First-gen Sun Devil hopes to weightlift in the Olympics

July 15, 2019

ASU student Yuliana Lopez has a unique way of dealing with the stress of schoolwork: She picks up a barbell and starts lifting.

Lopez is heading into her sophomore year at ASU as a biomedical engineering major. Lopez is a first-generation college student and weightlifter who is proving that with hard work and dedication, it’s possible to succeed in both academics and athletics. 

Lopez said weightlifting tremendously helps her manage her academic stress. 

“After a big exam or a hectic school day, I love to train and shift all my focus from chemistry or calculus to a barbell,” she said.

She was introduced to weightlifting her freshman year at Metro Tech High School in Phoenix, where she was playing varsity softball. A workout in the weight room one day turned into a challenge from the weightlifting team coach to complete 14 laps of weighted lunges to try out for the team.

“Ever since that day, I fell in love with challenges,” Lopez said.

Weightlifting has impacted Lopez in so many ways, and she’s very passionate about being the best she can be. Apart from being able to travel around the country and compete, she said she’s learned valuable life lessons from the sport.

ASU student Yuliana Lopez lifts a large barbell above her head at a competition

Yuliana Lopez clean-and-jerking 185 pounds in competition. Lopez competes as a 64kg junior weightlifter.

“Weightlifting has taught me how to deal with failure. I learned that failing is OK, but giving up is never an option. Weightlifting contributes to my happiness every day. It is a stress reliever when I need it, and it provides me with an everyday challenge.” 

Lopez was one of only three women on her high school’s team of about 30 when she started. She was introduced to Olympic weightlifting there, and she currently lifts with the ASU Barbell weightlifting club at ASU. She trains for two to three hours, five days a week and says that “every training day is different, and that’s what I love about it.”

Though she loves lifting, Lopez said being a student comes first. When she’s not clean-and-jerking 185 pounds, Lopez is a Dorrance Scholar. She is also an ASU TRIO Upward Bound alumna. Upward Bound helped her apply for college and scholarships and helped her understand what being in college would be like.

“I feel extremely grateful and blessed to be a Dorrance Scholar and ASU TRIO Upward Bound alum. The amount of support that I have received from both of these programs is incredible,” she said. 

TRIO Upward Bound is a federally funded program that provides academic support, university exposure and other services to first-generation or low-income college-bound high school students. The Dorrance Scholarship provides financial support as well as enrichment opportunities for Arizona students. 

“My journey has not been easy, but I have made the most out of it,” Lopez said.

Lopez grew up with her parents and her three older sisters. But when Lopez was 13 years old, her mother was extradited and had to go back to live in Mexico. Her parents are from Ciudad Obregon, Sonora Mexico. 

“Ever since then, I became independent and had to pave my own path,” Lopez said.

Through her struggles, Lopez has learned how to persevere past tough circumstances, and she said her family is her inspiration to achieve. 

“Everything I do from my academics, to my everyday life choices, is to make my family proud. I want to make the best out of everything that I can control in my life, because there is a lot that is out of my control,” she said.

And Lopez said she relies on her mother’s support from afar.

“I love calling my mother and giving her great news, whether it is in regards to my academics, or weightlifting. She has always been very supportive,” Lopez said. 

Lopez plans on completing her bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering, working as an engineer and then going to graduate school. She also has high ambitions for her weightlifting career, perhaps to compete in the Tokyo games in 2020. 

“I strive to always keep improving. I want to become better every single day, rep by rep. I hope to represent the USA in weightlifting someday in the future. Anything is possible with perseverance and grit.”