They call her the girl who walks on water.
But on campus, she is simply the student you sit next to in STAT 101. Larisa Morales lives what can be best described as a double-life, by school-day a freshman at Wharton, by summer a world-class wakeboarder.
“I started wakeboarding when I was six,” Morales said. “My whole family went on weekend trips, and on one of those trips, we went to the lake, and it started from there; my dad bought a board and that was it.”
For Morales, that day at the lake began a successful career that, frankly, may still be in its adolescence. After achieving quick success in national competition, including a title on the junior Mexican Wake Tour, Morales decided to compete on the international level. In little time, she rose to the top of the international scene as well.
In one of her first international outings, Morales finished runner-up in WWA World Championship in the girls’ division. In 2012, the Monterrey native secured the Junior World Championship title in the women’s category. The following season, Morales entered the pro ranks, competing against the sport’s best women as a high schooler. Even still, the pro ranks failed to slow down Morales, who finished second in the IWWF World Wakeboard Championships a year after winning her junior title. It did not take long for companies to recognize the phenom’s potential. She is currently sponsored by Red Bull, who published a feature video on Morales, aptly nicknamed “The Girl Who Walks on Water.”
Even when confronted with choosing her best achievements, Morales’ focus is aimed at personal goals she reaches, as opposed to the trophies she collects. She cited the first time she landed a 720, becoming the first Mexican female wakeboarder to complete the trick successfully, as the peak of her accomplishments so far.
For Morales, coming to Penn came with the luxury of ambiguity not usually afforded to athletes of her caliber. Part of that comes from the niche nature of the sport of wakeboarding; another explanation is her humble comportment.
“It’s helps that wakeboarding is a small sport, so I never really experienced that ‘you’re so famous’ thing,” the junior world champion said. “Coming to college, you get to build this whole new reputation as a freshman where nobody knows who you are, and it’s kind of like starting all over.”
As a student, Morales also prides herself on being an ambassador of her sport, spreading awareness. As she meets students on campus, she appreciates their genuine interest in the sport.
The phenom’s greatest challenge comes from managing an intense academic schedule with an equally demanding training regimen. As an international student who primarily trains in Florida, finding a contingent of people who were willing to train proved difficult. Nevertheless, the Wharton student manages, setting aside her weekends to keep herself in shape while waiting until the summer season arrives to ramp up her schedule.
As a wakeboarder, Morales competes in a sport that is not a part of the NCAA program. For her this meant she would not be able to compete as a student-athlete. Nevertheless, Morales once more found a way to engage in athletics on campus; she currently manages media content for Penn Athletics’ social media accounts. It is through this work that Morales gains passion for the effort put it in by student athletes at Penn.
“I appreciate all the athletes [I’ve seen]. With wakeboarding, especially right now, I don’t get to train as much and work as hard as these guys do,” Morales said. “I know the opportunities I have aren’t the same as they do and that doing collegiate athletics is something that is really hard to do in America, and mostly seen as impossible.”
Though Morales would never admit it, her dreams are also viewed as impossible.
To remain at the top of the sport while studying among the top of her class is a feat in itself. Not to mention that her achievement largely goes unknown to the rest of campus. As she hopes to be ready for the upcoming professional season, her academic season begins to wind down as her athletic season ramps up. While her future in both disciplines in unsure, her commitment to both of her passions is impressive in the least.
And before departing for the summer, it feels like high time to give a shout out to the girl who walks on water, unbeknownst to those who walk on Locust.