The University of Arkansas Athletic Department is celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month from Sept. 15-Oct. 15, with a series of stories highlighting several of our student-athletes and staff members with Hispanic and Latino American backgrounds. We will be publishing a series of stories each Wednesday during the month-long event letting fans get to know selected student-athletes and staff members, and how their heritage impacts them. Check back each week for new stories.
Samantha Cortez is preparing to start her second season as an assistant coach for Razorback gymnastics, but she's been a part of the highly successful program for many years.
Cortez grew up in a deeply rooted Puerto Rican family. Her grandmother was born and raised with her 12 siblings in Puerto Rico. Recently, Cortez traveled to Puerto Rico for a family reunion and enjoyed the experience.
"It was really cool to see where my family comes from," Cortez says.
Cortez's background with gymnastics began as a five-year-old growing up in Verona, N.J. Cortez says her family support kept her going on her goal of earning a college scholarship to compete in gymnastics.
"My parents wet to almost every club meet when I was growing up," she says. "I can only remember a few times when I was going all the way across the country where they didn't end up making the trip with me."
Cortez began her career as a Razorback as a member of the team from 2005-08.
Being a student-athlete at Arkansas was a great experience for Cortez. She helped the Razorbacks earn bids to an NCAA Regional all four years with the program's first two appearances in the NCAA Championship in 2006 and 2008.
"I loved my time as a student-athlete," Cortez says. "I wouldn't change one moment of it. It was exciting and fulfilling. We set goals and reached goals, it was really great."
As a coach, she's getting the chance to see what the perspective is from the coaching side of gymnastics.
"Now that I am a coach, I get to see the other side of the program where you have to really prepare them for success, and preparing to go week in and week out to do the best they can do and support their teammates," she says. "I really just want to help them grow as young women and individuals, and get them ready for life after college."
Throughout her time as a student-athlete at Arkansas, Cortez's family often made the long trip to Barnhill Arena to support her - something they still do today with her coaching career.
"My family came to as many meets as they could when I was a student-athlete at Arkansas," Cortez says. "Now that I'm coaching, they still come to SECs, NCAA regionals, national championships and Senior Night. They also try to go to an away meet, and come and support me and the Razorbacks as much as possible."
For Cortez, the support of her family from New Jersey to Arkansas was not much of a surprise. For a strong Puerto Rican family, it was expected.
"My heritage has always been a very big part of me, who I am and how I was raised," Cortez says.