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**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."
Between The Hedges on Wednesday caught up with Georgia javelin star Braydon Anderson. The 22-year-old true sophomore dishes on why he got a late start on college, why he loves Athens, and more.
BtH: Thanks for stopping by, Braydon. You're already 22 and only a sophomore, due to the fact that you spent two years after high school on a mission as part of the LDS Church. Could you tell us a little bit about that?
Braydon Anderson: Traditionally in my church, you leave home when you're 19. You pay your own way to go somewhere you're assigned--I was assigned to Boise, Idaho--so I left for Boise and spent the majority of time in the area around there. Every day for two years, I wore a white shirt and tie, slacks, and just went out. It was a full time mission, so I left early in the morning and got back late at night, after spending all day looking for people to teach. I'd try to help anyone out with whatever was going on in their life, teach them about my faith, and try to serve however I could. But it was also a real experience in being able to discover myself. It was my first time away from home like that. It was a real structured lifestyle, which was definitely a blessing in my life.
BtH: What were some of the specific things that you think made it such a powerful experience?
BA: One of the big ways it was a unique experience was that I didn't work in the typical sense, wasn't making money, and that I didn't go to school. Everything that I paid went towards my housing, my food, my transportation, so I was really able to put all my personal cares and worries aside and completely focus on other people. That made a huge difference for me, because not having to worry about that stuff let me help people out.
BtH: Did that structure allow for you to get some throwing practice in at all?
BA: I actually didn't have much, if any, time to train, other than as much as I could get in doing pushups, pullups and situps. That's about the extent of what I could do. I did at one point--there was a high school we passed in Oregon and some kids were out there throwing the javelin, so I did get to toss it around a bit--but other than that I didn't have any formal training while I was on my mission. Just didn't have time for it, couldn't do it, so I just had faith that I was doing the right thing out there and I'd be blessed for it.
BtH: We're very glad you ended up here. What was your decision making process looking at schools after such a long time away from them?
BA: Well, before I left for my mission I had come here on a recruiting visit. A track camp here in high school was my first exposure to [Assistant Coach Don] Babbitt, and he liked that I was a quick learner and was teachable. I ended up coming here for that recruiting visit in 2008, and my mom and I loved the facilities, the coach, and the program. At the end of my visit I told Coach Babbitt that I was going on a mission for my church, and he said that after I finished it, if he was still coaching here, he'd have a spot for me on the team. So towards the end of my mission, I was making a decision on where to go to school--had a couple scholarship offers and was weighing academic opportunities, and emailed Coach Babbitt. It felt like forever for him to email me back [laughs], but he said that he'd love for me to be on the team.
BtH: Were you also considering Brigham Young?
BA: Yeah, I was accepted on academics and they also offered me a track scholarship. It made the decision really hard. For a long time I was convinced I was going to BYU, as it was one of my wants as a child and my sister was actually already there at school, so to be able to go out there and hang out with her was a cool prospect. But one of the big decisions I made on coming to the University of Georgia was the program, Coach Babbitt, and my family being here in Georgia.
BtH: They're in Marietta, right? How does Athens compare to your hometown?
BA: I love Athens. There's really just a big sense of comradery here, you know? Everybody loves everybody, and it's really awesome. It's also the South, and I had missed that southern comfort. It's a nice little bubble of Georgia pride.
BtH: How do you think being here at UGA has helped you as a javelin thrower?
BA: Back in high school, I threw well, but I didn't have any formal training so it was more abut me just slinging the javelin as far as I could. I was a pitcher too, so I have a natural throwing arm from baseball. Initially my javelin throw was very much like a baseball throw. Being able to come here under Coach Babbitt, who was a javelin thrower himself, was just what I needed. He's been a really good teacher, ironing out the fundamentals, laying a foundation for my technique. I still have pretty basic form in comparison to other throwers, but I make do with what I got.
BtH: You've still got two good years ahead of you. But what are some things you might be thinking about for after graduation?
BA: Well, my major right now is Psychology. A lot of that came from my mission, being concerned with other people and why people do the things they do. For a long time I'd wanted to be a counselor, to work in marriage and family counseling, but one of the things I've been thinking about now is maybe becoming a juvenile probation officer. It's a good way to be involved with kids and maybe make a difference where you can. And I think with specifically my attributes--my personality, my physical stature--I feel like I can be pretty influential. I've got a younger brother and sister, and it just seems like something I'd love to do.
For more on Braydon's story, check out this video produced by UGA NewSource.
This week Between the Hedges checks in with UGA track & field star Morgann Leleux. Leleux, a pole-vaulter, was runner up at this year's NCAA National Indoor Championships and is currently the top American in the outdoor rankings. Here's what she had to say.
BtH: Thanks for sitting down to talk with us, Morgann. Why don't you tell us a little about yourself--how'd you end up pole-vaulting at Georgia?
Leleux: Well, I'm from New Iberia, Louisiana, where my dad was my pole vault coach and I was a gymnast. He was the one who gradually got me into pole vaulting and I guess I ended up being good enough to come here on scholarship.
BtH: A lot of our readers, not to mention myself, won't be too familiar with the details of your sport. Why don't you take us through a meet day leading up to your jump?
Leleux: I really try to stay relaxed, keep my adrenaline low. I try not to get too excited. And before I even go out there I give myself a number that I want to reach like 14' 4". Up until the meet starts I do my warmups, I stay relaxed, and when it comes I turn my adrenaline on and get ready to jump high. That way I come in at a high height and from there, take it and keep going higher.
BtH: I know that at your first ever competition you tied the then-school record (14' 3½''). What's your current personal best, and what are you aiming for?
Leleux: Right now, my best is 14' 5¼''. The last home meet I wasn't actually supposed to jump, but Coach [Petros Kyprianou] was like, "Hey, it's a good day! Go grab your spikes and uniform, you're gonna jump today."
BtH: Really! How'd you feel about that?
Leleux: No, it was good. It was originally just going to be a conditioning week for me, and I had lifted extra and all that, so we just treated it as practice and just gave me a fun home meet to jump without much pressure.
BtH: It's obviously a really taxing sport. Do stress injuries like shin splints ever bug you?
Leleux: I think because of gymnastics those problems don't really bother me. Doing gymnastic means you have to keep yourself really fit--I was a level 10 back home.
BtH: That's college level, isn't it?
Leleux: Yeah, I've actually been training gymnastics on the side. My coach says that if I make 15 feet then I can try and be a Gym Dog as well.
BtH: That's really cool, we'd love to see you out there. But why 15 feet?
Leleux: That's the height that'll get me a look with the Olympic team. I'm going to the Olympic trials soon. It's really stressful. Because of all the competition for spots in the US, it basically comes down to how high you jump on that one day. If I can make 15' then I'll probably end up in the top 3, and get a spot on the team.
BtH: That's awesome. Good luck, and thanks again.
Leleux: My pleasure!
-By Eliot Beckham