Senior Sara Tsai of Eugene, Oregon is a standout on the Commodore women’s track and cross country teams. She plans to combine her love for running with her degree in mechanical engineering to increase mobility for people living with disabilities. And she’s about to launch a rocket.
They call Eugene “Track Town USA.” Everyone runs there. It’s just part of the city’s culture.
Nike was founded there, so that definitely has a big influence. Hayward Field at the University of Oregon is considered the mecca of running. Everyone wants to compete there.
I grew up playing soccer, but I realized in high school that I enjoyed running around the field more than actually playing soccer.
The running community is so supportive. Running can be a painful sport, but that shared experience brings you together.
When you’re running, you have a chance to disconnect. If I’m running by myself, I’ll think about my purpose and what I want my life to look like and how I want to make an impact in my community and in the world.
If I’m running with teammates, it gives us a chance to talk about things that aren’t related to school or other stressors in our lives. We can get to know each other on a really personal level apart from academics and athletics.
What I really want to do is help increase human mobility. As a runner, that’s what I get to do every single day. I know there are people out there who do not have that opportunity, and I want to share that joy with them.
I am working in a biomechanics lab where we work on smart-assistive technologies such as robotives prosthetics. I’m really excited to have the opportunity not only to apply my major and my academic interests but also my personal love for running in a way that helps people.
When I wake up in the morning, the two things I always tell myself are “be kind and be awesome.” By being kind to people you can make so many connections and develop relationships – from there, everything else falls into place. To me, being awesome means just taking advantage of every possible opportunity to grow and learn.
This fall, I’m going to be on the rocket team as my senior design project. It’s the Vanderbilt Aerospace Design Lab, and we’re participating in the NASA Launch Initiative. I don’t have a ton of experience with rockets, but I’m excited to challenge myself.
Being a student-athlete, you meet so many different people with different interests. We always joke on our team that if we lived deep in the woods, we’d be able to survive because we all have completely different majors and skills.
I hope I can serve as a role model for young girls, as an athlete and as a student. There are not a lot of female mechanical engineers. I want to show girls they don’t have to hide themselves or make themselves smaller just because they’re doing a sport or professional field that is dominated by men.
My freshman year, our team won regionals. It was so satisfying because it wasn’t all individual success, it was 100 percent team success. Sharing that with my best friends was the best thing ever.
There’s a misconception that cross country is boring for spectators, but it takes a lot of grit and it’s exciting if you give it a chance. People also think we’re introverted and spend a lot of time silently trotting along, but that’s not the case. My teammates are funny, extroverted people who are excited about life.
I love traveling and seeing different parts of the world. It’s really important for gaining perspective on your life.
I love East Nashville. It kind of reminds me of Eugene with a bit of a hippie vibe.
Interviewed by Andrew Maraniss