Nancy Levinger knows from experience how difficult it is to be a successful student-athlete.
Levinger, professor of chemistry and University Distinguished Teaching Scholar at CSU, competed in both swimming and fencing while a student at Northwestern University. She remembers well the sacrifices she had to make to compete in athletics while excelling in the classroom.
Knowing what she knows, Levinger can only look at Kiah Hicks, a CSU track standout who just graduated with a degree in chemistry, with admiration.
“I’m so impressed with her ability to balance a very challenging and intense major at the same time as being a top-class athlete,” Levinger said. “It’s one thing to do athletics – I was one for four years – but it’s another to compete at the highest level. I wasn’t winning Mountain West titles and setting conference records the way Kiah has done.”
Hicks, a three-time All-American thrower, is the definitive student-athlete. She takes her academics just as seriously as athletic competition – and that’s saying something. CSU track and field coach Brian Bedard, who recruited Hicks out of Falcon High School near Colorado Springs, said Hicks has a unique will to succeed.
“She is tremendously competitive, and she always seems to rise to the occasion,” he said. “One of her best qualities is that she’s all about the team, and she’s always at her best when she can help her team.”
One such moment came at the recently completed Mountain West Championships in San Diego. Just before her final throw in the discus competition, her teammates gathered to cheer her on during a tight competition with a thrower from San Diego State.
Bedard, who has coached numerous All-Americans and two athletes – Casey Malone and Loree Smith – who have competed in the Olympics, was amazed at what happened next. Hicks unleashed a throw for the ages: 196 feet, 7 inches. Her mark was 20 feet beyond her previous best this season and broke the conference meet record.
“Kiah looked electric before that throw, and she used that energy to do something beyond anything she’s ever done,” he said. “It was pretty cool.”
Hicks ended up being the high scorer in the meet – she also won the hammer throw and was third in the shot put – to lead the Rams to just their second league title in school history. Her discus throw ranks second nationally this season.
Hicks and 25 of her CSU teammates are competing in Austin, Texas, this weekend at the NCAA West Preliminary competing for spots in the upcoming NCAA Championships, June 10-13 in Eugene, Ore.
While she excels at throwing large objects great distances, Hicks is equally successful – and passionate – in the classroom. She carried a 3.27 GPA in CSU’s rigorous chemistry program and is a four-time Academic All-American.
“My main purpose for coming to CSU was to get a degree from a great institution,” she said. “I’ve had some amazing teachers throughout my time here – people who are at the top of their field. I was taught by, not the top 10 percent but by the top .05 percent of teachers in the country. It’s an amazing opportunity students here have to be taught by the best of the best.”
She cited Levinger and Chuck Henry as some of her favorite teachers, Ellen Fisher for giving her the opportunity to pursue undergraduate research, and talked about how inspiring it is to witness the ground-breaking research done by Amy Prieto, Tom Rovis and others in the Department of Chemistry.
And she’s not through yet. She begins graduate studies this fall at the University of North Carolina, which is home to the nation’s No. 2 master’s program in pharmacy.
“After CSU, I couldn’t go to some second-rate school,” she said. “I had the best here, and I’m going to learn from the best again.”
‘One of the best’
Before that, she gets one more opportunity to secure a place among the best female throwers in CSU’s history. Smith was an NCAA hammer champion, Liz Toman was second in the discus and Shelley Borrman was a national runner-up and still holds the school discus record of 198-8 – a mark Hicks has been chasing since her arrival at CSU.
“Kiah is looked up to and admired as one of the best throwers we’ve ever had,” Bedard said. “She’s always wanted to be included among the greats we’ve had here, and she’s in the process of doing that. Loree Smith is hard to beat, but Kiah can be mentioned in the same sentence.”
Unlike Smith, who competed in the 2008 Olympics in the hammer, Hicks won’t continue throwing after the NCAA meet. Injuries have taken their toll and, besides, she’s ready for the next chapter in her life.
“It would be awesome if I could go out and represent my country in the Olympics, but I’m going to pharmacy school and I can help people that way,” she said. “I’m happy with what I’ve accomplished here, but I’ve got so much more in my life other than track, and I’m ready to see what comes next.”