Where are IU Kokomo's athletes today? (Part 2)

Written on 01/25/2024
Danielle Rush, Communications Specialist, Indiana University Kokomo

(Editor’s note: This is the second and final set of profiles featuring Indiana University Kokomo’s alumni from the earliest days of the university’s athletics programs. The Kokomo Lantern thanks IU Kokomo for the opportunity to share their stories.)

Javier Vasquez was IUK’s first national qualifier

When Javier Vasquez came to IU Kokomo from Frankfort High School, he assumed his cross-country days were behind him, since the campus didn’t have a team.

“I had wanted to continue, but IU Kokomo was close to all the people I love, my family members,” he said. “I went there without any athletic pursuits my first year, and it was a surprising bonus when they started the cross-country team my sophomore year. I joined immediately.”

He made a big impact, qualifying for the NAIA national championships his junior year (2013) and senior year (2014) — and earned his place in campus athletic history as the first national qualifier.

Even more important than his success on the field was what being part of the team added to his student experience.

“It took away some sleep,” he said with a laugh. “But it gave me quite a few friends I still talk to, friends who came to see me when I lived in Reno and now in Austin. I learned a lot of time management skills. I feel over prepared when it comes to time management skills, because I had a job, I had school, and I had cross country.

I think a lot of my success came from the work ethic that was instilled by having those three priorities all at the same time.”

Vasquez graduated in 2016 with a degree in business management and a dream to work for Tesla. Soon after, he drove to California for an interview with the electric car maker, “and I planned on staying there until I got a job.”

He got the first job he interviewed for, and worked first in California, then in Reno, Nevada, and now is in logistics at the Gigafactory — a very large factory that produces Tesla vehicles — in Austin, Texas.

“I was impressed with Elon Musk (Tesla’s owner) at a fairly early age. I thought he had impactful goals and wanted to be part of it,” Vasquez said. “It’s been all I hoped and more. I didn’t think it would all come so quickly. All the time management I learned at IUK helped tremendously.”

His career goal is to continue working for Tesla and become a director of supply chain management. He’s not tied to a specific location, noting that Tesla has giga factories in Reno, Austin, Shanghai, and Berlin, with another planned in Monterey, Mexico.

He admits, though, that he sometimes misses the Hoosier state, where his family still lives.

“I was born a Texan, and I’m back in Texas, but I miss low heat and low humidity,” he said. “I feel very much like I have two homes, because I feel at home here in Texas, but every time I go back to Indiana, I can’t say it feels less homey than Texas.”

Lela (Crawford) Gillmann returned home to coach, teach

Basketball was an important part of Lela (Crawford) Gillman’s life growing up in Tipton.

Her elementary education degree from IU Kokomo allowed her to return home to teach and coach, giving back to the next generation.

“It’s an awesome experience that I get to teach at the school I went to,” she said. “Being in my community and sharing my love of basketball is huge for me. It shaped me into the person I am, and now I get to shape some girls into the people they are going to become.”

Gillman played on IU Kokomo’s first women’s basketball team, starting in 2014, and then, in 2016, joined its first women’s golf team as well. She played both sports one year before transitioning into just playing golf.

“That was an interesting year,” she recalled. “Golf was fall and spring, and basketball was a winter sport. Our last golf tournament for the fall was a Monday and Tuesday, and then we had a basketball game the next Thursday. I went from one sport to the next, but it was something I loved so much.”

Her best memories from college athletics are the road trips, visiting different parts of the country with her teams. She says her experiences as a student-athlete have impacted the way she coaches and teaches.

After graduating in 2018 with degrees in elementary education and special education, she began teaching second graders at Tipton Elementary.

“I love that the kids are mature enough that you can start seeing them become independent, but they are still little kids who are fun-loving and learning to read,” she said. “That’s the big thing for me – when they are finally able to read. That gets me every time. I love that part of my job.”

She’s coached multiple sports through the years and is in her second season as the Tipton High School girls’ varsity basketball coach. She also leads middle school co-ed golf.

“My own experience taught me perseverance and time management and things like that,” she said. “I feel like when you are an athlete, you really learn how you would like to be coached. Just keeping in perspective how I learned and how I play basketball, I understand what these athletes are going through now.”

Gillman enjoys teaching second-graders and has been successful, receiving the Early Career Award from the School of Education in 2022. This honor is granted to alumni who have shown outstanding work and effort in the first four years of their careers.

“That really put it all together for me that this was something I should be doing,” she said. “I’ve always known I wanted to be a teacher, but that was the cherry on top that I’m doing the right thing, I’m doing what I love, and I’m doing it really well.”

Gillman’s future goals include continuing to learn and grow as a teacher, and to not get stagnant as a teacher. She also hopes to soon start a family with her husband, Austin Gillman, after getting married in October 2022.

“I just want to learn and grow every day,” she said.

Gabbie Orlando still pursuing education, tennis

May 2023 graduate Gabbie Orlando is continuing her tennis career after four seasons at IUK, using her extra year of COVID eligibility to play for IUPUI while earning a Master of Public Affairs.

It’s been a jump going from NAIA to NCAA play, but she’s enjoyed the opportunity to play one more year collegiately, at the suggestion of IUK Coach Kristine Miller.

“She knew I was going to graduate school there and encouraged me to reach out to the coach,” Orlando said. “We played them last spring, and I was able to contact the coach beforehand. He watched me play and it all worked out.”

It’s a different experience coming to a new team as a veteran, she said.

“I feel old sometimes because it’s a young team and I’m a graduate student, but they’ve been really great,” she said.

Her team only plays two tournaments in the fall, giving her time to acclimate to graduate school and begin the prestigious Peterson Fellowship she, along with two other graduate students, was selected to complete. The three-semester fellowship provides financial support for talented graduate students to gain experience with city government.

The fellowship allows her to work a semester each at IndyGo, the Indianapolis mayor’s office, and the Indianapolis International Airport, working on projects that address a specific challenge in Indianapolis, while supporting the City’s strategic plan and vision.

“It’s a great opportunity to learn in several public sectors, and to meet people,” she said, adding that her career goal is to work in sustainability policy development for a local government.

Orlando said she was happily surprised to be chosen for the tennis team and the fellowship.

“While I was applying for graduate school and applying for the Peterson fellowship and emailing the tennis coach, I thought, I’d be so happy if one of those things happened. For all of them to happen, it makes me very busy, but very happy. I’m very thankful.”

Her IU Kokomo experience, both on the tennis court and in the classroom, prepared her for what she’s doing now.

“My undergraduate work, especially in science and humanities, prepared me for the discussions and the difficult questions we discuss in graduate school,” she said. “My four years of tennis made me the player I am today. The small class sizes were beneficial. It gave me the confidence to talk in my class and speak up, because I had a connection with the people in the room. It made it a lot easier when I was applying to grad school and I could easily think of five professors I could ask for a letter of recommendation, because I had that personal relationship with them.”

These features were originally featured in the winter edition of IU Kokomo’s “Legacy: A Magazine for Alumni and Friends” publication.