Olympic Sports

Jamie Pollard on Celia Barquin Arozamena: “A really special young lady”

May 31, 2018; Shoal Creek, AL, USA; Celia Barquin Arozamena hits on to the ninth green during the first round of the U.S. Women’s Open Championship golf tournament at Shoal Creek. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

AMES — Iowa State women’s golf star Celia Barquin Arozamena’s eyes became more luminous, her ever-present smile, even broader.

They’re honoring me? At Saturday’s Cyclone football game against Akron? As the 2018 female student-athlete of the year?

“She broke down in tears and was in awe that Iowa State would think to recognize her in front of 60,000 people at a football game,” a somber and emotional Jamie Pollard said during a Tuesday news conference he wishes he’d never had to convene. “That’s a really special young lady.”

ISU’s director of athletics shared this second-hand story as his voice cracked and his eyes glistened. He painted a portrait of a stellar student-athlete from Spain who shined as brightly as a Civil Engineering major as she did in becoming the 2018 Big 12 champion.

Pollard broke down while trying to describe how the honor Barquin Arozamena was supposed to bask in late Saturday morning would instead become a posthumous tribute coming in the wake of her violent death Monday morning at Coldwater Golf Links.

And he struggled to put into words the senselessness of it all — how such a bright light could be extinguished in the middle of the day doing something that she loved.

“Losing one of our student-athletes,” Pollard said, pausing, his lips briefly quivering, “is like losing a child.”

Ames Police have charged Collin Daniel Richards with first-degree murder. He’s not an ISU student and has no known address. Barquin Arozamena’s stabbing death has been deemed by police to be “a random act of violence” committed in broad daylight.

Who, anywhere, can make sense of that?

“Our society has changed,” Pollard said. “And I don’t know if it’s because there’s more ways to report it so we know more about things that happen. Ames is still a touch of Mayberry and that got cracked a little this week. That’s really unfortunate. That’s why I say that this is bigger than our athletics program. But at the same time, and I’ve said this several times in the last 24 hours, is we may be beat physically, but we can’t be beat mentally. And all of us — all of us — have to think about that. Stuff happens. There’s nothing that Celia did or didn’t do that caused this. It was just a senseless, senseless random act and she just happened to be in the absolute wrong place at the wrong time. I don’t know what you can ever do to prevent that. We can continue to try to educate. I’m glad we live in a community that this is something that actually stops all of us in our tracks. There’s plenty of places, unfortunately, in our world, where you all wouldn’t even be in here covering it if it had happened. That doesn’t make it any easier, but at the same time, we’ve got to live our lives. That’s why we’ve got to find the strength to carry on because she’d want us to.”

How do these things happen?

Why do they happen?

Pollard and everyone around ISU, Ames — and across the Atlantic in Northern Spain and elsewhere — can and should ask such questions, but the important answers come from within each of us.

“I know this: Our hearts, our prayers and our support go out to Celia, her family and her teammates that are responding to such a cowardly act of violence,” Cyclones football coach Matt Campbell said Tuesday. “I do know this: I know this is a really powerful place, I know this is a place that will respond as one and we’ll get through this tragedy together.”

In Spain, family and friends assembled in the streets of Barquin Arozamena’s hometown of Puente San Miguel. They’ll need each other in the wake of this horrific loss, as well. 

Pollard said law enforcement officials informed Barquin Arozamena’s family about her killing. ISU women’s golf coach Christie Martens has spoken with the family, too.

“We are all devastated,” Martens said in a statement. “Celia was a beautiful person who was loved by all her teammates and friends. She loved Iowa State and was an outstanding representative for our school. We will never forget her competitive drive to be the best and her passion for life.”

Nor should anyone.

The Cyclones’ athletics department is a small town-within-a small town. It’s extremely tight-knit and reflective of its leadership. ISU players in all sports will wear decals emblazoned with Barquin Arozamena’s initials — CBA — in her honor. 

“I think it hits close to home because she’s one of us,” ISU quarterback Zeb Noland said. “There’s 36,000 students here and there’s 400 student-athletes, so I think it’s very unique and it’s very sad. I feel terrible for her and her family. It’s hard on us as student-athletes because we all think about it as if it was our teammate. So I feel terrible. I wish there was something that we could do to, you know — I know we’re gonna have the stickers on our helmets, but I just wish there was just so much more we could do to try to pull the pain away from the people that truly, truly feel it.”

Every bit helps. 

Pollard said once the ISU women’s golf team had returned early from a tournament in Ann Arbor, Mich., Monday night, the players met with members of the men’s team, as well as trained university counselors.

They cried. They embraced. They’ll get through this together.

“It was the beginning of what I think will be a really long healing process,” Pollard said. “I don’t think you can put a timeline on how long it will take for this community, this institution and our athletics program to ever overcome this. At the same time, we know we have to carry on. Celia would want it that way. I know coach Martens talked to her parents this morning and they told coach, they know that if Celia had to do it all over again, she would do it all over again. That’s how much she loved this place. She was a passionate, caring young lady that probably embraced being a Cyclone more than just about anybody we’ve ever had.”

Now it’s time for everyone who didn’t know her to embrace her memory.

But it’s more than that.

Pollard was asked to define Barquin Arozamena’s legacy and said that answer will depend largely on you and me. 

“I think her legacy is yet to be still defined,” Pollard said. “What we know about what she accomplished has been phenomenal. She was an incredible student. An incredible athlete. One of the best stories about her being a student is here choosing the major she chose because someone challenged her, saying, ‘You couldn’t do that.’ So that’s what allowed her to make that decision. But how we respond as a community to what has transpired will probably dictate how we remember her legacy. You hate to think that it takes something tragic to elevate somebody’s legacy to even a higher level, but my sense is that’s what’s before is. She’ll be far more remembered because of what’s just transpired than what transpired in the last four years and my hope is that what we can remember her from in the future is not what we know at this particular moment, but maybe what we know, come Saturday, come a week from now, about her lasting impact.”

Barquin Arozamena’s favorite color was yellow. Fans are encouraged to wear clothes of that color to Saturday’s game against the Zips — and to be in the stands by 10:45 a.m. in order to offer en masse support for Barquin Arozamena’s honor-turned-tribute.

That’s one answer when faced with senseless acts.

Getting together. All of us. Pushing through, one step at a time, in unison.

“We’ve got an incredible opportunity on Saturday to be able to honor Celia for the award she rightfully earned, but also for the Cyclone fans to do what I know they do really, really well,” Pollard said. “They pick each other up. So we’ll have a video and a moment of silence just before the band plays the National Anthem. Probably about 10 minutes before kick, and so I hope through the dedication of our fans and, hopefully, what you all can write and air, that our fans will take 15 minutes away from what I know they enjoy, which is tailgating, and come into the stadium a little earlier so we can be there to embrace the young ladies on this team and our coaching staff and hopefully use Saturday as the first step in a really symbolic healing moment for this entire community.”

Rob Gray

administrator

Rob, an Ames native, joined Cyclone Fanatic in August, 2014 after nearly a decade and a half of working at Iowa's two largest newspapers. He spent 10 years at the Des Moines Register and, after a brief stint in public relations, joined the Cedar Rapids Gazette as an Iowa State correspondent three years ago. Rob specializes in feature stories for CF.