A commitment to academics and student-athlete success in the classroom is a vital part of the NCAA’s mission to integrate athletics into the fabric of higher education. The NCAA pledges to help student-athletes achieve their academic goals as well as their athletics goals.
Ryan Thacher of Stanford exemplifies the 58 recipients of the NCAA postgraduate scholarship award for spring-sport student-athletes.
By Brian Burnsed
Ryan Thacher, 22, carries aspirations that could fill two lives.
He plans to cram them all into the one he’s been given.
Millions of children around the world grow up dreaming of a professional tennis career – Thacher embarked on his this month. Millions more come of age hoping that they’ll be able to help, to heal, to become a doctor. In a few years, he’ll do just that.
Lauren Alpert, outdoor track and field, Illinois Wesleyan
Julie Amthor, outdoor track and field, Texas
Hillary Bach, softball, Arizona State
Martha Blakely, tennis, Virginia Tech
Sarah Borchelt, rowing, Virginia
Katelyn Boyd, softball, Arizona State
Brittany Bruce, outdoor track and field, Baylor
Catherine Campbell, outdoor track and field, Dickinson
Simone Childs-Walker, outdoor track and field, Carleton
Katrina Choate, golf, Drury
Grace Collins, softball, Barry
Monica Coughlan, water polo, Stanford
Kaelene Curry, softball, UMKC
Zahra Dawson, tennis, Emory
Emma Dewart, outdoor track and field, Ithaca
Ana Guzman, tennis, Rice
Stacey Hagensen, softball, Pacific Lutheran
Nicole Haget, softball, Nebraska
Kendra Huettl, softball, Minnesota State Mankato
Kelsey Kittleson, softball, Luther
Emma Ladwig, outdoor track and field, South Dakota
Taylor Lindsey, tennis, Alabama
Annie Lockwood, softball, Arizona State
Ashley Miller, outdoor track and field, Nebraska
Emma Morrison, lacrosse, Maine-Farmington
Meredith Newton, lacrosse, North Carolina
Brooke Pancake, golf, Alabama
Allison Pye, outdoor track and field, Rice
Fabia Rothenfluh, golf, Rollins
Gerald Baer, outdoor track and field, Muhlenberg
Evan Barry, volleyball, Stanford
Bryan Beegle, outdoor track and field, Shippensburg
Kale Booher, outdoor track and field, Ohio Wesleyan
Matthew Bowman, outdoor track and field, Augustana (Illinois)
Ryan Dagerman, golf, Emory
Cullen Doody, outdoor track and field, LSU
William Gilmer, outdoor track and field, Furman
Zachary Grunig, golf, Northwest Nazarene
Tyler Hitchler, outdoor track and field, Nebraska
Braden Jackson, golf, Wingate
Benjamin Johnson, outdoor track and field, Stanford
Maksim Levanovich, tennis, Stetson
Cory Luckie, baseball, Auburn
Greg Miller, outdoor track and field, Wyoming
John Nunns, volleyball, Mount Olive
Jack O’Brien, outdoor track and field, TCU
Joshua Ostrom, baseball, Nebraska Wesleyan
Chad Pinkelman, outdoor track and field, South Dakota
Andreas Plackis, baseball, Missouri
William Polio, outdoor track and field, Centre
Timothy Quattlebaum, baseball, Gardner-Webb
Kenneth Ridge, baseball, DeSales
Tyler Rose, outdoor track and field, North Dakota
Macey Ruble, outdoor track and field, Charlotte
Daniel Sloat, outdoor track and field, Rice
Scott Sundstrom, tennis, Luther
Ryan Thacher, tennis, Stanford
Kevin Wright, tennis, Texas-Tyler
Thacher concluded his studies at Stanford in March, a quarter early, leaving one of the nation’s top universities with a 3.917 GPA and 231 career singles and doubles victories. The history major, curious to delve into the intricacies of the past, doubled as a tennis All-American, furiously pounding serves from the top of his 6-foot, 3-inch frame and rushing the net to suffocate opponents. His faculty in both arenas earned him a $7,500 NCAA postgraduate scholarship, which are given to 174 accomplished student-athletes every year.
Thacher will put that scholarship to use when he decides to put down his racquet. Until then, he’ll try to rise up through the professional tennis ranks, hoping to ascend from futures tournaments – among the lowest professional levels.
“I’m looking forward to trying to work my way up from the bottom,” Thacher said. “That’s where you have to start.”
Thacher’s coach at Stanford, John Whitlinger, said his pupil, a tall lefthander adept at a serve-and-volley style of play, has the potential to carve out a good career, especially playing doubles. Before arriving at Stanford, Thacher reached No. 1 in the United States Tennis Association’s 18-under rankings.
Given his talents, Thacher’s parents have agreed to help fund his foray into professional tennis. Unlike in team sports, tennis players have to cover their own travel and lodging. Thacher hopes he’ll garner enough prize money early on to make the endeavor financially viable. Though he’s displayed a remarkable amount of academic potential, and a career in medicine is all but assured when he is ready, Stanford officials are excited that he’s taking a chance with professional tennis.
“He should try it,” said Beth Goode, Stanford’s senior associate athletics director for intercollegiate services. “He’s never going to know what it would be like if he doesn’t do it now. It’s not something you can stop now, go to school for two years, and go back to it. You lose it. School will always be there.”
Thacher will fully devote himself to the sport for a year; class and other obligations won’t sap his time or shake his focus. Late next summer, he plans to honestly evaluate his progress, gauge his potential and decide whether to continue or to jump to a more stable career in medicine.
“If it’s an outrageous burden financially and it’s not worth it, I’m going to stop,” Thacher said. “I do have a lot of goals and dreams beyond tennis that I want to start working toward as well.”
In those dreams, he dons scrubs and helps children battle simple colds and severe illnesses. But before he can become a pediatrician, or even attend med school, Thacher will enroll in a postbaccalaureate pre-med program to tackle the chemistry and biology credits he didn’t finish at Stanford.
Like most teenagers, he didn’t arrive at college absolutely certain of his career path. But after shadowing a doctor as part of the Stanford Immersion in Medicine Series, and marveling at physicians’ expertise as they worked with him through his own tennis-induced ailments, he felt drawn to the field.
“Doing something that makes a difference in people’s lives is very attractive to me,” Thacher said.
Though a degree in history seems as feckless to a doctor as a tennis racquet, Thacher sees value. The communication skills he honed while articulating his thoughts in history classes, both in writing and conversation, will serve him well in his future professional life.
“Communicating is a universal skill,” Thacher said. “It doesn’t just apply to someone who writes for a living. It helps you when, let’s say, I’m in the doctor’s office and I’m seeing a patient. The ability to express myself in a clear fashion to them is extremely useful.”
Thacher was beckoned to pediatrics because of the joy he has drawn from working with children in the past. At Stanford, he volunteered with the East Palo Alto Tennis and Tutoring Program, helping teach the sport to kids from underserved communities. In high school, he worked at a summer camp, finding it thrilling when a standoffish child he had mentored finally shed his armor and found acceptance with other campers. A day shadowing a pediatrician at Stanford solidified Thacher’s choice.
“I like kids,” Thacher said. “I feel like I can relate to them pretty well. They’re so energetic and youthful and optimistic about stuff. It’s fun to be around them.”
Reaching the fringe of elite professional tennis and pushing further to its core will be a challenge. Flourishing in a top medical school and pursuing a career as a physician will be equally demanding, perhaps more so, but Thacher remains undaunted. And those who know him best, like Whitlinger, his coach of four years, have no doubts.
“Whatever he puts his mind to, if he really wants to do it, he’ll do it.”