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Current Athletes -- Who Already Are ASU Alums -- Are Working Hard

Nov 2, 2021
NCAA champion Turner Washington is one of the many Sun Devil student athletes with an ASU degree completed competing in 2021-22.

There are many Sun Devils competing in 2021-22 who already have earned their ASU degrees. You can click here to check out the full list. Communications student assistant Joey Vacca chatted with four of them about their goals and how they reached their degrees.


Sun Devil wrestler Anthony Valencia has been no stranger to praise and recognition. Over an illustrious four year career, Valencia has racked up four conference titles and numerous All-American honors. His many awards and accolades are the product of a strong work ethic and a regimented training schedule. But one of Valencia's greatest achievements was not even part of his plan.

"The way I got my Master's degree was completely on accident," Valencia said. 

Valencia is a 2021 graduate of ASU with a Master of Liberal Studies degree. As he was flying through his summer school classes, Valencia's academic coach informed him he was ahead of schedule. He was told he could either slow down and add electives, or speed up his pace and begin his Master's program.

"I decided I might as well get my master's degree," he said. "I still had a few years left so I might as well continue my education, go further in that, and continue competing." 

The path to where he is now started with a choice he made for himself. 

"It was just a decision I made one day," he said. "I said I don't want things to be going the same way as they are so I'm going to make a change, make a difference, and pursue my goals."

Valencia was a self-described "average student" in high school, but flipped the script once in college. 

"I think I just put a lot more effort into it, I got a lot more enthusiastic about school," he said. "Now when I take classes I get myself really excited to learn something new... instead of just going through the motions."

Where other student athletes may have started to focus less on their academics, Valencia attributed his shift in mentality to a few different reasons. 

He saw college as "a better system" for him to work. The cut-and-dried high school schedule was demotivating, but now Valencia benefited from a more independent routine. He had the freedom to do his work on his own time. 

On top of a more appealing routine, he even took a great liking to his coursework. Valencia, who called himself a "big movie guy", always found movie analysis to be enjoyable, and wanted to learn more about films' meanings and purposes. 

Now being able to pursue a master's degree with a focus in film and media studies, Valencia was actually excited about his studies.

"It didn't really feel like work to me," he said. "It was interesting stuff, things that I actually wanted to learn about."

Schoolwork even made its way into Valencia's free time. 

"There were many times where I'd find myself on my phone or on my computer just researching stuff for fun," he said. "I'd spend hours reading up on something I'd find interesting."

While his academic routine was less rigid, he took on a busy wrestling schedule. Now balancing the two presented their own challenges, and Valencia was forced to learn how to budget his time. His solution to keep tabs on everything was to journal.

"The night before I would write everything I need to do, my to-do list," he said. "That way when I go to bed I'm already prepared for the next morning."

He even goes so far as to allot certain hours for homework and meals. If that seems extreme, it might be. But the results have been fruitful and Valencia's resume speaks for itself. 

Apart from a master's degree and an abundance of athletic awards, Valencia's college experience provided him with other things he will carry with him for a long time. When his schedule forced him to develop time management skills, he had to find the discipline to get everything done. 

"I think discipline is the biggest key," Valencia said. "Since I worked on my discipline in my schoolwork and in my training, that automatically elevates me. And I feel like it's prepared me for future endeavors."

Valencia entirely credited his sense of discipline to his experience as a collegiate student athlete, saying experiences are what mold people into who they are, not just himself. 

When asked to reflect on his college experience as a whole Valencia struggled to find the right words, but shared that it was special.

"It's just exciting to be one of the guys doing something that not very many people have done," he said. "It's definitely exciting."

Even though Valencia possessed his own strong sense of discipline, he said his family and roommates formed a great support system to help make him who he is today.

As his time in Tempe nears a close, Valencia hopes to leave behind just as much as he's taking with him. When asked how he thought he would be remembered, his answer was simple.

"Just a dedicated wrestler who was pursuing his goals," he said. "That's pretty much it."

If someone looked into Arizona State thrower Turner Washington's trophy case, it would be hard to pick just one that stands out. But for Washington, it's easy to pick a highlight from his lengthy and celebrated career.

"My proudest moment of this year when it comes to awards wasn't the three national championships," Washington said. "It was being an Academic All-American."

Washington's path to Sun Devil history was unorthodox. The Tucson area native started his college career at the University of Arizona. He found the program was not the fit he was looking for. 

"I've had the dream of throwing far growing up as a kid," Washington said. "I just didn't see that dream coming to fruition down there."

After just one season throwing for the Wildcats, Washington opted for a change of scenery. He chose to make the 90 minute trip up north to Tempe and compete for the Sun Devils. A choice that Washington remembers as, "the best decision I've ever made."

Now in his fourth season at Arizona State, Washington is more than content. The positive culture and camaraderie within the athletics department along with support from the administration have really helped Washington feel at home.

"It's really cool being part of an institution where it doesn't matter if you're a revenue generating sport or just an Olympic sport," he said. "You feel like you're cared about just as much."

After a brilliant high school career and a productive freshman year with the Wildcats, Washington flourished as a Sun Devil. In year one, Washington racked up wins en route to a USTFCCCA All-American nod and MPSF All-Academic honors. 2021 was when he exploded onto the national stage and cemented his place as one of Arizona State's all-time great athletes.

Washington took home national championships in the indoor shot put, outdoor shot put, and outdoor discus, becoming the third male in NCAA history to accomplish such a feat. The USTFCCCA honored him as the 2021 Indoor Male Field Athlete of the Year, the Outdoor West Region Male Field Athlete of the Year, and the Men's Indoor and Outdoor Scholar Athlete of the Year. In July, Washington was also named as one of three finalists for The Bowerman, the most prestigious award given to the NCAA's top men's and women's track and field athletes. 

When asked how he stayed motivated with so much continued success, Washington cited a quote from Phil Jackson, one of the NBA's winningest coaches.

"You're only a success for the moment that you complete a successful act." 

In spite of all the hardware, Washington insisted his greatest achievement of the year was his Academic All-American honor. In the spring of 2021 Washington graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biological Sciences focusing on conservation biology and ecology with a 4.0 GPA. 

"Just knowing that I achieved these things on the track but I also achieved a great feat in the classroom meant everything to me," he said. 

His academic achievements were things Washington took great pride in, remembering his parents' constant emphasis on the importance of school. But in addition to that, he was left with a sense of personal satisfaction knowing he was, "able to excel in two different avenues of life." The experience taught Washington a simple but crucial lesson for later in life.

"You can be great at multiple things," he said. "You don't have to just settle and put all your attention into one."

When he is looking back on his time as a collegiate student athlete, Washington said he does not worry about what other people think of his experience. Instead, he thinks about what the opportunity taught him and how it can help him in real life.

"If 20 years from now I'm stressed out with work or have kids, it's knowing that I can look back and say, 'Hey I was able to do this while I was in college, when I was younger, and didn't know much about life,'" he said. "If I could do it then, there's no reason why I can't do it now." 

While it has been great, Washington knows his time in university was not the run-of-the-mill college experience. But as a student athlete he was forced to be flexible, work on his adaptability. Whether on the field or in the classroom, he remembers never really knowing what was coming next. But it is in those moments, unique opportunities that not many students get to experience, that he feels just as ready to take on life's challenges.

"I might not have the same experience as everyone else… I didn't have time to have a job or internship," he said. "I was out winning national championships and getting a 4.0."

The end of his time as a Sun Devil does not mean the end of the line for Washington as a thrower. He hopes to continue training until at least 2032 when Brisbane, Australia is set to host the Olympics. 

Moving away to college is a trying time for anyone, especially if the move is to another continent. But for Sun Devil Soccer player Lara Barbieri, a life centered on love and gratitude here in Arizona has carried her through it all. 

Barbieri hails from Monte Mor, Sao Paulo in Brazil, and has been playing soccer from an early age. When it came time to make the transition to the United States and college life, Barbieri had to take on the test of moving to a new place while leaving her family behind. 

"At the beginning it was really challenging," Barbieri said. "Especially the language barrier and [different] culture."

But there to ease that transition were her new teammates, "a great group of girls" in the words of Barbieri. With their support and welcoming attitudes, she was able to feel at home despite being over 5,000 miles away from the city she called home her entire life. 

In addition to the support of her teammates, Barbieri brought an unwavering sense of gratitude with her all the way from Sao Paulo. Whether it was the new friendships she has developed, the connections she has made, the opportunities she has been given, or the support from the university community, Barbieri could not stop finding things she has felt grateful for in her time in Tempe. She even raved about the university's facilities and academic support, as well as the mental health support the players receive.

"I just feel grateful all the time," she said. "Being able to be here in the United States playing soccer at a high level, a Pac-12 level, that is just amazing. Being here is just awesome."

While fully immersed in being a collegiate athlete, Barbieri also had to juggle the challenges of being a college student. But where others would have wilted, she saw the opportunity to grow.

"If you can handle being a student athlete, I think you can handle anything in life," she said. "It's basically having a full time job."

Barbieri spoke highly of the commitment and time management that has come as a product of her experience. She also thought her time as a student athlete gave her more maturity to set her up for success later in life. 

The collegiate student athlete is an experience that only very few truly understand. Although she has reaped the benefits, Barbieri still feels the experience is mistaken for less than the trial it really is.

"Most people think that being a student athlete is getting away easier," she said. "It's just more pressure."

The necessity for good grades carries an added importance among all student athletes. Without passing grades, athletes are not able to compete. So if that means game prepping in between homework and quizzes, so be it. 

Barbieri joked that school and sports get in the way of one another, "all the time." But jokes aside, she did express how traveling can be difficult. Athletes are forced to think about their opponents and upcoming games while trying to catch up on missed assignments.

"You have to have a great mindset in terms of trying to manage both," she said. 

For four years Barbieri put her own great mindset to work, and in December of 2020 she graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Exercise and Wellness. When asked what that accomplishment meant to her she switched her gratitude for pride, rightfully so.

"I'm proud of myself," she said. "It's just a lot to handle. I'm proud of myself for being able to graduate with a good GPA and being able to compete at a Pac-12 level. At the same time being far away from my family and friends."

When talking about being far from her family, she was not just exaggerating. If the distance wasn't enough, Barbieri's parents have not yet been able to visit her in Arizona. With last year's plans to visit canceled due to the pandemic, this November will mark the first time that her parents will be able to see her at ASU. 

"I've been waiting for this," Barbieri said. "For them to come and see how my life is here, how ASU is… I'm really, really excited for them to get here."

For Barbieri it is more than just showing her parents her apartment for the first time. This first trip is the opportunity to show her parents the life she has built for herself. A life she said that was built with their lessons and support.

"I'm just excited for them to see how great they did," she said. 

In her own words, those lessons of love and gratitude that helped carry her through a whirlwind student athlete experience are what made her who she is today. And those same lessons will continue to carry her through life when her time at ASU comes to a close.  

"Love is what makes me keep going," she said. "I just love everything in life and I'm very grateful for it."

Sun Devil triathlon might be described as Arizona State's best kept secret. Since the program's inception in late 2015, they have taken home four straight national championships from 2016 through 2019. Quietly leading the way for the reigning national champions is Kyla Roy, whose long list of awards and achievements is complemented by a humble, team-first demeanor. 

Roy, a Canada native, has been an athlete for most of her life. She started off her career as a swimmer, focusing on the breaststroke, before making the switch to triathlon as an early teen. Adding two more intense events, distance biking and running, did not pose much of a challenge for Roy. As a cross country runner in high school who would bike in her free time, she called the transition a "natural switch". 

After her time competing in high school, Roy took a year off of school to focus more on training for triathlon. Then ASU's program came onto her radar thanks to a coach in Canada she was training with. Once she learned more about the team in Tempe, the choice was a simple one. With a nice team environment and the opportunity to go to school while still competing, it just made sense. Plus there was something about the coach, Cliff English, that stuck with her.

"Cliff is from Canada," she pointed out. "So I was like, 'Oh this is great, we have a little Canadian connection.'"

And whether it was the Canadian connection or the new team atmosphere, Roy blossomed right away in Tempe. She quickly made strides as a freshman, racking up some serious accolades. In year one she was named the USA Triathlon Collegiate Athlete of the Year, a USA Triathlon Division I All-American, and a College Triathlon Coaches Association Academic All-American. Roy was also named to the Eastern and Central Division I All-Region Teams. 

But the rapid success did not come without its own challenges. Roy still called the transition, "a big adjustment," as she got acquainted with college life. 

"You're in college, you're by yourself, you need to figure things out by yourself," she said. "It was hard at times. You're just so tired from class you don't want to go to practice, or you're tired from practice so you don't want to go to class."

But in those challenging times Roy said she reminded herself of the opportunity that she had to come to ASU. She shared that reflecting on that opportunity is what pushed her through those challenging times.

While at ASU, Roy did not simply trudge through tough times, but rather embraced them in the name of achieving her goals. When Roy was looking into being a student at ASU she was unsure what she wanted to study, but knew it had to center around helping others. She switched her major three times during her time as an undergraduate student before finding the right fit and earning her bachelor's degree in social work. But in the midst of change, the self-imposed standards remained the same.

"I always saw it as a challenge to get good grades," she said. "I kind of held myself to that."

Roy has not been alone in her push for success in the classroom. In fact, holding each other accountable academically is something the triathlon team prioritizes. Boasting a close to 4.0 GPA as a program, she said team study sessions or library trips are not an uncommon occurrence. 

"It's not like pressure I would say, it's kind of like a challenge for all of us," she said. "It sounds weird but we cheer each other on with school and stuff like that…. We encourage each other."

That same sort of accountability finds its way into the races. And similar to the success in the classroom, the team has done nothing but win. Before the coronavirus pandemic stopped all competition in its tracks, the team was coming off its fourth consecutive national championship in 2019. At the event, Roy crossed the finish line first to take home the individual national title. 

But when asked about her individual achievement, Roy clarified that it was a team effort. She said crossing the finish line first was rewarding because of all the effort the team put in. 

"My teammate Audrey and I broke away on the bike together," she recalled. "Yes I won the race, but only because of her. We kind of shared that moment which is special." 

While Roy may not admit it for herself, her success as a collegiate student athlete speaks for itself. In addition to her individual national title and athletic awards, Roy was named a CTCA Academic All-American three years in a row. And after years of excelling both academically and athletically, Roy said she plans to put "student athlete" on her resume.

"[Being a student athlete] is kind of like being a job," she said. "You have to show up on time, you have to be committed. Even outside of practice you still have to be thinking about practice."

Now as she looks to the future, Roy is not exactly sure what she wants to do next. She jokes about having "40 different life plans". But regardless of what comes next, Roy hopes the image she leaves behind will be that of someone who wasn't afraid to take chances. In her own words: a hard worker who had fun doing it.