As an IUPUI cross-country runner, Rachel Zajac is used to running up front—she holds school records for the Jaguars and has numerous awards for her accomplishments.
But Zajac, a graduate student in communication studies, is a leader in other aspects of campus life, too. She is a Top 100 student, has been honored five times as the Summit League Athlete of the Week for her sport, earned her second All-Conference honor from the league this month, and has won multiple academic honors from The Summit League and College Sports Information Directors of America.
It’s been quite a career for the northwestern Indiana native, a graduate of Lake Central High School and a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in communication studies. She is competing this year as a fifth-year senior in both cross country and track for the Jaguars because of a fractured heel that sidelined her during her senior year.
Zajac, in her first year of graduate school, has lots of potential directions from which she could choose as a career path.
Zajac also has made her mark in the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) at IUPUI, serving as vice president as a junior and as president during her senior year. SAAC is an organization that helps student-athletes maximize the multiple roles they face: academic pursuits, civic engagement and supporting their fellow athletes and IUPUI teams.
Balancing being a Division I athlete and keeping current in the classroom “is rough,” said Zajac. “But whenever I start to think about how tough it is for me, I think about all those students in my classes who hold down full-time jobs and go to school at the same time. Now that is really tough!”
IUPUI athletes take pride in their achievements in the community, she added. One SAAC initiative Zajac helped launch last year was a student-athlete talent show to raise funds for Imagine Life Sciences Academy West, an Indianapolis school that Jaguars athletes support through the Jags Reading Club. She also was pleased with a “mitten toss” at an IUPUI men’s basketball home game to collect winter gear for Riley Children’s Hospital at IU Health.
“That’s been a lot of fun, and I’m sure we’ll look back at it in the future with a lot of good memories,” she said. “I love the team aspects of both cross country and track. You’re around people who share your passion, who support you, and who know what you’re going through. Running is all about figuring out how much your boy can handle, learning to push yourself and breaking through your limits.”