Montana State University

MSU student sets her sights high

February 6, 2007 -- By Carol Flaherty

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When Sarah Eby gets over one bar, she sets her sights a little higher. That's true for her as a Montana State University pole vaulter, and it also describes her approach to life.

Now at the beginning of her senior year, Eby is aiming not just at this season's pole vault events, but at a college career that now rounds out at a 3.9 grade point average. She has a double major, one in exercise science and one in psychology, with a minor in microbiology, and extra research through the honors program. She just took the Medical College Admissions Test to allow her to apply to medical schools' MD/PhD programs, where studies in clinical medicine are combined with research.

But first comes another year of pole vault. The intensity on Sarah Eby's face as she prepares to vault may not look like joy, but on some level, it is. As she describes it, there is a deep meditative quality to a good vault.

"Everyone on the team will talk about a good pole vault practice and a bad pole vault practice. The good ones are when you aren't thinking at all. You have to go and let your body do what comes naturally. That natural feeling doesn't come until after a lot of practice. When you are getting ready to vault, you run fast, then let go and let everything happen."

"It's so much fun," she said, adding, "It doesn't hurt unless you land on the cross bar."

Eby came to MSU in part because she could pole vault here.

"When I was in high school track, my coaches said with my upper body strength and gymnastics background I was a natural for pole vault," Eby said. "I wanted to learn how to pole vault, and we don't have it in Alaska." As a walk-on for the MSU Track Team, Eby got her first instruction in pole vault, which led, two years later, to a track scholarship

At least in part, her application to multiple academic disciplines comes from her love of pole vault, too. She had to sit-out a year of competition due to an injury, so she gets to participate for a fifth year.

"I came to MSU with a lot of AP (advanced placement) credits and I had to find credits to stay in five years," she admits.

She began at MSU thinking she would major in physical therapy, but has since changed her mind.

"I worked in (physical therapy) clinics and realized that, though I'm super-motivated, not everyone is," Eby says. "So you get people who don't want to do their exercises, and it's difficult to deal with that. And you have patients who are very motivated, but aren't going to get better. There's only so much you can do."

Talking with Mike Hahn, a professor in exercise science, has been "really helpful," she says. She took his exercise science class last year and did research with him on the effects of sex hormones on knee function. That led to them developing the research she is beginning now for the MSU Honor's Program.

In between vaulting and multiple classes, Eby supports multiple causes. She says she wouldn't miss reading Dr. Seuss to elementary students as part of the Athletic Department's participation in "Read Across America." Her Exercise Science Club activities have included fundraising for Eagle Mount, which creates therapeutic recreation for people with disabilities and children with cancer. She's also served on the committee which selects students for scholarships in MSU's Day of Student Recognition. For her activities and achievements, Eby was named the Rotary International student of the month in December.

Eby says her parents, Dennis and Carol Eby of Eagle River, Alaska, motivated her to be a good student.

"Every little kid wants to be a professional . . . fill in the blank. In Alaska, it was 'professional skier.' My parents would say, 'That's fine, but don't forget school.' School was always number one. I've always enjoyed learning."

In her spare time, she fits in hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing. ("My coach tells me that pole vault is the safest thing I do.")

This coming summer, she hopes to be in a big city doing an internship that will let her check out MD/PhD programs.

"I've always said I'd like to go back to Alaska, but I like to challenge myself. Growing up in Alaska and Montana too, it's kind of sheltered," Eby says. "I want to experience the big cities, go to the East coast and see what it's like. All of my experiences have always made me appreciate what I have."

Contact: Sarah Eby sareby@gmail.com