for the first year and a half,” Walker said with a laugh. “Learning the game was hard at first. Once I figured it out, I started to become a better and better player.”
Heading into her final season with the purple and white, three years of rugby experience and a solid feel for the game has ascended Walker into a leadership position.
One of just a few seniors on the team, Lopes’ Head Coach Lindsey Mahoney over the summer officially named Walker one of the team’s captains heading into the 2020-21 campaign.
“To be named to a formal leadership role was really exciting,” said Walker, a fullback for the Lopes. “I’m really looking forward to mentoring and teaching some of these younger girls on the team. From a rugby standpoint, and also a life perspective, I think I can provide good advice and guidance. Obviously, I’m hoping we can turn in a killer season, too.”
Walker’s military background also makes her a perfect candidate for a leadership role with GCU. A self-described “military brat,” Walker moved around a lot growing up as the family followed her father, who served in the Navy.
Her father’s service inspired Walker to pursue her own career in the military. After graduating from GCU in the spring, Walker will head to Virginia to become a Combat Systems Officer with the Air Force, where she will be expected to become an expert in mission planning, mission timing, weapons targeting, threat reactions, aircraft communications and hazard avoidance, among other duties.
“A military career always interested me,” said Walker, who is a Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) Cadet with Arizona State University. “I really enjoy the leadership and structure aspect of the military.”
Through an Air Force program called “Project GO,” Walker will travel to Bali, Indonesia next summer to study Indonesian for eight weeks. Project GO is a Department of Defense initiative that promotes critical language education, study abroad, and intercultural dialogue opportunities for ROTC students.
The first leg of Walker’s Indonesian language study has already begun. The “beginner” stage has included multiple hours of language study five days per week.
“Indonesian is a critical language for the Department of Defense,” Walker said. “I’m really looking forward to going out there to build my knowledge of the culture and language for my own use, but also to help the Air Force down the road.”
Coed Club Spirit: Troy Sanchez
Although Grand Canyon University is known for its enthusiastic fan sections and school spirit, being a member of the crowd was not enough for GCU Club Spirit junior Troy Sanchez.
“He truly has spirit in his veins,” said Lopes’ Head Coach Alex Messana.
With five years of experience on a cheer team and being naturally “school spirit-oriented,” Sanchez plays a vital role on the GCU Club Spirit squad.
“Troy can fill all positions within Club Spirit – whether that be flipping his way across the mat, flying high in the air in stunts, or breaking it down in the dance section,” said Messana.
Along with his background in cheer, Sanchez gains his versatility from also practicing gymnastics in the off-season and participating as a Rally-back for the Arizona Diamondbacks, where he engages in crowd interaction, live promotions, and greeting fans on top of other activities.
While he loves being able to grow as an athlete and showcase his skills, Sanchez also really enjoys the social aspect of being a part of the club sports community.
“(GCU Club Sports) has helped me learn to work together with many different athletes to accomplish a goal and has brought my best friends into my life,” said Sanchez. “I don’t think I would be the person who I am today without them or the team.”
Entering his second year as a student leader for the Lopes, Sanchez also takes pride in leading his squad and working to heighten his teammates’ experience and skills as well.
“I’m happy to see Troy shine using his passion for this sport as well has his leadership skills as a student coach,” said Messana.
“It has taught me to be organized and how to be a better role model for all the other athletes,” said Sanchez.
During his last few years at GCU, Sanchez looks to gain more of a spiritual connection with God while pursuing his Bachelor of Science in Psychology. After he graduates, Sanchez hopes to continue leading and working with others by becoming a counselor for adolescents in the LGBTQ+ community.
Interested in joining GCU club sports? Learn more here!