Running right at the challenge

q&a austin lopez, northeast, track

April 12, 2009|By Glenn Graham | Glenn Graham,

An excellent student and accomplished musician, Northeast senior Austin Lopez was looking for a challenge that would take him outside of his comfort zone when he began high school. He found running. Lopez, a distance runner for Northeast's outdoor track and field team for four years, ran cross country for three and participated for two years in indoor track. Taking part in athletics, he said, has brought camaraderie, a formidable challenge and a diversion from his other activities at Northeast. Lopez is the school's valedictorian, maintaining a 4.56 weighted grade point average. Last week, he was accepted by Princeton, where, he said, he plans to study something involving research. Along with academics and running, Lopez plays saxophone in the school band. He is a member of the men's ensemble, and he plays and teaches the ukulele.

How did you get started in running?

The main reason why I started was that I thought that was the best way to challenge myself. I was never a big sports guy or anything. I like the whole individual aspect of it, how you're on a team and you have that. But it's mostly [that] the person you're competing with is yourself. It's therapeutic.

What's different about running from other things you do?

When it comes to academics or something like that - or music is another big thing for me - that stuff comes pretty naturally to me. I'll work hard, but I already have a base. And I know what I'm doing, so I'm much more comfortable. One reason why I enjoy running is because, more than anything else I do, it's the one activity I really have to work hard on to improve.

When you're at a breaking point during a run or race, how do you deal with it?

The biggest thing for me is [that] I know I'm going to feel guilty if I don't give it my all because that's what you're there for. I'm not big on the competition, but when I'm there - especially in cross country when you have team scoring - it's definitely living up to expectations and what I've been working toward.

How did you start playing the ukulele?

I'm sort of in love with the quirky instruments, and that had a lot to do with it. It was something in ninth grade where I could be unique by playing the ukulele. It's not really about that anymore, but it's a really fun instrument.

Do you have any hobbies outside of school and music?

I do a lot of Internet browsing. I'll be interested in a certain topic, and I'll delve really deep into it sort of on my own. My cousin and I - we're about the same age - and we love to argue with each other. He's big into philosophy, so I've been going into this philosophy discussion group thing with him. He's my mentor for that, and we get to yell at each other.

What are your thoughts on being the school's valedictorian?

I'm really not looking forward to that speech. I'm not sure what I'm going to do about that yet. I have this thing where I will be mentally prepared for something and be fine, like performing music in front of big groups of people. But physically, when I'm in front of a lot of people, my hands start shaking and my voice starts shaking. So I'm pretty scared about that.

What would you like to study at Princeton?

I'm thinking something in research. Right now, the two main things I'm looking at are either physics or neuroscience. But maybe a social science - I'm really interested in different cultures. Luckily, at a place like Princeton, you sort of have two years to figure out what you want to do.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Hopefully, I'll have a doctorate by then, and I'll be doing something I love - something in research, like I said. I really want to be contributing to some sort of body of knowledge. I don't even want a house or anything. I want to have the mobility to move around some, so no kids or anything like that at that point. I would love to be in another country whether it be temporarily or something more permanent. I definitely want to see Europe when I'm in my 20s.

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