NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Belmont Cross Country and Track & Field runner Mara White recently sat down with Amanda Conway for a Belmont All-Access feature profile of her career as a Bruin and what her future looks like after graduation.
Growing up, Mara White was always active, playing several different sports and getting involved in school activities. Despite being 5'2", White played travel basketball in middle school before finding the sport would follow her all the way through college: running.
Being a cross-country runner comes naturally to the Ohio native, whose mother ran marathons while White was young. Instead of passively watching her mother race, White decided to train with her mother and she says she ran her first 5K when she was in the fifth grade. In her own words, White said that after that first 5K, she just never stopped running. All that running paid off in high school, where she ran in several state meets and was an All-State runner four times in her high school career.
While devoting time to her running, White also found a love for horseback riding. Through both high school and college, White has competed in horseback riding events. According to White, she has always had a love for horses.
"I came out of the womb loving horses, honestly. I just remember always begging my parents for a horse and I got serious about it, so they got me one," White recalls.
Growing up in rural Ohio allowed White to follow both of her hobbies while in high school. However, she knew that if she wanted to be a college athlete, she had to choose one to focus on. While there are scholarships for equestrians, there is not as much money in the horseback riding business as there is in traditional athletics. Despite not chasing an equestrian scholarship, White has continued to compete back home during her summers in college.
Throughout high school she planned on attending West Point on a running scholarship. White was so serious about attending West Point that she had a letter of assurance for cross-country from the prominent institution. In the May of her senior year, one month before high school graduation, White was told that West Point was pulling her letter of assurance due to White being diagnosed with asthma.
White was heartbroken that her top choice of school had rescinded their scholarship and chance to run. Instead of mourning this loss, she immediately started looking for a school that would allow her to both run competitively and also get a solid education. When she began researching Belmont University, she knew she had found something special. By going to Belmont she would be able to run competitively while getting the education to follow her true passion, political science.
Studying politics is something that comes naturally to the cross-country runner. She knew coming into Belmont that she wanted to major in political science and philosophy, and then go to law school. Even after taking a major-heavy course load her first semester on campus, White was determined to make it to law school.
"I attended a law school panel on domestic violence, and I knew that's what I wanted to do. I want to get my law degree and do women's rights advocacy work," the senior stated.
As if to drive that point home, White focused her required political science senior thesis on so-called "women's issues."
"It's important to study these things and make sure that there's equality for men and women in every facet of life. Politics is a very good place to start studying because there are such large gaps in how men and women feel about policy," said White.
Her senior thesis, entitled "Binders Full of Women: How Men Politicians Lose the Woman Vote," focused on how men and women viewed various policies and politicians. The most significant finding from her research was that men and women view domestic violence policy with different levels of importance.
"Men just don't see domestic violence as a huge issue, but women think that it is extremely important for something to be done about it. This is exactly why I want to go into advocacy work, because there needs to a voice for people who are underrepresented," White explained.
White executed her thesis by herself, including collected survey data and analyzing results. Going into the project she expected men and women to disagree on various policy positions and politicians, but she never imagined that domestic violence would be the policy that had the largest difference between the genders.
Due to her findings, her senior thesis has reinforced her desire to become a women's rights advocate. When asked if she would ever run for office, White laughed.
"I feel like everyone says this, but no, I don't think I want to run for office. That may change, but I think I can do more for people by not being in office."
White still has one more year of eligibility to run for Belmont but has decided not to take the extra year, instead deciding to focus on her career goals. Part of this decision comes from the fact that White has suffered five stress fractures over her entire career, including one in her femur while still in high school.
White also pointed to injuries sustained while casually riding as a reason to leave running behind.
"There have been a few nasty falls that have scared me, but I've never been super hurt by the falls. Thankfully my riding has never interfered with my running," White said.
With the prospect of her cross-country career coming to an end, White embraces the change and is looking forward to a new challenge.
"This is just a new chapter in my life, I think," she explained.
"I'll be able to find something new to pursue and I'm excited to see what I'll do. Yeah, I'm going to miss this, but I was never destined to be a professional athlete, that's definitely for other people."
White will be taking both the GRE and LSAT exams this coming fall with hopes to attend law school during the 2017-2018 school year. She is looking forward to spending more time with her horse and is excited to graduate on May 7th with her Bachelor's of Arts in Political Science.