MARQUETTE—Eight United States Olympic Education Center athletes will be heading to Northern Michigan University’s Superior Dome for something other than training on Saturday (May 5). They’ll be crossing the commencement stage to receive their diploma.
Greco-Roman wrestler Marco Lara (Long Beach, Calif.) will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in entrepreneurship. Like all USOEC resident athletes, he received the B.J. Stupak Scholarship to cover his education expenses.
“Now that I’m graduating, I realize how lucky I am to have the scholarship and how many other students would like to be in my position,” said Lara.
“It’s important for athletes to get an education so they can go to the next level,” said boxer Walter Sarnoi (Monterey Park, Calif.), who will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in finance. “Your physical body can only do so much. You have to have a back-up plan in case something happens.”
Lara added, “College gives athletes a broader view of the world— it gives them a different perspective.”
Freestyle wrestler and graduate student Jenna Pavlik (Lewes, Del.) will earn a master’s degree in education. She believes her athletic background relates to her work in the classroom.
“Discipline and dedication go hand in hand,” she said. “You get out of your education what you put in. If you put in average effort, you’ll get average results. If you push yourself, you’ll perform well. It’s the same on the mat.”
As student athletes pursuing their Olympic dreams, the graduates have overcome unique obstacles in the sports arena and the classroom.
“The challenges I faced put me under a lot of pressure, but it’s taught me discipline and how to overcome adversity,” said Sarnoi.
The challenges often involve making difficult decisions and sacrifices. Sarnoi and teammate Jose Villarreal (Rockford, Ill.) elected to stay behind as the rest of the boxers traveled to Tennessee this week for the Golden Gloves National Championships, an Olympic Trials qualifier. Villarreal will earn a bachelor’s degree in clinical lab science.
“I realize that there will be more opportunities for me to qualify for the Olympic Trials,” said Sarnoi. “This is the opportunity for me to graduate and celebrate something I can take with me for life. I’ll be the first of my siblings to graduate.”
The USOEC is one of four Olympic Training Centers in the country and the only one dedicated to offering athletes both educational and training opportunities. USOEC athletes recognize the importance of education and enjoy visiting local schools to share their message.
“With us being Olympic hopefuls, the students look up to us,” Pavlik said. “When they see education is important to us, they think it’s important. The more they hear education is important, the more it helps it hit home.”
Other USOEC graduates earning bachelor’s degrees include weightlifter Rachel Hearn (Savannah, Ga.), marketing; Greco-Roman wrestler Harry Lester (Akron, Ohio), history; and freestyle wrestler Liz Short (Lombard, Ill.), athletic training. Freestyle wrestler Kierstin Hyatt (Carmichael, Calif.) will receive a master’s degree in public administration.
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