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Kathryn Mohr is not only in the record books for 100 and 4×100 meter sprints, and the school record for pole vaulting at 12 feet 4 inches, but she also won eighth place at the California State Finals. Now, she’s vaulted from M-A to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) through her incredible perseverance and curiosity for learning.

Mohr has always been curious about the world around her. “Looking at trees, I’d always wonder how do they work? How does the human body work? And how do planes fly?” In middle school, a close neighbor would hang make-shift pulleys from tree branches. She fondly recalls how she ran home to watch Khan academy “videos on how physics works and how chemistry works.”

However, her raw curiosity didn’t translate well to middle school and early high school. To her confusion, her natural interests in science and math met a steady flow of poor grades, plummeting her confidence. As a result, she had shut out the possibility of success, convincing herself, “Wow, I am terrible in math. I am never going to do math again.” At the same time, her athletic endeavors faced a brick wall. She had come to dread gymnastics, the sport she had trained in since a very young age. By freshman year, she was aching for change. When her mother read online that gymnasts sometimes became pole vaulters, she decided to try M-A’s competitive track and field team.

As she learned to jump higher and run faster, Mohr soon realized her talents in both sprinting and pole vaulting. Hope began to build. Inspired by the track and field community, many of whom were both “good athletes and really good students,” Mohr decided to give school another chance. Reaching out of her safe-zone in track, she challenged herself to embrace both her athletic and academic abilities. Caring teachers also helped her to break free of her distrust in school and feed her natural interests in math and science. Questions she’d once self-researched, she now felt comfortable asking her teachers who would “be happy to help [her] understand.” Gradually she realized that school was “not just some kind of joke,” but rather a resource to succeed “inside and outside of class.”

“Just being able to write an essay on the spot like that, and just show your thought process on paper, it was really amazing”

With her blossoming confidence and successes, Mohr reached out to her other passions such as art and creative writing, winning the Class of 2016 Art Award. While she loved bringing characters to life on scratch paper, structured in-class writing still made Mohr “nervous and [she] would always get bad grades on them.” Knowing she was capable of better, she chose to take Advanced Placement (AP) Language and Composition. At first, she received “terrible grades,” but with time and perseverance, the weekly in-class essays became mentally satisfying and empowered her. “Just being able to write an essay on the spot like that, and just show your thought process on paper, it was really amazing,” she said. “I just learned that if you have something against a certain subject for most of your life, that doesn’t mean you can’t change. You might say ‘I hate science,’ or ‘I hate art,’ but if you just stay open about the subject, open-minded, you can end up loving it or getting a lot better in it.”

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Kathryn Mohr stands in front of the MIT dome. Photo courtesy of Mohr.

Now Mohr is at MIT taking multivariable calculus, physics, chemistry, and an autobiography writing class. She reflected on how much her path changed since Freshman year: “In the very beginning, MIT was not even on my mind. I thought I had no chance of getting in, and I really didn’t know much about MIT other than it was a really good math and science school.” After meeting the MIT track and field coach and discovering they had a team, she applied.

“In the very beginning, MIT was not even on my mind. I thought I had no chance of getting in, and I really didn’t know much about MIT other than it was a really good math and science school.”

Outside of class, she’s training five days a week in sprinting and pole-vaulting for the upcoming track season in spring. While she’s constantly busy with the difficult workload and practice, she tries to deal with stress effectively and maintain balance in her life.“It’s good to take a break and go on my bike around Boston, or meet up with friends and walk around.” Other days she will play the guitar she brought from home in her dorm room.

From struggling student to a well-rounded athletic and academic star, Mohr advises that “the best thing to do when you have moments of ‘oh I don’t want to do this’, is to keep thinking, ‘what is the point of this? Try to remember: ‘Why I am I doing this homework? What am I working towards? Am I working towards college? Am I working towards getting a job? Or am I working for just understanding this?’ Just keeping the big idea in mind helps a lot.”

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