Lezo Urreiztieta, 2011 Canyon Del Oro High School graduate and hurdler for the University of Arizona track team, died on Thursday after complications during brain surgery.
His family held a vigil on Sunday at the University of Arizona, where more than 400 people gathered to pay their respects and say goodbye to the 20-year-old.
Prior to his passing, Urreiztieta described his health condition in a Facebook post as a cavernous angioma, or a collection of hemorrhaged blood vessels in his brain.
“Some people live with them their whole life without complications and others die from them… I’m really leaning toward getting it removed,” Urreiztieta posted on Nov. 7.
During the surgery, Urreiztieta’s brain experienced a severe stroke, causing a vegetative state.
In his years at CDO, Urreiztieta helped his team win a state title, and broke the school record in the 110-meter hurdles. At the University of Arizona, Urreiztieta clocked a personal record in the 60-meter hurdles with a time of 8.18.
Along with his athletic accolades, Urreiztieta took academics very seriously, earning Pac-12 All-Academic honors. He was planning for a career in neurosurgery or plastic surgery, and wanted to help victims who had been involved in serious accidents.
“He was not just a student or an athlete, he was the best of both,” his brother, Gaizka said to the vigil crowd in front of the Koffler building, where Lezo spent much of his time in class. “He was a student athlete who excelled at what he did. He was a great leader on the track, and he was a great leader in the classroom, and I think we owe it to him to recognize that.”
The crowd retraced Urreiztieta’s frequent path from the Koffler building to McKale Center, where he would practice everyday. Urreiztieta ran track under coach Fred Harvey.
“He is my model human being,” Harvey said. “He lived, loved, cried, and was not afraid to express himself. The growth that I gained from him is unbelievable… he will always be in my heart. He was a special young man, and they don’t come around often.”
Arizona Athletic Director Greg Byrne added in a statement, “the unfortunate passing of someone so young and full of life affects us all. He was an excellent student, in addition to being a valued member of our track team and the Arizona athletics community.”
Gaizka read aloud a piece he and his family had written before his brother went into surgery. The goal in reading the piece in the operating room, he said, was to make doctors understand exactly who the person was that they were about to operate on.
“The lord and savior, our beloved Lezo. His joy and love touched countless lives. We are so blessed to have been gifted such an affectionate, selfless, and caring soul.”
Many others also took to social media to pay their respect.
“CDO lost a Dorado. U of A lost a Wildcat. The world lost a competitor, intellectual, and all around amazing guy,” said friend and former CDO track teammate Quintin Kime. “A life that ended decades before it should have. Lezo Urreiztieta, may you rest in peace, you’ve impacted so many.”
Urreiztieta was a registered organ donor. His heart, lungs, kidneys, pancreas, and liver were donated, all of which were said to be in perfect shape by the transplant team. A 56-year-old and 47-year-old were already named recipients.
Urreiztieta is survived by his father Izaro, his mother Melissa, and his brother Gaizka.