UNM law grad Shapiro balances academics, big-time Ironman competitions - Albuquerque Journal

UNM law grad Shapiro balances academics, big-time Ironman competitions

Athena Shapiro, a UNM graduate student, is competing in the World Triathlon Championships, women’s sprint age 25-29 division in Montreal, Canada on Saturday. (Courtesy of Josh Choman)

Whatever Athena Shapiro does at the World Triathlon Championships on Saturday in Montreal, it will be hard to top what she accomplished in a week’s time last month as an athlete and a student.

Shapiro, 29, a University of New Mexico graduate student, completed the full Ironman (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile marathon run) at the World Championships in St. George, Utah on May 7. Then, on May 14, she earned her Juris Doctor (JD) for completing law school at UNM. She received a certificate for her specialization in natural resources, which includes law in the topics of water, administrative, climate change and environmental.

“I felt like I was at the top of what I’ve been working towards accomplishing for so long,” Shapiro said in a phone interview on Friday.

“Law school really had its ups and downs, especially with COVID and half of it being online. That was really hard to stay motivated and stay focused, and to remember why you’re doing what you’re doing.”


Athena Shapiro, a UNM grad student, completed a full Ironman at the World Championship in St. George, Utah on May 7. A week later she graduated from law school at UNM.

Shapiro learned more about herself, her physical and mental strength. She pushed herself past limits that she set and some that were forced on her.

“It felt really good to graduate and still be able to train and do what I love, which is swimming, biking and running,” she said. “Being able to have that discipline and motivation to get up and do it even when it’s snowing, even when it’s cold, even when there’s a wind storm. I’m being blown all over the road. It feels good knowing that I can, not so much push my body, but push my mind to do the uncomfortable things now.”

Shapiro, originally from Sherman Oaks, California, will be competing in the women’s sprint age 25-29 division in Canada (wtcs.triathlon.org). The sprint distances include 750-meter swim, 20K (12-mile) bike, and a 5-kilometer (3.1-mile) run.

She qualified for Saturday’s event by finishing second in her division at the national event in November in Tempe, Arizona, where she finished in 1 hour, 14 minutes, 3 seconds.

She has come a long way since completing her first triathlon when she was 16. Since then, setting goals and training for races have become a huge part of her life. She completed a half Ironman at the World Championships in St. George, Utah in September.

A couple weeks ago, she finished as the silver medalist at the City of Lakes Triathlon Championship in Santa Rosa. That equates to second place overall among women in the state.

On Oct. 1, Shapiro will compete in the XTerra World Championship in Trentino, Italy. XTerra is a triathlon that includes a 1.5K swim, 30K mountain bike and 10K trail run.

She qualified for that event when she finished second at the qualifier in Arizona earlier this year.

For now, she is focused on her competition in Canada, and she is excited.

“People from all over the world are here,” Shapiro said. “We had a parade of the nations (on Thursday), when everyone was wearing their national colors and had their flag, and we walked through the city.”

Shapiro works out six days a week. She said Albuquerque is a great place to train for her events.

She usually takes Mondays off and devotes more time to her studies. She is set to take the bar exam on July 26-27.

After that she will seek a job while she continues toward a master’s degree in water resource and hydroscience.

Shapiro said time management is key in her life.

“A lot of calendars,” she said. “Knowing what’s due, knowing when you got to get it done, knowing what you can get ahead of and what you can’t. Training, you can’t do tomorrow’s workout today. But you can always do tomorrow’s homework or tomorrow’s reading today.”

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