In 1987, I weighed 92 pounds as a freshman in high school. I was short, scrawny, brown (I still am), and shy. My father did not graduate from high school, and my grandfather only completed sixth grade. Today, I have degrees from Stanford and Harvard and am currently posted to my sixth overseas assignment where I have the privilege of representing our country as a United States Diplomat. My experiences at Stanford were critical in steering me toward my vocation, and I would never have attended Stanford without wrestling. In fact, I almost didn’t.
Wresting is unique as a school sport because of the use of weight classes to match competitors against others of their same size. That was a blessing for a kid like me who was athletic but not big enough to be competitive at football or basketball. The lightest weight class in high school (at the time) was 98 pounds, which meant I was still one of the lightest competitors to step on the mat. Nevertheless, the weight class model allowed me to compete and grow into the sport. By the time I graduated, I was a high school national champion and selected to USA Wrestling’s Dream Team as the top ranked 125-pound wrestler in America.
My success in high school led to full scholarship offers at the best wrestling programs in the country. My interest in more than just wrestling meant I was well rounded enough to hit the radar of Stanford wrestling coach Chris Horpel, but I certainly would not have been a prospective Stanford student without my athletic accomplishments. At the time, Stanford was unable to offer scholarships, so my decision came down to taking out significant student loans to wrestle at Stanford or accept a full scholarship pretty much anywhere else. My recruiting trip sealed the deal when I met my future teammates and experienced a few days on The Farm.
While technically an individual sport as you step onto the mat by yourself, wrestling teammates physically and mentally push, encourage, teach, and inspire in ways unique in sport…and in life. What that means at Stanford is that teammates challenge you to become better people, not just wrestlers. At Stanford, I found likeminded teammates similarly passionate about wrestling and competition, but also much more. They were equally passionate about environmental science, chemical engineering, computer programming, psychology, biology, politics, the future of education, sucking the most out of life each day, serving others, and much more.
I found my academic passion as a sophomore taking Economics 101 from Professor John Taylor. Three years later, I was fortunate to combine my love for wrestling and personal faith to compete with Athletes in Action in Poland and Russia, which exposed me to the kind of influence representatives from the United States have in the world. In 2003, I joined the U.S. Foreign (Diplomatic) Service with the Department of State as an Economic Officer.
Over the course of my career, I have had the privilege to be a part of historic moments in U.S. foreign policy. I helped open the U.S. Embassy in Iraq in 2004, start the transition to renewing diplomatic relations with Cuba, lead election monitoring teams in Rwanda and Honduras (post-coup), and provide advice to the U.S. military on such complicated conflicts as Libya and Somalia. My journey has included close and consistent engagements with world leaders, including Stanford alums.
Wrestling for me is an intellectual exercise. Strength, flexibility, and endurance are all necessary but not sufficient to succeed in wrestling. Perseverance, resilience, and a will to overcome perceived physical limitations are additional ingredients. But the best wrestlers have something more. Some kind of internal drive or creativity. In my case, I was a student of the sport. Wrestling for me was about mastering technique, studying my opponents, and executing a strategy that will lead me to victory. Not that different from diplomacy, except in foreign policy winning is often in the eye of the beholder.
I have been devastated by the news that my beloved alma mater made a decision without any notice to drop the wrestling team. The program that gave this skinny kid the opportunity to compete at the highest levels both nationally and internationally. The program that taught me that you could be passionate about more than one thing. Twenty-five years after my Stanford days, I still list on my resume the proud fact that I was a two-time captain of the Stanford wresting team. The legacy of Stanford alumnae is one the university can and should be proud of. I hope and pray that Stanford will do the right thing and continue to offer kids like me the opportunity to compete and serve. #KeepStanfordWrestling
- Jimmy Aguirre