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By Greg Johnson
Having a perfect 4.0 grade-point average while balancing the rigors of being a student-athlete helped Katie Theisen and Josh Mahoney to be named the 2010 Walter Byers Postgraduate Scholarship Award recipients.
The Byers Scholarships were established in 1988 and recognize the contributions of former NCAA Executive Director Walter Byers. The awards encourage academic achievement of student-athletes. Theisen (pronounced Ty-son) and Mahoney each received a $24,000 scholarship. They will be recognized at the Faculty Athletics Representatives Association’s annual meeting Nov. 11 in Baltimore.
Recipients of the award must have at least a 3.5 GPA (on a 4.0 scale), demonstrate evidence of superior character and leadership and show that participation in athletics has been a positive influence on their personal and intellectual development. A male and a female are selected each year.
Theisen, a former cross country and track and field athlete at St. Thomas University in St. Paul, Minn., and Mahoney, a former middle linebacker on the Northern Iowa football team, more than meet the criteria.
Versatility played a major role in Theisen’s athletics success, while her consistent approach to academics led to “A” after “A” being recorded en route to a biology degree. She left St. Thomas as the school record holder in the indoor 800-meters (2:14.42), the steeplechase (10:27) and the distance medley relay team (11:44.20).
Theisen, who is studying medical school at Minnesota, considered herself to be a sprinter growing up in Elko, Minn. But when she arrived at St. Thomas, she asked head track and field/cross country coach Joe Sweeney for some workout advice to help her prepare for sprints.
Sweeney convinced her to work out with the cross country team, and before she knew it, Theisen was a full-fledged distance runner.
“I didn’t realize he was conniving his way to having me join the cross country team,” Theisen joked. “It was probably one of the greatest decisions I could make. I love cross country season.”
Early in her college career, she still competed in the 400-meter hurdles, the triple jump and the long jump. But she began to realize that her coaches were right about her ability to be a middle distance runner.
“Eventually, the steeplechase became my best race,” Theisen said. “It all goes back to the decision to run cross country. That was one of the critical moments of my athletic scareer in college. Had I not done that, I would have still been trying to triple jump and run 400s and be a mediocre athlete.”
Instead, she earned All-America honors six times at St. Thomas, including two NCAA indoor runner-up finishes in the distance medley relay. Theisen and her teammates also won the prestigious small college distance medley relay title at the Drake Relays.
“That was probably better than a national title,” Theisen said. “You get these mini-Drake Relay flags, and you get to take a lap around the stadium.”
Away from athletics, Theisen has been involved in fundraising efforts for Huntington’s disease and autism. She volunteered at the St. Thomas Campus Ministry and was president of the school’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. She also volunteered at area emergency rooms.
Right now, Theisen has plans to specialize in family practice medicine and assist in sports medicine at the high school or college level.
“It is difficult for people in sports medicine to coordinate their lives,” said Theisen, who was also a finalist for the NCAA Woman of the Year award in 2009. “I want to do something more family friendly simply because I have a great family. In the future, I know I want that for my kids. I want to make sure I’m there for them the way my Mom and Dad were there for me.”
Being a middle linebacker, Josh Mahoney had to understand where everyone needed to be for Northern Iowa to be successful.
It was the perfect role for Mahoney, who proved to be as good of a student of the game as he was in the classroom. Holding down that responsibility for one of the top programs in the Division I Football Championship Subdivision was a rewarding experience.
“I was comfortable assuming the leadership role,” said Mahoney, who is currently in law school at the University of Chicago. “It was challenging for me, because I wasn’t the most athletic player on my team. I overcame that, and the other guys enjoyed having me instruct the huddle. I knew what was going on in terms of our schemes. That allows them to be more comfortable in their roles.”
In 50 career games for Northern Iowa, Mahoney made 247 tackles. He led the team in that category as a junior and senior and had four interceptions and nine tackles for loss. He was a two-time, first-team all-Missouri Valley Football Conference honoree and a three-time academic all-conference performer.
Mahoney accomplished this while being a double major in economics and English. One of his favorite classes in his undergraduate career was a law and economics course.
“The concepts in that class were exciting, and it was also interesting to see the connection between law and economics,” said Mahoney, who is from Sioux Falls, S.D. “Law is connected to many realms in everyday life and many academic disciplines. You can see law through various lenses like sociology, psychology and economics.”
Mahoney isn’t sure what law he will specialize in, but he eventually would like to do work involving the public’s interest.
He showed those traits off the field at Northern Iowa. When tornadoes and floods devastated Iowa communities in summer 2008, Mahoney joined other Northern Iowa student-athletes in spearheading community involvement to help clean up debris and begin the rebuilding process. He was also a four-year member of school’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.
He believes the lessons he learned while playing football will also help him through law school and later in life.
“College football helped me learn who I was as a person,” Mahoney said. “It also helped me realize that I didn’t have to be the best player on the field, but I needed to be the best player I was capable of being. I had unique talents and could contribute to the team. In terms of how that translates to real world, college athletics teaches you to work well with others and it helps you overcome mental barriers to success.”