MAC Scholar Athletes Make the Most out of Opportunities

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As it nears its 50th year, the MAC Scholar Athlete program has meant a lot of things to a lot of people. For some, the $1,500 scholarship might be the most enticing benefit. For others, the two-year MAC membership – with an option to convert to senior membership – is the real score. Still others love the opportunities opened up to them through Multnomah Athletic Foundation and its charitable endeavors.

While the sense of community at MAC might be less tangible, it’s one of the club’s defining characteristics, and represents the greatest gift for some Scholar Athletes. Even just the recognition involved in having your excellence celebrated by an athletic and social institution such as MAC can be invaluable.

Among the three Scholar Athletes singled out for extra coverage this year, readers will find examples of all of these reasons for loving the program. Each of the 29 sophomores who received the 2019 honor will find their own most-meaningful aspect, and there are no wrong answers. Their responses to the question of how they’d act locally to make a global impact seem to indicate that, no matter what they take away from it, they’ll end up giving far more back in return.

Ahliah Nordstrom

Football and the theatre have a lot in common. Don’t believe it? Ask Ahliah Nordstrom, a MAC Scholar Athlete with big-screen ambitions. The Roosevelt High School senior has excelled on stage and field alike, and says both pursuits have kept her on the straight and narrow over the past four years.

“You’ve got to show up every day on time in theater and in team sports,” she says. “Everybody builds off each other, and shares their dedication. Both are great opportunities to showcase your talents.”

Nordstrom’s talents extend to basketball, track and field and the classroom. She has consistently made honor roll throughout high school, took first place at districts in shot put and discus, and even made it onto the podium at the state track and field meet.

All of this combined to earn her a spot among MAC’s Scholar Athletes, a designation that has only further fueled her drive for excellence. “It’s kept me in shape, having the resources and the facility available to me,” she says. “I love meeting new people, and so being able to meet other Scholar Athletes who are on the same journey and doing the same things as I am was really helpful. Also, I always get emails from Lisa telling me about volunteer opportunities, and those are really helpful.”

That “Lisa” is Lisa Bendt, executive director of the Multnomah Athletic Foundation, who recently invited Nordstrom to participate in MAF’s Spin-athon, an event which raises money to fund the kinds of programs that help students like her. In addition to getting the most out of the club’s facilities, the renaissance young woman is thankful for the scholarship she’s been awarded. In combination with the Pathways Scholarship for low income students that she received from University of Oregon, she’s looking forward to attending college in the fall.

There, she hopes to earn her degree in some combination of computer science and cinema studies, and would eventually like to tell stories to inspire another generation of achievers. She also plans to try out as a walk-on for the school’s prestigious track and field team.

“Take advantage of what you have, and of the resources that are given to you,” she advises. “Do what you want to do, and not what people expect you to do. There’s always going to be a challenge, and I hope to conquer it.”

Eliza Lawrence

“My life is kind of crazy,” says St. Mary’s Academy senior Eliza Lawrence. That’s one way of putting it. In early December, she was diagnosed with Stage IV Hodgkins Lymphoma, and started treatment shortly thereafter.

At a time when most of her classmates were focused on slogging through their remaining credits or not getting carried out to sea by the undertow of “senioritis,” Lawrence was fighting just to stay afloat. Fortunately, having taken her studies seriously throughout high school, she was able to audit her remaining classes and focus on getting better.

“I really love learning, and I think that’s definitely gotten me through this year,” she says. “The St. Mary’s community, teachers and administration have been really, really supportive and helpful. I think being a part of MAC provides a really good community as well.”

Between December and April, Lawrence went through five rounds of chemotherapy, each lasting 21 days. While survival and staying sane might have been ambitious enough goals for some, Lawrence set her sights on finding ways to improve even as some of her athletic passions proved too physically demanding.

A multi-sport athlete, Lawrence had been a member of the varsity cross country, Nordic skiing, lacrosse and track teams throughout high school, as well as an avid explorer of the outdoors by way of mountaineering, biking, hiking, and rock climbing. When participation in some of those activities was no longer an option, she got more deeply involved with other pursuits, including practicing yoga and the nonprofit organization Post 58.

In February, she became president of a chapter of Post 58, “a group of teenagers from the Portland area who engage in outdoor adventures under the guidance of experienced adults.” In addition to coordinating and encouraging appreciation of challenging outdoor activities, Post 58 teaches respect for the wilderness and leadership skills, and organizes service projects designed to give back to the outdoor world.

Lawrence is looking to learn more about that world during a well-earned gap year, during which she hopes to work at the Teton Science School in Wyoming and possibly participate in the Bike and Build program. After that, she says she’ll start college, where her goal is to study English and environmental science.

“Not being able to be physically active has definitely been hard for me, but knowing that in just a few months, I’ll be back out there, and that it’s all temporary — that has carried me through,” she says.

Emily Sippel

Whoever first said, “The third time’s a charm,” probably didn’t have Emily Sippel’s ACL in mind, much less the trio of tears it endured on the soccer field before she finished at West View High School. It might be a stretch to even think of serious knee injuries as “charmed,” but without those obstacles, Sippel’s life might have followed a very different course.

“It was really transformative in my life, that whole process. Really hard, but there is something in me that obviously loves the sport enough to keep going. In between each tear, I just knew that it would be worth it,” Sippel says. “Looking back, those injuries piqued my interest in the medical field, through my orthopedic surgeon. I thought, ‘That might be an interesting career,’ and so I ended up majoring in biology at University of Portland.”

Now wrapping up her second year of medical school at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, Sippel didn’t let her injuries stop her from pursuing her passion for soccer, even though they sidelined her for most of high school. Her first tear occurred in 2009, right about the time she became a MAC Scholar Athlete.

“That [honor] was very motivating and encouraging because it kept me going and made me realize that we all enjoy a little recognition here and there. I think it also helped me realize the value of perseverance and that hard work does pay off,” Sippel says. In addition to putting the scholarship money to good use at UP, she maximized her membership, coming to the club up to five days a week while studying for the MCAT.

Describing athletic competition as a much-needed outlet from the rigors of her studies, Sippel has stuck to soccer while working toward her goal of becoming a doctor. Despite her injuries, UP honored her scholarship, and she ended up playing as part of their renowned soccer program for four years. She still competes in both soccer and basketball as part of Creighton’s intramural league.

As she gets ready to head to the school’s Phoenix, Arizona, campus for her second two years of medical school, she says that she wouldn’t change anything about her journey to get to this point. “I try and find the positives out of every situation. I think life’s too short not to do that.”

By Jake Ten Pas, Multnomah Athletic Club, Winged M

To learn more about the MAC Scholar Athlete program visit our MAC Scholar Athlete Page.