For recent graduates Keri Bland and Karly Hamric, earning math and engineering degrees while holding 7th and 9th place national track and field positions kept them pretty busy at West Virginia University.
But a combination of time management, support networks, hard work and dedication kept this pair motivated and opened up the opportunity for them to achieve academic and athletic success.
Sean Cleary, WVU’s women’s track coach, says both are tremendous athletes with bright futures. Women who run cross country and track and field at WVU start competing the first weekend of football and don’t stop until after the baseball season in the summer.
“Both girls found ways to ensure that they were going to manage the lifestyle that is required and juggle the demands of a student athlete,” Cleary said.
“Keri and Karly will be successful at whatever they choose to do in life,” Cleary said. “Should they both choose track and field for a few more years I see both representing the USA in international competitions and vying for spots on Olympic teams.”
Currently, Bland stands second, and Hamric third, on WVU’s all-time best runners list, close behind Olympic finalist Megan Metcalfe.
“In high school Karly and I were rivals in a sense that we both focused in the same event, the 800 meter dash,” Keri said. “My sophomore year Karly out leaned me at the line to win the State title. The entire next year I knew that was who I had to beat—Karly Hamric from Preston High School.”
Sure enough, the next year it was Keri’s turn to “out lean” Karly.
“That time, I took the title,” Bland said proudly.
“I never thought about us being teammates at a college level, but then I came to WVU and realized she was here and we weren’t rivals anymore,” Bland said.
In fact, they soon became best friends.
“We got to work together and better each other by doing runs and workouts together. Healthy competition is what keeps a team like ours going,” she said.
Even though the fierce rivalry from their high school running days has faded, this pair still has a competitive streak.
“When it comes to the race, it’s every woman for herself,” Hamric said. “But we want each other to do well, and we support each other. We feed off of each other too.”
In addition to being running buddies, both girls have challenging majors. They would occasionally study together, and for awhile they were both studying engineering, until Bland switched her major to math.
Hamic just graduated with a degree in civil engineering.
“Sometimes I felt like I needed to prove myself more, since there were so few girls,” she said.
Bland, on the other hand, said while the math department was mostly made up of men, she didn’t really notice that much, because she had previously been in engineering, so she was used to being one of the few women.
If they could pass on one piece of advice to other students it would be time management.
“Every girl on the team was going through the same thing, so we were a good support network for each other,” Hamric said.
“It is really demanding, but I maintained a cumulative GPA of 3.37 for my undergrad career while participating in basically three sports every year for the past four years, and I graduated on time,” Bland said.
She attributes that success to her ability to manage her time well.
“You have to be able to sit down and just get to work, not fret about all of the things on the ‘to do’ list,” she said.
Working hard in school was just as essential as working hard on the track.
Dr. Michael Mays had Bland in math class and said she was a delight. For her capstone, Bland analyzed the different approaches to prove theorems depending on the background knowledge that was available. She focused on the famous Pythagorean Theorem. It can be proved geometrically or algebraically using many different starting assumptions.
“Bland decided to survey proofs of the Pythagorean theorem and link different proofs to different learning styles. Some students are visual learners, some learn by hearing, some by manipulating physical objects. That was a good choice for her since she intends to become a teacher,” Mays said.
Now that both girls have graduated, they are focusing solely on track and competition. The NCAA Regionals were in Greensboro, N.C. beginning May 27 with 48 women competing, with the top 12 moving on to Nationals. Both Bland and Hamric qualified for the national meet in Eugene, OR.
In addition to NCAA competition, Bland received an invitation to the United States National Competition, which is not an NCAA event. Hamric hopes her invitation will for that event will arrive soon.
Unlike many of their peers, neither girl is worried about finding a job immediately. Hamric is weighing options: a job in engineering, attending law school or becoming a teacher. Bland will attend graduate school at WVU for a degree in secondary math education and run for her fifth year of eligibility at WVU.
“Maintaining the status that these young ladies carry as student athletes is remarkable,” Cleary said. “Karly with her performances on the track as of late, including the Big East Championships in the 1500 meter, has graduated with her civil engineering degree and an All-American title beside her name on the track – remarkable.
“Keri Bland has won at every level: a state title, Big East title and an Eastern title. She has also made the National team and has been awarded seven All-American Awards. This while also graduating in four years with her degree in mathematics.
“These girls are the epitome of the term student-athlete,” he said.
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