As many of you know by now, I’ll be stepping down as CEO of SHPE on April 30 to pursue a new and exciting opportunity. Rather than write my final CEO Corner as a farewell letter, which warrants its own space and message, I thought it would be fitting to bring the ideas discussed in the last two Corners full circle—to share some of the lessons that sports have taught me, how they’ve informed my role at SHPE, and what you might learn from them in turn.
In their own unique ways, UFC and mountain biking have made me who I am, both as a person and a leader. But the sport that really changed my life, the one that’s given me the greatest education—about commitment, about discipline, about what it means to work at something you really love—was powerlifting.
I know what you’re probably thinking. “Raquel? A powerlifter? Really?”
Yes, really. Ready for another shocker? The reason I started weightlifting was because, as captain of my high-school varsity cheerleading team, I wanted our squad to be the best our school had ever seen. Truth be told, we had no idea what we were doing when it came to strength training. But we figured it out. We did the work—intense, grueling practices. And we won our division competition because of it.
During my first two years at the University of Texas at Austin, I was in the weight room constantly. I even took a powerlifting class, to learn about the mechanics of it all: the right techniques and conditioning strategies; how to increase my strength and improve my endurance. Before long, a couple of the coaches asked me to walk on the UT women’s powerlifting team. At first, I was apprehensive—even a little intimidated. But I also knew that, if I didn’t try, I’d regret it. So I gave it a shot.
In joining the team, I found a tight-knit culture that was uniquely its own. Working out in a dirty old gym, metal music blaring from the speakers, I felt like I finally found my people—people who were loyal, driven and fiercely dedicated to honing their craft. People from every background imaginable.
More importantly, I learned what it means to be part of a national collegiate team, and the importance of self-sacrifice. I gave up all forms of cardio (including running) to conserve my strength for muscle-building. Before Nationals, I fasted for a couple of days and converted my hotel bathroom into a sauna; running the hot water for hours; using towels to seal off the door—just to make sure I came in at the right weight.
I also learned some tougher lessons. During my first year of competing, I decided to join some of my “fraternity brothers” (I was in a business fraternity called Alpha Kappa Psi) for a spring break trip to Cancun. It was right in the middle of the powerlifting season, just before Regionals, and my teammates were not happy. Looking back, they were right to be upset. I’d let them down. In a way, I’d disrespected them. I put my own interests ahead of the team's.
Once I got back to Austin, I worked my butt off to make it up to them. We ended up finishing first in both the men’s and women’s competitions. (I finished second in my division.) In the end, all was forgiven. But the experience stayed with me.
From that point on, no matter where my professional journey took me, I vowed to put the team first. When I came to SHPE four years ago, I was taking another leap into the unknown, leaving my legal career for a chance to helm one of the largest Hispanic-serving professional organizations in the country. To say it was a challenge would be an understatement. But just as I did when I joined the UT powerlifting team, I found strength and inspiration in the culture of SHPE: the enthusiasm and dedication, the passion and pride, the idea of being part of something bigger than any one person—it all felt somehow familiar. Since then, the love and respect I have for SHPE has only grown, and I know those feelings will never waver.
From record membership and Convention attendance to new programs, chapters and partnerships, what we’ve accomplished has been truly remarkable—a testament to the tight-knit culture and community this organization has fostered for nearly 50 years. Together, we’ve set up SHPE and its members to not only succeed, but thrive, creating the kinds of programs, resources, and experiences that honor SHPE’s legacy and longstanding mission of empowering Hispanics in STEM.
As I reflect on my time at SHPE, the word “power”—powerlifting, empowering—keeps flashing through my mind. In the simplest possible terms, weightlifting is about using your strength to pick up really heavy objects. The more you lift, the more reps you do, the stronger and more antifragile you become. In the same way, every time SHPE lifts someone up—be it through a program or a scholarship or by helping them land a job or internship—it’s not just the individual that becomes stronger and more empowered, but the organization as well.
To the entire SHPE Familia—my team at SHPE National; the members of the Board; our wonderful IPC partners; and the amazing student and professional members who inspired me every day—thank you for the past four years. You’re one of the greatest teams I’ve ever been a part of. Together, we have lifted up so many people. We’ve empowered entire communities.
But the work is far from over. We need to keep doing the heavy lifting. And know that with every life SHPE impacts, with every student SHPE holds up high and every professional SHPE prepares for leadership, we will be made stronger. And so too will our collective Hispanic community.
Don’t stop doing the hard work. Don’t stop shouldering the weight. And never lose sight of what dedication and discipline makes possible: a world where our strength—as individuals, as an organization and as one Hispanic community—can lift the world up.