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Running Into the Future

June 21, 2021 - 4 minute read

The Aguirre brothers sitting in front of the Concordia Eagles sign

Brothers Angel and Fernando Aguirre from Whittier excel on Concordia University Irvine's cross-country team. Both have overcome a lot to attend Concordia University Irvine, including the fact that Fernando is autistic.

“As the older brother, I have to look out for him sometimes,” Angel says. “He doesn’t understand everything, but he’s pretty high-functioning and most of the time I don’t try to treat him differently.”

Angel tends to be straightforward when introducing Fernando to people.

You put in the work and hopefully get an achievement out of it. It doesn’t always have to be about winning.

“I say, ‘Hi, this is my brother, Fernando. He’s autistic.’ That’s it,” Angel says.

Fernando describes himself as “built different,” mostly as a way to be funny, Angel says. “We all have a sense of humor,” he says.

Their younger brother, Valentino, who is still at home, is also on the autism scale.

Angel, a gifted distance runner, took a high school teammate’s recommendation to check out Concordia University Irvine. Angel toured the campus and liked what he saw. “I wondered where I’d go to college,” he says. “I just wanted to run.”

He had made the varsity high school team as a sophomore. On that first visit to Concordia University Irvine, he committed to attend and run for the team.

“My events right now are the 5k and 10k,” he says. “You put in the work, put in the hours and hopefully get an achievement out of it. It doesn’t always have to be about winning. If I can improve on my own time, that’s good, too.”

When Fernando approached his own high school graduation, Angel asked him, “Do you want to run on a team with me again? Come here to Concordia.”

Fernando, known as “Nano,” did just that, and is now studying nursing and healthcare management. He discovered his love for the field while working in a nursing care facility in high school.

“I liked helping the patients out, taking care of them every day,” Nano says. “I like the responsibility of helping residents with eating, showering, changing, moving them to different beds, cleaning their room, making their bed, writing down their things on a chart, giving them medicine.”

His life goal is to be a registered nurse or a cardiologist, he says. Among other gifting, Nano has an extraordinary ability to memorize things, including the parts and functions of human anatomy.

The Aguirre brothers at the starting line

He’s also fast. Nano runs the same cross-country events as Angel, and they compete to make each other better.

“It’s a battle,” Angel promises. “We are flatout opponents.” They practice by running trails in Irvine. “We go run a quick nine miles and we’re good for the day,” says Angel.

Tim Odle, Vice President of University Operations and Athletics, met Angel in the fall of Angel’s freshman year.

“I gave him a job and the relationship just grew,” Odle says. “He’s worked for me for four years. He’s such a hard worker and sends any money he makes above tuition to his mom and his brother [at home]. He truly does exhibit that servant mentality which is part of our mission and what we’re all about. He’s wise, honorable and cultivated. They both are loyal, true and honest — two brothers from the inner city, working their tails off to put themselves in a better place. I am very proud of them.”

Nano was quickly accepted when he came to campus for his freshman year. “I enjoyed meeting new people, hanging out with them after practice and on weekends,” Nano says. “We go to dinner, which is fun.”

Their mother sometimes tells Angel, “You’ve got to watch out for him,” Angel says, to which he responds, “‘He’s going to make it. Don’t worry about him.’ I’m really chill about it. Everyone on campus knows Nano. They know him and love him.”

Everyone on campus knows Nano. They know him and love him.

The boys are the first in their family to go to college. Angel is a psychology major with a double minor in behavioral science and sociology. He will graduate this summer, then pursue a master’s degree in coaching. He has enjoyed working for University Services so much that he hopes to become a facility director in Irvine — anything to keep him from “sitting in an office all day looking at a computer.”

The brothers are rooming together and working on campus this summer. They move furniture, perform construction on buildings, hang televisions, dig up tree roots, and help Odle with special events like the NCAA west region softball tournament where they shagged balls and set up canopies for teams to sit under, among other things.

“I like Concordia. It’s amazing,” Nano says. “I like the [academic] program and running.”

As for Angel, “He is a good brother. He helps me,” Nano says. “Sometimes I want to try to be responsible for my own self, and he lets me.”

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