Sarah McDonald excels in studies, track

March 26, 2000|By BRUCE HAMILTON

Editor's note: This is the seventh in a series profiling nine members of the class of 2000. The Herald-Mail has been following the students since they were kindergartners at Conococheague Elementary School in 1988. The profiles will appear on the last Monday of each month through May.

Sarah McDonald raised the bar and soared higher.

The 17-year-old Williamsport High School senior recently set a women's state record in her school's division by pole vaulting 10 feet, 7 inches into the air. To her, it was the apex of a year full of outstanding moments.

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"That was what I had worked for so long," she said. "That was a really great memory."

McDonald's young career is remarkable for grades, sports and service. She is president of her student council and sits on the Washington County Board of Education as a student representative.

"She's been a very strong leader," said Willamsport science teacher Jennifer Strelser, who taught advanced-placement biology to McDonald in her junior year.


Strelser said McDonald is a responsible, conscientious pupil. "She is definitely one of our top students in a lot of all-around ways," said the teacher.

McDonald now has a 4.023 grade point average and last year ranked 16th out of 166 students in her class. She was accepted at every college to which she applied. But it pleased her most to be suspended - in air - above the bar she raised for herself in track and field.

"I had a goal and I was determined to reach that goal," McDonald said. She trained hard all year, running and lifting weights to build her muscles. The last county and regional record she set was 9 feet, about 19 inches lower.

Athletic in high school, McDonald spent about 25 hours a week in gymnastics. At the end of her freshman year, she discovered a passion for track. She enjoyed its variety of events and the close relationships it fostered.

"It's such a family," she said. "Even with other schools around the county. We know each other and support each other."

Sports are secondary at home, according to McDonald. "School always comes first and foremost," she said. "But I believe you have to have health to learn."

She believes athletes make good students because they are alert, goal-oriented and have good time-management skills. Exercise also helps her relieve stress, an occupational hazard for someone who strives as hard as she does.

McDonald is the only child of Pamela McDonald, a Williamsport graduate who is an office manager for Stephens Excavating Inc. and Arch McDonald, a vice president at Citicorp.

"I'm very close to my family," she said. Her spare, sometimes rare, time is spent with her parents or grandparents.

She picked prospective colleges partly out of proximity to home. "I didn't want to be completely out of my comfort zone," she said.

McDonald applied to several colleges all within the region. Her chief choice, Lynchburg (Va.) College, is 3 1/2 hours away.

She worries about how she'll adjust to leaving home. "I'm used to being able to come home when I have a bad day," she said.

But most days are good. "I love high school. I know everybody and everybody knows me," she said. "Any stress and pressure I feel, I put on myself. I try to keep an even balance."

McDonald qualified for the National Honor Society last year. One of the requirements is community service, and she spends two mornings a week as a tutor. She also visits a Williamsport nursing home for 90 minutes each week.

She typically takes elderly residents for wheelchair rides, listens or reads to them. She brings them comfort and company. "I just do whatever makes them happy," she said.

McDonald also works with the young. About a month ago, she began an internship at Antietam Pediatric and Adolescent Care. It made her want to become a doctor. "Dr. (Ruth) Dwyer couldn't be a better mentor," she said.

Her career goals have always been in health care. In kindergarten, she wanted to be a nurse. In middle school, she wanted to become a physical therapist. Last year, she wanted to be a biomedical researcher.

But she decided against an internship at Fort Detrick. "I'm way too much of a people person," she said. "I didn't think I could be isolated all day long."

Ever since she collected bugs and fossils as a child, McDonald has enjoyed science. "It's always come easy to me," she said.

Leadership also came naturally. She was elected secretary of the student council in her junior year. By the end of March 1999, the student council association elected her to serve on the School Board.

It's been a good experience, she said, adding that the board members are understanding and helpful. "I find that they listen to what I have to say. Sometimes they agree, sometimes they don't," she said. "I don't mind speaking out."

McDonald is anxious for college, partly to slow down but also to start something new. "I'm getting kind of antsy," she said. "I'm ready for some new challenges. I'm kind of looking forward to the time when I can just enjoy myself."

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