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Over two years later, Lezo Urreiztieta's presence still felt within UA track program

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Arizona Athletics and Arizona Athletics and Arizona Athletics | The Daily Wildcat Former Arizona track and field athlete Lezo Urreliztieta jumps over a hurdle during a meet. In Dec 2013 Urreliztieta died from complications from a braing surgery.

“Life is full of hurdles. Become a good hurdler," Lezo Urreiztieta once said. 

Urreiztieta would be considered a good hurdler. He was a state champion hurdler and continued his hurdling career donning the red and blue on the Arizona men’s track and field team.

Urreiztieta was the person you would want to spend time with, as Canyon del Oro High School track and field coach Michelle Gerard put it.

“Not one person ever said a bad word,” Gerard said. “He was held in high regards. All the other kids just respected him. He was one of those kids that all the other students would just flock around because people wanted to be around him.”

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Urreiztieta had a very successful high school track and field career, excelling in the hurdles.

As a senior in high school, Urreiztieta placed first in the 110-meter hurdles. Earlier in the season, he placed the 110 and 300 hurdles at the annual Willie Williams Classic, which took place at the Roy P. Drachman Stadium.

This is where Arizona track and field head coach Fred Harvey would first meet Urreiztieta. Harvey recalled Urreiztieta's recruitment as one of the strangest.

“Typically in recruitment, the athlete believes that they can compete in the next level [college], even though in reality many of them can’t,” Harvey said. “Lezo was concerned that he could not compete at the next level while maintaining his pursuit of his academics. It turned into a job of me convincing him that he had the athletic and academic ability to compete at this level.”

Harvey persuaded Urreiztieta to join the team as a preferred walk-on his first year as a Wildcat.

“He brought everything that a coach would want to see in an athlete to our program,” Harvey said. “He worked as hard as anyone in the program and had talent that he would develop to be a division one athlete. He was your ultimate teammate.”

Harvey knew that Urreiztieta was a determined athlete, as he recalled being challenged by the athlete, often in different ways. One challenge in particular was Harvey's favorite.

“I was big on 5 a.m. lifting sessions,” Harvey said. “Lezo told me that he would never arrive to these sessions after me. I would always arrive and always find him sitting on the stairs. He was determined to never arrive to practice after me.”

Urreiztieta's track career was on the rise, as he was developing into a competitive hurdler for the Wildcats.

According to the Arizona Daily Star, Urreiztieta checked in to the former University of Arizona Medical Center in December 2013, for surgery to fix a pre-existing brain condition.In the hospital, Urreiztieta’s brain swelled, causing him to have a series of strokes. Urreiztieta died following complications from brain surgery.

Following his death, sadness passed over family, friends, Canyon Del Oro and the UA community.

Lezo was surely full of life. As Harvey said, “he loved and cared about everyone.”

Harvey recalled when he was at an elementary track meet where he spoke to all the children about Urreiztieta. After the meet, a child approached Harvey and asked, “Who is Lezo?” Harvey said, “Imagine you have a person who is the smartest, funniest, kindest, goofiest guy you’ve ever met. That is Lezo.” The kids replied saying that no person could be that perfect, to which Harvey said, “Well you have never met Lezo.”

As Urreiztieta embodied the characteristics of a stand-up person, the hashtag #BELEZOLIKE was created in order to help Urreiztieta’s legacy live on.

“To live like Lezo means to live every day to the fullest, to be kind to others,” Gerard said. “And to work as hard as you can to get what you want. Lezo knew what he wanted early on in life and he was going to go succeed. He always pushed himself.”

To #BELEZOLIKE is to show the love and compassion that Urreiztieta exhibited. Gerard said she always admired how Urreiztieta acted toward his family.

“He would still kiss his mom and dad at the meets and give hugs to his brother,” Gerard said.

As for Harvey, #BELIKELEZO means holding others to the standards by which Urreiztieta lived.

“I challenge people to live the way Lezo lived,” Harvey said. “He loved life tremendously. What I admired was that he never viewed anyone as beneath him nor above him. That is how Lezo lives on. He was a very special person.”

Lezo’s legacy also lives on at his alma mater high school, Canyon Del Oro. Each year, at the end of the year track banquet, the “Live Like Lezo” award is given out to an athlete who exhibits good character.

“(Lezo’s) brother will come up and award the honor to one athlete that exhibits Lezo’s character,” Gerard said. “Kids that don’t even know Lezo will talk about him and how great of person he was. They even want to put his quote on our track shirts.”

Lezo’s legacy lives on through the good that he put in the world.

“Life is full of hurdles. Become a good hurdler.”


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