Olympic Aspirations, Lifelong Lessons

by Graham Hays

For NCAA champion Veronica Fraley and track and field alumna Beatrice Juskeviciute and Brooke Overholt, competing for country means being part of a community without borders

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Beatrice Juskeviciute is never more Lithuanian than in those moments when she is most stubborn.

“Maybe not everyone back home, but people know what they want and they are very persistent in that sense,” Juskeviciute, MA’23, says of the Baltic nation whose very existence has at times depended on a stubborn persistence to endure. “My coach always says that I don’t necessarily know the limits of when to stop, so maybe that is the Lithuanian in me.”

Fellow track and field alumna Veronica Fraley, MS’23, the four-time All-American who recently won the NCAA Division I women’s discus national championship, suggests there is nothing more American about her than an affinity for comfort cuisine, the greasier the better—in moderation, of course. For alumna and All-American Brooke Overholt, MEd’23, her most Canadian moments come when she pronounces words like “out” or “about”—at least judging by teammates’ teasing.

The track and field standouts are as different as you might expect of women from Kaunas, Lithuania; Raleigh, North Carolina; and St. Mary’s, Ontario. Their specialties run the track and field gamut: heptathlon for Juskeviciute, discus for Fraley and 400-meter hurdles for Overholt. If they qualify for this summer’s Paris Olympics, they will float down the Seine during the Opening Ceremony under different flags—part of a Commodore contingent that could also include SEC indoor shot put bronze medalist and first-team All-American Sarah Omoregie and former All-American shot putter Divine Oladipo, MEd’22, all of Great Britain.

But as the Lithuanian, American and Canadian each trained in Nashville this spring, they shared an ambition that transcends nationalities—and even the biggest event in world sports. Familiar to their surroundings at Vanderbilt, it’s the universal desire to explore the boundaries of your own potential and break through to new frontiers: That’s the essence of any athlete’s Olympic journey.

“I want to see how far I can go, how fast I can run,” Overholt says. “Growing up, I always watched the Olympics, and I always wanted to compete at that level. I’ve just always had that dream deep down inside of me. It’s driven me to where I am now.”

Brooke Overholt earned All-America honors finishing fourth in the 400 hurdles in the 2023 NCAA Outdoor Championships (Nick Klementzos/Vanderbilt).

Taking on the World

The Olympics may be the first time that fans around the world are introduced to an athlete, but it is far from the first time that the athletes involved get to know the world.

As a young girl, Juskeviciute competed in an annual Christmas pentathlon (heptathlon’s indoor cousin) with a local track club in her hometown. A state champion in discus and shot put, Fraley was honored as North Carolina’s high school track and field athlete of the year. The hurdles first took Overholt far from home when she represented Ontario in a competition in Manitoba. But at some point, there is no more growth to be found within the confines of a city, state or even country. To see how far they can really go, the most talented and committed take on the world.

For Fraley, her introduction to international competition wasn’t exactly storybook stuff. She was still getting over strep throat when she earned the opportunity to compete in the 2019 Pan American U20 Athletics Championships in Costa Rica. A fifth-place finish was solid enough, but the results meant less to her than the experience interacting with athletes from across North and South America who cared about their craft as much as she did.

“It definitely ignited my passion and solidified my desire to keep throwing,” Fraley says. “I know for a lot of people, track and field is just a sport, something to do to make friends. But I think the travel and being around so many high-level athletes of different cultures, different backgrounds is so valuable to me. It made me feel like I had found my purpose in life.”

Fraley represented the United States in the 2023 World Athletics Championships. 

Competitors and Community

Juskeviciute got an even earlier start on international competition; she was just 16 years old when she competed in the 2016 European U18 Athletics Championships in Georgia and 17 when she traveled to Kenya a year later for the IAAF World U18 Championships. Still relatively new to heptathlon at the time, she struggled to believe in herself, and competing for her country only added pressure. But after finishing 17th in the European event, she improved to fifth place in the global event. The pressure never goes away, not just to represent her country but to repay coaches, family, friends and the national team for investing in her. But the surroundings that once led her to doubt herself are now a source of strength.

“I see the same girls that I used to compete against when I was 16, 18 on the world stage,” Juskeviciute said. “To see them improve and see all of us grow together, I think that’s been absolutely incredible.”

Juskeviciute sharing the podium after winning the heptathlon title in the 2023 SEC Outdoor Championships (Daniel Navarro/Vanderbilt). 

In one sense, sports are a zero-sum endeavor. Someone else’s success comes at your expense—for medals, endorsements, earnings, even opportunities to continue competing. There are rivalries, clashes of personalities. There is also collaboration and community amid the competition. Far from home, fellow athletes may be all that is familiar.

When she was an undergraduate at Clemson, Fraley trained with Jamaican shot putter Danniel Thomas-Dodd, who was almost a decade her senior. She remains close with Thomas-Dodd and her husband and coach. Spotting their names on an entry list inevitably brings a smile.

“It’s just so cool that you can maintain these relationships without being in the same city or even the same country,” Fraley said. “Everybody that I’ve trained with, competed with, talked to—men or women, throwers, sprinters, jumpers, whatever—it’s so magical to me that I’m able to come back to those relationships and see how they’ve grown and changed.”

Nashville Base for Paris Dreams

All three will attempt to complete their Olympic qualifying journeys during national championships at the end of the month, Fraley in Eugene, Oregon, Overholt in Montreal and Juskeviciute in Palanga, Lithuania.

After earning her undergraduate degree at Clemson, Fraley competed the past two seasons as a graduate transfer with director Althea Thomas’ track and field program. In addition to winning an SEC discus title and competing in the 2023 World Athletics Championships, she earned a master’s in biomedical science and is working toward a master’s in human development.

Graduate transfers from Cornell, Juskeviciute and Overholt competed for the Commodores during the 2022–23 academic year, while earning master’s degrees in medicine, health and society and human development studies, respectively. Juskeviciute was SEC heptathlon champion and finished second in the NCAA Championships, while Overholt finished fourth in the NCAA Championships in the 400-meter hurdles. They remained in Nashville over the past year to train with Vanderbilt assistant coach Justin Byron, and, in Juskeviciute’s case, to work full time in Vanderbilt’s Health Professions Advisory Office.

They are proud of their time as Commodores. They helped Thomas lift Vanderbilt track and field to new heights even as they moved closer to realizing their Olympic dreams: Fraley became just the third Vanderbilt student-athlete to win a national title in any sport and the first track and field national champion since Ryan Tolbert in 1997. They are proud to represent their respective countries, knowing success on the biggest stage could inspire the next generation of athletes in places like Raleigh, Kaunas and St. Mary’s.  And though they are still driven to see how close they can come to being the best in the world, the Olympic journey long ago showed them they aren’t alone in it.

“It’s just you, your coach and your support system,” Fraley said. “But I think that’s why there’s so much respect and so much kindness toward everybody because we all know there is individual struggle, and it’s very hard to do what we do. There’s not anything to sugarcoat. It’s hard to fund track and field on your own. It’s hard, mentally, to train for so long to show up for one day at Olympic trials. We realize we’re all in the same boat.”


Preparing for Success

The Ingram Center trip to the Black Student-Athlete Summit and career trek experiences helped 16 Commodores transform dreams into professional development

Gateway to Paris

Vanderbilt helped Canadian hurdler Brooke Overholt find a route from a small town to the cusp of the Paris Olympics

Measure of Success

Shot putter Sarah Omoregie’s transatlantic journey of self-discovery continues in the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships