**The following story was published by the SEC Digital Network on Georgia track & field athlete Elizabeth Tepe. Tepe is was a member of the Marine Corps from 2006-10, before competing for two years in junior college and transferring to Georgia this year. Beginning this spring, she will compete for the Bulldogs in the hammer throw, ready to use her many life lessons.**
By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
ATHENS, Ga. - She may have been just 18 years old, but Elizabeth Tepe could feel her life spiraling off course.
Her grades were poor, her home life even worse and her outlook for the future dim. A prep softball player at Ponderosa High School in Parker, Colo., Tepe was a non-qualifier out of high school with few options available to help recalculate her path.
"When I was in high school, I had kind of a rough home life," Tepe said. "I moved out of my house when I was 16. I didn't have much experience or knowledge of the world, and that comes with being young."
Tepe, now a junior on the University of Georgia track and field team, knew she had to make a change. Following her high school graduation, Tepe enlisted in the Marine Corps.
"I decided that I just needed to find a better path in life," Tepe said by telephone on Thursday. "I enlisted in the Marine Corps, graduated a month later and was in boot camp. It's one of those things you just know in your heart that you need to do."
Perhaps looking at the surface, one might not have been able to predict a bright future for Tepe. But if there was an understanding of the importance and maturity of her extreme perceptiveness and self-awareness, one would have felt the extraordinary character and determination she has always exuded.
"I think having to grow up quickly makes you bet on yourself a lot more," Tepe said. "Sometimes we're afraid to take a chance on ourselves and trust that we're going to do everything we can to make it. I was kind of forced to do so from that perspective."
From 2006-10, Tepe served as an ammunition technician in the Marine Corps at Camp Pendleton in California, where she supported Combat Logistics Regiment-15 for training and deployment exercises.
"You don't find out right away what you're assigned to until the end of boot camp," Tepe said. "Essentially, I was a BB counter. I counted bullets, got them to units, went out in the field and traveled with them to field ops taking ammunition, making sure the ammunition was accounted for and everybody knew what they were doing. I moved to more of an administrative unit, where I was over a unit of more than 1,000 Marines."
The experience in the Marine Corps provided Tepe with much more than practical experience. It also introduced her to fellow female Marines who carried themselves in a way in which she wanted to emulate.
"I think being a female Marine is even a little bit more poignant for me," Tepe said. "It's hard to find good female role models. It was good to see women alongside me who were strong and motivated to do good things with their life. Serving your country and putting on that uniform, you realize who you want to be and who you can be. I took so much confidence from that and it made everything else just seem easy."
Her time in the Marine Corps helped teach Tepe everything she expected and much more. She emerged a highly confident and disciplined individual, and had married fellow Marine Jarrod Tepe.
"I went in knowing I needed discipline, knowing I needed to find a little direction," Tepe said. "When I came out, I had gotten married and I had experienced so many amazing things. You learn self-confidence, self respect and really, all the way around, I grew as a person. I became a woman and I became more athletic. I was always an athlete, but I became a little more pointed in my direction. I knew I had the confidence that I could really handle anything I needed to."
Following her time in Marine Corps, where she received the Good Conduct Medal, Tepe enrolled in Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., a two-year community college. Her husband had recently deployed and Tepe was looking for an activity to fill her time.
"I had gotten an exit in the Marine Corps and school, at that point, was a little too easy," Tepe said. "You need to be preoccupied when your spouse is on deployment. I thought I would go out for track and I was attempting to run a 200. The throws coach, Shawn McGinley, came up to me and asked if I was interested in throwing the hammer. I told him that I didn't know what it was, but I would try it."
Tepe found that the hammer throw, surprisingly, had a direct correlation to some of the skills she had perfected in the Marine Corps.
"I tried it and just really fell in love with it," she said. "In the Marine Corps, you drill a lot and there is a lot of footwork. With the hammer, there is a lot of intricate footwork, so it sort of came naturally."
For Tepe to say the hammer throw came naturally is a bit of an understatement. She thrived in the event, setting the national junior college record in the event with a personal-best mark of 186-9 her sophomore season. That was nearly a two-inch improvement from the previous record set by Michelle Amete of Mesa [Ariz.] College in 2006. Tepe finished third at the California Community College State Track and Field Meet in 2012, helping her team to a tie for sixth place overall. It marked the best team finish for the Saddleback women's program since finishing fifth in 1986.
Tepe's successes, however, weren't just limited to the track. She finished her junior college career with a 4.0 grade point average and was named the U.S. House of Representatives Student Veteran Leader of the Year.
"By the time that I got to junior college, I knew that was exactly what I wanted to do," Tepe said. "I was hungry to know about the world, and junior college presented that to me with books and class and learning. I wanted it. Before I joined the Marine Corps, I knew I wasn't ready. I just needed to grow."
Tepe's impressive performances didn't go unnoticed. Several coaches on the West Coast, including legendary UCLA throws coach Art Venegas, took notice and passed the message along to Georgia throws coach Don Babbitt, a former UCLA letterwinner.
That led to a conversation between Babbitt and McGinley that ultimately helped lay the path for Tepe to attend the University of Georgia.
"I learned about Elizabeth from her junior college coach, whom I spoke with while on a trip to the West Coast," Babbitt said. "He told me she was a very good athlete, learned very quickly, and she was a good person."
Though Tepe is a relative newcomer to the event, given her track record, Babbitt knew that she could immediately be a strong contributor on his team.
"I think she can be very good," Babbitt said. "She is still very new to the event, but she has good base technique and leans very fast. She should score well at the SEC level and has a great shot to make it to NCAAs."
Since arriving in Athens prior to the 2012-13 academic year, Tepe has been made to feel at home, affirming her decision to move across the country.
"The team is awesome; I couldn't have expected anything more," Tepe said. "Everybody is so nice, making sure that I'm adjusting well. Moving 3,000 miles away from home is not easy, but the team definitely made it a lot easier. School was rough at first, trying to balance my practice schedule and classes, but I've definitely gotten used to it. I'm having a good time."
Tepe is certainly at a different stage of her life than the majority of her teammates, but that hasn't prevented her from fitting in well among her team and throws group.
"They keep calling my husband my boyfriend because they're not used to it," Tepe said with a laugh. "I think everybody's been very accepting of it. I just try to be a good role model and do the right thing. I wish I had somebody when I was 18 or 19 that was 25 that I could look up to. I hope to be that for them."
Babbitt agrees, saying that he is excited about the positive influence Tepe can provide for her teammates.
"I think she will be a voice of reason and experience, and help keep things in perspective for the younger throwers," Babbitt said. "She has a good outlook on life, and realizes what is truly important and what is not important. I think she has a great perspective and is thankful for the position she is in. I think this could be very, very beneficial for the team and her teammates."
Tepe will begin competing for the Bulldogs this spring and Babbitt believes that his newest pupil has the ability to accomplish even greater things at the NCAA Division I level.
"I think she can be top eight at the NCAA level and she has a shot to win the SEC title down the line," Babbitt said. "She still has a ways to develop, but I can see she has tremendous potential."
Tepe's time in the Marine Corps prepared her to achieve far more than she ever thought possible. That is one key attribute she has carried over to her collegiate athletics career, along with many other transferrable abilities.
"I think that they go hand-in-hand," Tepe said. "There are so many things that you need to be an athlete and that you need to be a Marine or person in the military. You have to have discipline, judgment and justice. When you see somebody do something wrong, you have to call them out. You have to have your own set of morals established and then there is the whole physical side of it. The transition from the Marine Corps is hard, but to go into something like athletics seemed very natural."
Her coach agrees, saying that her accomplishments have been nothing short of impressive.
"I think she has had to stay very motivated and disciplined these past few years," Babbitt said. "That is hard to do. Many can't or don't do that at her age. I am very impressed by it. She will be very successful in the future because of her attitude."
Experience is a valuable asset and Tepe has more than most 25 year olds. She hopes to be able to use her knowledge to help others achieve their dreams, including her own teammates.
"I hope they can see what I've done and not compare themselves, but understand that anything is possible," Tepe said. "Something I always go by is that it's not the fact, but your attitude toward the fact that determines the outcome. I try to pass on that you need to do the right thing, even if it's a hard situation. You are able to get through it if you have the right attitude."