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Lessons in Excellence from the Pool and Classroom

Rachael Foe

2010 BA in History/Secondary Education

Hometown: Ada, Michigan


During a four-year swimming career at Northern Arizona University, Rachael Foe accumulated an impressive array of awards, records, and wins. For instance, she won a gold medal in the 200 individual medley at the 2009 Western Athletic Conference (WAC), breaking the school record, and was also part of six all-WAC first-team awards. She was also a three-time all-WAC Academic award winner, and was also recognized for her overall academic and athletic excellence by the NAU Athletics Department when she was named the 2010 Female Golden Eagle Scholar-Athlete of the Year. As a student-athlete, Rachael certainly made a mark. But life as a swimmer, says Rachael, had an even greater impact on her.

"(My senior) year, especially, I learned a lot about myself in terms of leadership, and what my leadership role is," she says. "I took it really seriously because it was my last year of swimming, and sometimes I had to just step back, go with the flow, and not get frustrated when things didn't go perfectly. Over this whole time, I've learned so much about time management, hard work, dedication, and being responsible."

As Foe will be the first to admit, life as a student athlete requires a serious commitment. On top of the usual course load carried by the typical university student, Rachael and her teammates practiced 20 hours per week during the season, and competed all over the country. She had 6 a.m. practices three days a week, Saturday morning swim sessions, and weight training three times per week. Through it all, however, Rachael was impressed at the strong emphasis her coaches placed on academics.

"(Head swimming coach) Andy Johns was always on us about making sure we took care of the academic side of things," Rachael says. "I think that it was really important for us that he was so concerned about academics. At other universities, that could get washed away and your sport would be more important: but here, the message is that academics are more important, and that you need to balance both (athletics and academics) in a good way."

For Rachael, the academic message was received loud and clear. As a history and secondary education major, she has compiled a 3.74 cumulative GPA. When she first started at NAU, she was briefly interested in pursuing a degree in physical therapy—until she took an Intro to Education course and realized she'd found the perfect match.

"I've always been more of a 'history' person, so when I switched my major I thought, 'Wow! This is so me,'" she says. "Becoming a teacher is a natural path for me, because I want to help people and be there for people."

As a student-athlete, Rachael has already spent a lot of time trying to help people. Although all NAU student-athletes are committed to performing 10 hours of community service per year, Rachael says that her increased free time has allowed her to explore even more volunteer opportunities.

"I've volunteered with Relay for Life every year I've been here, and have worked at Mountain English Spanish Academy, which is kind of an experimental middle school over in Sunnyside," she says. "I'm also going to continue to volunteer at the Democratic Party headquarters, and I'm looking to get involved in Willow Bend, which is an environmental education program in Flagstaff."

As she considers the world beyond NAU, Rachael is grateful for the opportunities and experiences she had in the pool and in the classroom.

"Being a student-athlete is something that very few people get to do in their lives," she says. "Getting to travel with my teammates, and being able to compete has been something that will continue to enrich my life. I'm very thankful for that."