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Katie Thurbon Named Dr. LeRoy Walker Character Award Winner

March 11, 2014
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By: Sam Knehans, Communications & Sports Information Intern

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Katie Thurbon, a track & field student-athlete at Baker University (Kan.), has been named the 2013 Dr. LeRoy Walker Character Award winner, the national office announced Tuesday. Created in honor of Dr. LeRoy Walker, former NAIA President and President Emeritus of the United States Olympic Committee, this award annually recognizes a junior or senior student-athlete who has embraced the five core values of the NAIA Champions of Character program and demonstrated outstanding academic achievement, campus and community leadership, athletic achievement and future ambition. Thurbon will be formally recognized at the 73rd Annual NAIA Convention Awards Luncheon on Saturday, April 12 in Kansas City, Mo.

A seven-time Heart of America Athletic Conference champion and seven-time national qualifier in the pole vault, Thurbon has certainly achieved athletic success at Baker. She has finished as the national runner-up twice and has earned NAIA All-America honors on four occasions.

But, as Alan Grant, Baker Professor of Economics states, “Katie is a scholar-athlete, but it is clear that she is a scholar first.” She has accumulated a 3.95 GPA while double majoring in international studies and economics and minoring in Spanish.

“Kate’s deep involvement in academics and athletics, and her ability to achieve balance in her life is clear evidence that she understand the importance of developing her whole person—that her academic growth is fueled by her physical development, and her physical development is fueled by her intellectual growth,” said Grant. “Intercollegiate athletics has been a wonderful vehicle to overall success for Kate, and I can testify that she is a better student in my classroom because of the things she learns in athletics—discipline, and teamwork, and most of all, how to manage success with humility.”

Thurbon’s success both on the track and in the classroom has enabled her to earn three NAIA Scholar-Athlete Awards and to be named a CoSIDA Capital One Academic All-American in 2013.

But, Thurbon has also flourished beyond her roles as a student and an athlete. She has served on the Baker Student Senate, including a term as Student Government Executive President, and has also written for the student newspaper, The Baker Orange. She has played both a “vital” and “inspirational” role on the Baker campus, according to Zach Kindler, Baker Track & Field Coach, and has been an “ideal student leader,” said teammate Ariella Harrison. 

“What really separates Katie from others is her consciousness of the world around her,” said Harrison. This consciousness has inspired Thurbon to further the NAIA Champions of Character message. She has spoken at numerous elementary schools about the true definition of a student-athlete and the importance of this distinction. At each school, she has mimicked the five core values of the Champions of Character program, which “is an easy task as she displays these types of characteristics daily and strives to be a role model for other young women,” said Kindler.

Despite all of the accolades she has received, Thurbon strives to better herself as an athlete, a student and a person each and every day. “Athletics makes it very easy to learn life lessons because every day you go to practice with the intention of bettering yourself. Outside of practice it’s important to be constantly vigilant of the situations in which you might slip up,” writes Thurbon in her personal essay.

One example Thurbon gives of slipping up is when picking up trash at track & field meets, something she has done at every collegiate competition she has participated in. “Admittedly, sometimes I’ll first pass the garbage thinking it isn’t my concern, but I always end up backtracking to do the right thing. I like to think that each day I’ll take one less metaphorical step away from that trash until finally I’ll be able to pick it up without hesitation each time,” writes Thurbon.

For her success both in the classroom and on the track, her campus and community leadership and her commitment to the five core values of the Champions of Character program, we recognize Katie Thurbon with the 2013 Dr. LeRoy Walker Character Award.