On Inauguration Day, the world watched as Aracely Romero stood guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier during the Wreath Laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.
For Romero, the ceremony capped off a long road full of setbacks and comebacks.
Throughout three ACL reconstruction surgeries since high school, Aracely has managed to achieve her goals after facing adversity.
Romero comes from a family of Marines, including her father Manuel, brother Estevan, and 11 other close family members. Military service and sacrifice are in her family’s blood.
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There is an air of pride and elation in Sylvia Romero’s voice when she talks about her daughter.
“I have always admired her drive to break those barriers and be a positive role model to show that you can do this regardless of your background, and where you may come from, if you’re willing to work hard,” Sylvia said. “Her assertive nature and her determination have followed her since the day she was born, and it’s carried her through life.”
When Aracely was a newborn baby, the University Medical Center nurses and doctors were in awe of her health.
According to her mother, Aracely scored a perfect 10 on her Apgar test, the test given to newborns to summarize their health and assess their risk of infant mortality.
“She was born at UMC and the doctors were like, ‘Is it okay if we have the residents and the medical students come visit her throughout the day because I think they said it had been two years, and they very rarely assign 10/10?'” Sylvia said.
An attempt to reach Aracely for this story was not allowed due to military reasons.
Aracely’s robust physical health as an infant and inherited determination may be the reason Aracely was able to overcome physical challenges later in her life.
Aracely tore her first ACL her senior year in high school while playing for the girl’s soccer team at Tucson High. The moment was more heartbreaking because a coach from the University of Arizona women’s soccer team had already scheduled to watch her play.
“The coach from the U of A had reached out to her coach at Tucson High, and they had scheduled for the coach to go watch her, and that’s when she tore her ACL, she was just so bummed,” Sylvia said.
Though Aracely was devastated, another door opened when one was closed.
“Fortunately (coach) Kendra (Veliz) from Pima, gave her the opportunity even though she had torn her ACL,” Sylvia said.
In 2014, Aracely joined the Pima Community College women’s soccer team where she redshirted as a freshman to rehab her knee. After playing in just seven games in 2015, misfortune struck again when Aracely tore her ACL in the other knee.
Though injuries cut her time on the soccer field short at Pima, Aracely made an impression on Veliz.
“As a player she was a very aggressive, physical player who was determined,” Veliz said. “Unfortunately, she had some knee problems. She was on the team the year we went to nationals, but unfortunately couldn’t play because of her knee.”
Veliz knows all too well the severity of an ACL tear, which only reinforces her respect for Aracely.
“I can’t fathom, I mean, I’ve had one, and one is enough,” says Veliz. “It’s a testament to how tough she is physically and mentally to recover from that, and then continue on a successful path in the military. I don’t think that’s easy.”
After finishing at Pima, Aracely graduated from Arizona, before enlisting in the U.S Air Force.
In 2019, Aracely was officially named to the Air Force Honor Guard based out of Washington, D.C.
As a member of the Honor Guard, Aracely began performing in ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, where funerals are reserved for prestigious military veterans and their immediate family.
Later that year, calamity struck again. Aracely slipped, and tore an ACL for the third time.
“She was at Arlington doing a funeral, and like any park, you don’t see divots or the grass is covering it,” Sylvia said.
During her third ACL reconstruction, while receiving elite level physical therapy at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Aracely was told that she might not be able to continue performing in the Honor Guard.
“At that point, they were kind of waiting to see, they had told her, ‘We don’t know if we’re going to be able to keep you because what if you re-injure it?’ And you know what? They don’t know this girl loves a challenge,” Sylvia said.
Not only did Aracely come back, she eventually made BTZ (“Below The Zone”) which promoted her to an E-4 ranking as a Senior Airman. BTZ is only offered to the very best of the Airman First Class.
In January, Aracely’s achievements in the U.S Air Force Honor Guard culminated when she was selected as one of only four Air Force members from around the country to perform on Inauguration Day at the Wreath Laying Ceremony in Arlington National Cemetery.
During the event that was televised live around the globe, Aracely was in the presence of President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and past U.S Presidents Obama, Clinton, and Bush.
“For the inauguration, they had four people from each branch standing guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which is where the wreath laying ceremony takes place,” Sylvia said. “Here’s a second-generation Mexican-American, a female, and being given that privilege to participate in welcoming our first female Vice President, it was an emotional day for all of us.”
Sylvia relishes in Aracely’s opportunity to be a part of United States history, and puts her daughter’s experience into perspective.
“To think a year ago she was facing losing her spot. And here she is on national TV,” Sylvia said. “I think it just captures her degree of never giving up, and her determination for always coming back.”
Aracely is currently stationed at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington D.C. where she works in media relations for the Honor Guard. Meanwhile, she is pursuing her Masters degree online in Walden University’s Master of Social Work program. Her goal is to become a licensed social worker and commission as an officer.
Perseverance has become a common theme in defining Aracely’s journey. When adversity has knocked her off of her feet, she has responded and only grown stronger.
After three ACL reconstruction surgeries at pivotal turning points in her young life, Aracely Romero remains unbreakable.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com writing intern Kevin Murphy was born and raised in Tucson, and has followed Arizona Wildcats athletics since childhood. He is currently attending Pima Community College where he writes for the Aztec Press. Next semester he will be attending the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at ASU where he will work towards a Bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication and Media Studies.