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Sarah Kirkwood: Balancing Act

Sept. 16, 2006

by Missy Jenkins
Student Assistant, UVa Athletics Media Relations

Balancing academics at the University is difficult enough, but balancing a pre-med curriculum with a competitive varsity volleyball schedule is even more challenging.

Sarah Kirkwood, a third-year from Tampa, Fla., loves the challenge.

"I don't want to just be okay at volleyball and excel in the classroom or be okay in the classroom and excel at volleyball," said Kirkwood of her balancing act. "I want to be a flexible, balanced student-athlete without sacrificing one for the other."

Shortly after coming to UVa, Kirkwood made her mark on Cavalier athletics when she was selected as the 2004 ACC Freshman of the Year. Kirkwood was also the first ACC volleyball player to amass 1,000 career kills as a second-year student. Even more recently, Kirkwood was honored as a 2005 American Volleyball Coaches Association honorable mention All-America selection.

While her athletic résumé is impressive, Kirkwood's academic achievements speak just as loudly. Kirkwood earned Academic All-America honors as a second-year by ESPN The Magazine. Her rigorous major and career ambitions are reflective of her academic commitment. The cognitive science major requires a heavy course load spanning cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and philosophy classes, and the pre-med courses require a thorough academic plan and schedule.

Kirkwood's impressive juggling act doesn't just span the academic year and NCAA schedule, but is also something she must maintain in the summer months. While Kirkwood spent her summer training for the upcoming volleyball season, she also balanced her time between volunteering at the Tampa Judeo Christian Health Clinic, an organization that provides free health care, and taking summer classes to keep up with her major requirements.

"Sarah is the perfect example of the well rounded student-athlete," said head coach Melissa. "No one area dominates her life, yet she is able to perform exceptionally well in the classroom, on the court and as a leader."

Outside of the classroom and off the court, Kirkwood is not only the model student-athlete, but is also an advocate for other Cavalier competitors. As vice-president of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), Kirkwood has committed herself to being an "advocate of small changes that improve the quality of student athletes." The SAAC is an organization that allows student-athletes to voice their concerns as well as an opportunity to create unity among Virginia athletic teams.

"Sarah has been a great asset to the SAAC. She is always very engaged in our discussions and brings a unique perspective as she balances the demands of a pre-med student athlete," said golfer Sally Shonk, president of the SAAC. "She has managed to perform to the highest standard in her academics, athletics, leadership roles, and community service."

Through her work on various academic initiatives and by being a mentor for first-year student athletes, Kirkwood hopes to make it easier for student athletes to get started on the right foot both athletically and academically, and to help them take academic risks just as she has.

While Kirkwood's unwavering dedication to her academics and athletics takes up a lot of her free time, she is committed to enjoying the people around her and constantly reminds herself of the quote her dad always says, "make sure to take the time to enjoy the journey."

With two more years of athletic competition and academic scheduling, Kirkwood's journey is sure to be an exciting ... and busy one.




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A 1985 graduate of UVA, White worked at the Richmond Times-Dispatch until July 2009. He was honored six times as the state's Sportswriter of the Year.

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