Ex-Gopher pole vaulter reaches new heights: Rhodes Scholarship

Ashley Nord joined a select group of scholar/athletes Sunday when she was one of 32 candidates selected to receive a Rhodes Scholarship.
By Rachel Blount
Star Tribune

The idea of appearing before the Rhodes Scholarship selection committee has terrified many college overachievers in the past 104 years. Not Ashley Nord, who prepared for last weekend's interview with the same approach she used on the pole vault runway.

Nord set the bar high, analyzed what she needed to do to clear it, then roared toward her goal with a fearless spirit. The former Gophers vaulter succeeded, as she has done so many times in sports and in academics. Sunday, when Nord became one of 32 Rhodes Scholars for 2009, she joined another impressive subset: varsity athletes who have earned one of the most prestigious awards in American higher education.

The lesser lights of America's jockocracy have perpetuated the lingering stereotype of the slack-jawed, class-cutting, paper-plagiarizing athlete. Coaches who are paid more than most professors often turn blind eyes to learning-averse players, as evidenced by the low graduation rates and GPAs in many major sports. But Cecil Rhodes believed in the saying that the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton, and his ideal of the educated athlete has been forever reflected in the scholarships he funded.

Among the requirements for Rhodes Scholars, "fondness for and success in sports'' is second only to "literary and scholastic attainments.'' Nord, a senior majoring in physics, astrophysics and global studies, is among the latest winners to prove those pursuits can coexist at the highest levels.

"To do both athletics and academics well, you have to schedule yourself carefully and take one thing at a time,'' said Nord, of Rapid City, S.D. "I'd bring my books to the training room and study while I was icing, and I'd always do homework on the bus or the plane.

"Some of my teammates made fun of me, and [coaches and professors] thought I was a little crazy to push so hard in both. But I'm proud of what I achieved.''