Student-Athlete Spotlight

Wings Over Broadway Student-Athlete Spotlight: Sunnyside’s Ambitious Competitor Iliana Vijarro is running a series of brief stories about Southern Arizona high school senior student-athletes entering this school year. The series, first-person accounts from the student-athletes, continues with a profile on Sunnyside swimmer, cross country runner and pole vaulter Iliana Vijarro.

Iliana Vijarro

School: Sunnyside

College: Pima Community College

Honors/background: Holds Sunnyside’s school record in the pole vault at 6’9″. Three-sport competitor in swimming, cross country and track and field. Second in the pole vault competition at the Lancer Invitational in March.

Sunnyside senior Iliana Vijarro wants to eventually study neurology at the University of Arizona (Vijarro photo)

I started my journey my freshman year. I had wondered what it would be like to do sports since I was mostly into mariachi and orchestra my elementary and middle school years. My best friend Onie Dong convinced me to come out to do swim and track and field.

Once I realized how exciting and competitive sports were, I figured this is my place to find out new things about myself.

In swim, I would do the 500 freestyle, 50 freestyle and 200 freestyle. In
track and field, I was the only female pole vaulter ending my season with the height of 5’9″, breaking the school record. I joined the Pole Pilots Track Club to help enhance my pole vaulting skills. I would go twice a week after swim and track and field practice.

My sophomore year, I wanted to try something different, so I decided to try cross country for the summer and the season. By the time I got to my first race, I was truly in love with running, ending my season with a PR time of 26.16. I continued being the only female pole vaulter in track and field and I broke my own school record with a new personal record (PR) of 6’6″. I continued going to the Pole Pilots Track Club.

My junior year, I decided to come back to swim because I had endured many knee and ankle injuries. I wanted to give my body a break. I continued to swim the 50 freestyle, 200 freestyle and 500 freestyle. In track and field, I was still the only female pole vaulter, breaking the school record again with a new PR of 6’9″. I was still working hard after hours at the Pole Pilots Track Club.

When the swimming season was canceled, Iliana Vijarro rejoined the cross country program (Vijarro photo)

Now that it is my senior year, it made me sad to hear that I would not be having a swim season due to this pandemic, but I look forward to breaking old records and setting new PR’s not just in cross country but also in track and field. I will continue going to Pole Pilots Track Club.

I wouldn’t be the athlete I am today if it wasn’t for my amazing cross country/track and field coaches Marco Rodriguez and Rafael Diaz, my swim coaches Nick Duddleston and Angel Lopez, and my Pole Pilot coaches Jennifer Croissant and Roy Willits.

To my mom for not only supporting me all my life but all four years of my activities, putting her life on hold so I can accomplish my goals, being the best team mom she can be and also being one of my pole vault coaches, I thank you and love you.

To my Nana for being my biggest cheerleader, I love you. Thank you coaches for all you have done for me in my journey through cross country, track and field and swim.

My most significant moment in swimming was being able to swim with speed and efficiency. In cross country, it was hard running mile after mile wanting to give up cause my body hurt so bad but hearing Coach Rodriguez say, “Run smarter, not harder.” That gave me the motivation to keep going, to lift up my knees and go.

Being able to go to running events such as California Mount Sac and Texas Nike NXR, as intimidated as I was, I knew I had Coach Rodriguez to calm my
nerves as he always gave us athletes encouraging words like “You got this.”

In track and field, I learned how to sprint with speed and be able to lift myself over the pole vault bar while perfecting my form with the help of Coach Diaz.

My greatest hope for this year is to improve my cross country time and to continue holding my school record in pole vault with a new PR and possibly making it to state. Another hope is places opening up so we are able to compete again to show our true strengths on the course and on the field. I want to be able to compete and challenge others through running and pole vaulting, not just improving my skills but being there for my teammates as support as they improve their skills as well.

I love my team, I have been with my cross country and track and field team since my freshman year. We are one big family. We are like brothers and sisters. We support one another. We cheer for each other and we encourage each other while we are competing.

This year we hold the biggest group of seniors that will be graduating. It will be a very emotional season and year as this will be the last time we will be with each other, not just on the course but on the track.

My goal is to go to Pima Community College and complete my two years of general studies. Hopefully during that time I will be able to join the cross country and track and field team, making my coaches proud that I have continued on this adventure of mine.

Then I will transfer to the University of Arizona, getting a Doctorate’s degree in Neurology with a minor in Radiology. If time permits, I would love to continue on my cross country and track and field journey.

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