April 24, 2012
By Ryan Smith, MSU Athletic Communications.
EAST LANSING, MICH. - Running fast is something senior sprinter and hurdler Leslie Aririguzo has been accustomed to doing since a young age. In elementary school, Aririguzo was the best at the physical tests among fellow students and would blow by everyone when it came to the 50-yard dash.
It wasn't until 8th grade though that she began running seriously. Her younger brother joined an AAU track team, and her mom decided that she should run too. Sprints were her events for the first few years of her track career, but Aririguzo volunteered to try the hurdles out when her team lacked runners in that event.
After spending most of her childhood in Southfield, Michigan, Aririguzo moved to West Bloomfield the summer after her freshman year of high school.
Throughout winter conditioning, Aririguzo pleaded with her coach to let her try the hurdles. Eventually she was allowed to practice with the hurdlers and success came quickly after that. In her first meet racing the hurdles, she recorded a time of 15.7 seconds, ranking her amongst the top times in the county. Just a few weeks later she dropped her time below 15 seconds, eventually reaching 14.5 the week before the state meet. Despite entering the state meet ranked 5th, Aririguzo ran her personal best time of 14.1 seconds and won the race at the finish line. Her quick success in the hurdles opened many doors and got Aririguzo thinking about running after high school.
"I won state and ever since then good things happened," said Aririguzo. "It was a surprise to everyone because it was my first year hurdling. Before I won the state meet I never considered running track in college, it was just something I did for fun. But once I won and looked at how my times ranked nationally, I realized I could get college paid for by running."
Another big step for Aririguzo was the National Junior Olympics the summer before her senior season of high school. She ran 13.6, which put her as one of the top three hurdlers in the country and began to receive a lot of attention.
"That was a breakout meet for me," said Aririguzo. "After that a bunch of college coaches started contacting me."
The recruitment process can be overwhelming for a lot of high school athletes, and Aririguzo got a number of calls and handwritten letters from track programs in the power conferences around the country.
"The recruitment process was exciting," said Aririguzo. "I wasn't sure what I was looking for in a college though. After my visit to Virginia Tech I was pretty much sold, but MSU was still in my top three. It was tough to say no to MSU, but I committed to Virginia Tech."
A couple weeks before school started, the Virginia Tech coach left for a head-coaching job at Clemson. At the end of the year, Aririguzo's sprint coach was fired, making her question her future at Virginia Tech.
"After seeing this revolving door of coaches, I thought that I wanted to go somewhere else that had a little more stability" said Aririguzo.
In deciding between Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State, it was Michigan State sprints and hurdles coach Randy Gillon that was a big reason Aririguzo ended up choosing MSU.
"Within an hour of me being released, Coach Randy called me, and because of his passion and him wanting to develop me, those were some of biggest motivational factors," said Aririguzo. "Coach Randy was the deciding factor and a big chunk of the reason of why I am here."
Ariguzo's relationship with coach Randy Gillon has been a significant part of some of her successes at MSU.
"Coach Randy has a calm demeanor and is easy to talk to, which allowed me to build a personal relationship with him," said Aririguzo. "Because of that my hurdling improves. I can tell him how I am feeling and he will take it into consideration and tailor his coaching to my needs. He loves the sport and is passionate about what he does, and that benefits everyone else."
Another big part of Aririguzo's success is her desire to win. She has very straightforward goals and knows exactly what she has set out to do.
"My motivation is to win," said Aririguzo. "I feel like as humans, whatever aspect it is, whether it be physically, mentally, or emotionally, there is always room for improvement. I always say you're room for improvement has no walls. Every year I want to surpass whatever I have done before and see how well I can perform and what my capabilities are. Based on the improvements I have been making, I can see myself making the NCAA Finals."
Her drive is to be the best she can be, and that shows on the track. Aririguzo is currently tied for the MSU school record in the 100 meter hurdles with a time of 13.46 and plans on making the record her own before the end of the year.
Aririguzo may be calm when she is walking around, but is a different person when she steps on the track. Her time spent training on technique is vital because come race time she relies on her instincts to take over.
"I flip the switch when it comes to competing," says Aririguzo. "With sprints, you have to amp yourself up and think you are the best person on the line every time you go out there. When you are in a race, all you are thinking about is getting to the finish line, so you have to have muscle memory, so that I do things more naturally without having to think about it.
Aririguzo is not sure about whether or not she will continue running track after college, but either way will benefit greatly from the opportunity of being a student athlete. She will graduate next May as a kinesiology major, with the dream job of being a sports physical therapist.
"There is more to me than my running," said Aririguzo. "I am preparing myself for my life out of track. It has brought me great things and great opportunities, and I will use being a student athlete as a stepping-stone to greater goals."