Summer vacation wasn’t all lounging by the pool and catching up on summer blockbusters for some local students. And if Mattea Rodgers, Miranda Wilkes or Alyssa Caver are tasked with the obligatory back to school essay, they will have plenty to share.
Mattea Rodgers, an eighth grader at Frank Black Middle School, went to North Carolina to compete in the USATF Hershey National Junior Olympics, which is governed by USA Track & Field.
To get there, Rodgers excelled in a series of preliminary events. First, she was in the top eight in her area’s association – the Gulf Association in Southeast Texas. Then those top eight went to a regional event in San Antonio.
Only the top five in the region qualify for the USATF National Junior Olympics. Rodgers explains that there are 16 regions in the United States and Texas is its own region, known for being very competitive.
“That means only the top five athletes in all of Texas can advance,” said Rodgers.
The race she qualified for in the Junior Olympics was the 13-14 Girls 3000 Meter Racewalk, and in North Carolina, she placed 12th nationally.
Racewalking is a long-distance discipline. It is a foot race, but it differs from running because athletes must have one foot in contact with the ground at all times. Common distances vary from 3000 meters up to 62.1 miles. At the Summer Olympics, there is a 12 mile racewalk for men and women and a 31 mile racewalk, just for the men. Both are held as road events.
Racewalking isn’t Rodgers’ only competitive event. She also placed 9th in the Gulf Association in the 1500 meter and 3000 meter runs, just missing out on the Regionals for those events.
Rodgers, and her parents, are understandingly proud of her accomplishments.
“I’ve worked very hard to get where I am, and I tried my hardest during the race,” said Rodgers. “I train three days a week with my coaches and two days on my own.”
She plans on competing in USATF Cross Country this fall, then track again in the spring and summer so she can qualify for the National Junior Olympics again – and hopefully place even higher.
“I also compete for FBMS in track and cross country, which is a lot of fun,” she said.
Rodgers says that for others interested in the USATF Track world, her club team is open for more youth distance runners and racewalkers. For more information visit www.k-texpresstrackclub.com.
‘First Byte’ at a college major
Miranda Wilkes, who lives in Antoine Forest Estates and is a senior at Incarnate Word Academy, participated in the First Bytes Program, a one-week residential camp program for high school girls at UT Austin.
Wilkes explains that First Bytes is a week-long camp for young girls who are interested in learning about having a career in computer science and what it would be like to major in that branch of the sciences.
Wilkes found out about the program from her school counselor.
“[She] has gotten to know me really well over the years and knows that UT Austin is my first choice for college and computer science was something I was interested in learning more about,” said Wilkes. “She was always on the lookout for coding classes and opportunities for me to explore technology fields.”
Wilkes said that the application process for the camp consisted of a teacher recommendation, a transcript, and a short essay on why she wanted to attend.
“The camp was only for girls who lived in Texas,” she said. “As a junior, it was nice to get a taste of what applying for college would feel like senior year.”
Wilkes said that they were able to learn about different subjects in computer science from UT professors, tour tech companies in downtown Austin, and spend time coding a light show to display to parents by the end of the week.
“It was probably one of the best weeks I’ve ever had,” said Wilkes. “Before going to First Bytes I knew computer science was something I was interested in, but I wasn’t 100 percent sure if it was a good fit. After my week in Austin, I felt that I could see myself doing this for my career. I learned that week that while there may not be a lot of women in STEM, it doesn’t mean it can’t be done.”
A U.S. Senate page
Shepherd Park Plaza’s Alyssa Caver is also a senior at Incarnate Word Academy, and this summer she was one of just two students in Texas accepted into the U.S. Senate Page Program in Washington, D.C.
A United States Senate Page is a non-partisan federal employee. However, pages are assigned to serve senators of the sponsoring senator’s party. Appointed and sponsored by U.S. Senator John Cornyn, Caver said that the application process consisted of filling out the application and completing a 300-500 word essay on why she wanted to be a Senate page. Later, she did a short phone interview in the office conference room during her lunch period.
“I was a page for three weeks that consisted of working from an hour before the Senate convened each day to either 6 p.m. — when I was on early shift — or until the senate adjourned, and often later if completing a particularly lengthy amendment run.”
The page’s daily duties consisted of running papers to various locations throughout the Capital and Senate office buildings, holding doors open for votes, and running amendments and roll call votes throughout the capital.
“Often after a vote, we would receive a large number of amendments to run,” said Caver. [We would also] set up senators’ desks before they would speak [because] each senator had a specific water order and lectern height preference. Most of our time not running around the Capital was spent in either the back lobby reading or sitting on the rostrum in order to be available and to watch the senators speak.”
Caver lived in the Daniel Webster Senate Page Residence, known as Webster Hall and named for the man who appointed the first senate page. Caver said it was built specifically for the program, and housed not only the dorms but also the senate page school for pages during the semester-long program.
Highlights of her time in D.C. include listening in on the Senate floor during votes and watching some really exciting speeches in person, which were later broadcast on the news. And, of course, meeting her sponsor, Senator John Cornyn.
“In addition, we were able to brush shoulders with most of, if not all, the senators – including some recent presidential candidates,” she said. “Senator Booker from New Jersey would often ask us for jokes and make an effort to ride in the subway car with us if we were going to lunch. I was [also] able to attend a bible study with Senator Inhofe from Oklahoma. A small number of the senators would also make a point to talk to us pages, which was always nice.”
One regret was missing Bill Gates, a former house page, who visited.
“He likes to take a picture with pages when he visits,” she said.