Love of Sport and Love of Learning

By Jordan Willson

At age three, Caroline Yarbrough was begging to race the other swimmers during swimming lessons. Her first competitors were men over the age of 65 mid-morning at the YMCA.

Runner Caroline Yarbrough (ΦBK, Davidson College) was earlier this year nominated in the Atlantic 10 Conference for the 2019 NCAA Woman of the Year Award. Each member school in the conference nominated one female student-athlete across ten sports.

Though Yarbrough was not chosen to be in the final selection round, she nonetheless was recognized as an outstanding student-athlete, encompassing her devotion to athletics, academics, and community service and leadership.

“I feel very fortunate to have competed in the NCAA as a student-athlete and am profoundly grateful for this recognition,” Yarbrough said.

Yarbrough said as a child her parents identified her innate competitiveness and provided her the opportunity to play numerous sports. She has competed on teams for swimming, basketball, soccer, lacrosse, field hockey, tennis, cross country, and track. 

She said during high school, she played year-round travel club soccer while also representing her school each season playing field hockey in the fall, basketball in the winter, and soccer in the spring. 

But it wasn’t until her junior year of high school that she realized her love for running. 

“I soon after came to realize that my favorite part of my other sports practices was when the coach would ‘punish’ us with sprints when we missed a lay-up or groundball,” Yarbrough said.

By her senior year, Yarbrough had decided to focus solely on running.

“After being an athlete my entire life, I could think of no better joy and honor than to represent a college through my athletic abilities,” Yarbrough said. “Competing with the Davidson ‘D’ across my chest amplified my love of competition to another dimension. It was my goal at Davidson to use my performance as a way to express my deep gratitude for the ability to compete for my incredible institution.”

Being a three-season athlete and having to balance extensive hours of training and racing along with schoolwork helped Yarbrough remain disciplined and focused in her academics, she said. Being busy left no time for Yarbrough to squander, she said, which prompted her to be exceedingly strategic and efficient with her time.

At Davidson, Yarbrough said she studied art history because she considers art to be a common language worldwide, and she wholeheartedly believes the phrase “a picture speaks a thousand words.” “I am fascinated by the way art functions as a revelatory mirror for the historical context in which it was produced, the creator’s manifested thoughts and theories, and the customs, values and beliefs of their culture,” Yarbrough said.

Yarbrough explained that her Davidson education prepared her with a strong understanding of the historical and theoretical underpinnings of art from antiquity through present day. However, through her studies, she developed a curiosity about the players beyond just the artists—including patrons, critics, gallerists, auction houses, and collectors. She said she is also interested in the dynamic market forces related to the business side of the commercial art industry and interned at an auction house during the summer of 2018, solidifying her ambition to pursue a career related to the intersection of art and business.

The many skills Yarbrough has learned from sports are transferable to the classroom, she observed. “Being an athlete has molded me into a driven and results-oriented individual who strives to set high goals and work with tenacity to achieve and exceed them,” Yarbrough said. “The capacity to think critically and function effectively under high-pressure situations in which results are expected of me and my steadfast conviction to always work my hardest with purpose-driven execution both lend themselves well to performance in the classroom.

Through academics at Davidson, Yarbrough said she garnered a deep passion for learning and insatiable curiosity that will forever impact her and inform the way she lives. She said she eagerly identifies with Phi Beta Kappa’s motto love of learning is the guide of life.

“I firmly believe this distinction does not merely reflect a validation for past accomplishments in the classroom but serves as a charge for us all to take the values of lifelong learning, critical thinking, integrity, and devotion to advancing the liberal arts into the world as fruitful leaders and citizens making the world a better place,” she said.

In August, Yarbrough moved to New York to begin her master’s of art business degree program at the Sotheby’s Institute of Art. She is continuing to train and race for the Central Park Track Club in New York. 

“Some people love to run, but I run to race,” Yarbrough said. “I truly relish the opportunity to compete.”

Jordan Willson is a recent graduate of the University of Idaho with a degree in journalism. The University of Idaho is home to the Alpha of Idaho chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.