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Published March 1, 2024

Drake nominated for Rhodes Scholarship

Rachel Drake balances her school with her athletic career as a runner on the Gophers.
Minnesota senior Rachel Drake runs in the Roy Griak Invitational on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013, at Les Bolstad Golf Course. Drake was nominated for a Rhodes Scholarship.
Image by Ichigo Takikawa
Minnesota senior Rachel Drake runs in the Roy Griak Invitational on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013, at Les Bolstad Golf Course. Drake was nominated for a Rhodes Scholarship.

Gloria Drake can recall a time when her daughter, Rachel, came home from school and decided she wanted to be a frog ophthalmologist.

That was in fifth grade.

Now, Rachel Drake is a biochemistry and Spanish double major at the University of Minnesota, all while competing for the Gophers on the cross country and track and field teams.

Her interest in science hasn’t waned, but it has shifted from frog eyes to human hearts.

Drake has been conducting cardiovascular research at the University and hopes to continue that — in Oxford, England.

The senior is one of two students who were nominated by the University for the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship.

Along with the University of Minnesota, Drake has also done research at the University of Washington and the University of Oregon.

The Rhodes Scholarship would offer her an opportunity to research at Oxford University, which boasts one of the best cardiovascular research centers in the world.

The Rhodes process began with Drake submitting a personal statement, three letters of recommendation and a resume.

Then a campus nominating committee notified her that it wanted to interview her.

Drake’s academic advisor, Rachel McKessock, was the one who told Drake she would be a good potential candidate for the scholarship.

“I was like, ‘Yeah, right. I mean, are you kidding me? Who gets the Rhodes Scholarship?’” Drake said.

McKessock advises about 140 to 150 student-athletes from multiple teams each year and said in an average year, she has “anywhere from five to 10” advisees completing dual degrees.

“She is without a doubt, academically one of the top student-athletes that I’ve had in the three-plus years I’ve been doing this,” McKessock said of Drake.

Drake was honored as a Big Ten Conference Distinguished Scholar last year, an award given to returning student-athletes with a minimum 3.7 GPA for the past academic year.

In addition, she was named one of the top-five student-athletes at the University of Minnesota, according to her father, Craig Drake, who found out from one of his coworkers.

“She came into my office and said, ‘Craig, I can’t believe it. That’s awesome,’” he said.

“And I said, ‘What are you talking about?’”

But when the University nominated Rachel Drake for the Rhodes Scholarship, the Drakes found out right away.

“She called, and she was in tears,” Craig Drake said. “She had called earlier that week in tears for another reason, and I thought, ‘Oh no. Now what?’ Well, they were tears of joy.”

Both of her parents admitted to Googling the scholarship to find out more information.

“The only thing I knew about it was that Bill Clinton was [a Rhodes Scholar],” Gloria said. “I think it’s an honor. It’s a huge opportunity for her. It’s very exciting.”

Only 32 students across the U.S. are selected to receive the Rhodes Scholarship each year.

The country is split into 16 districts. Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin comprise District 11.

“It’s kind of like ‘The Hunger Games,’” Drake said. “Each district has two tributes.”

She humbly said it was “unlikely” she would get an interview, even though there is a real possibility she might.

“It’s just crazy to be even considered [and] that this is even a possibility,” Drake said.

Balancing the student with the athlete

As a student-athlete, Drake doesn’t spend all her time inside a classroom.

Gophers head coach Sarah Hopkins said Drake is able to balance her academics and her athletic career.

“Even if you’re a great student, you shouldn’t study 24 hours a day all the time because you need to have that other element,” Hopkins said.

Drake redshirted her freshman year — a common practice for members of the cross country team — so she is a fifth-year senior.

Her senior teammate Katie Moraczewski has known her since first grade and  said the balance between academics and athletics has gotten easier over the years.

“We have a pretty solid routine of when we can do our homework,” Moraczewski said of the cross country team. “When you only have two hours a night to do it, you really have to focus.”

Drake said cross country helps her be more productive.

“When I’m out of season and I don’t have practice every day, I see that my schedule becomes more lax,” she said. “But then I don’t get as much done because I’m not as strict with myself.”

In season, she said, she plans her days hour by hour to figure out what needs to be finished.

Hopkins said practice time can serve as a “nice yin and yang” because student-athletes can use the time to focus on something besides academics.

Hopkins wrote Drake a letter of recommendation for her Rhodes Scholarship application. In the letter, she said, she wrote about Drake’s leadership skills and her ability to overcome injuries.

“Wherever she goes down the road, she’s still going to be focused on not only making herself better but making other people better,” Hopkins said.

Drake is currently balancing 18 credits, cross country, medical school applications and her Rhodes application, among other things.

Her parents said Drake is no stranger to an intense schedule. In high school, she was student council president, homecoming queen, a member of the speech club, a sailor and, of course, a runner.

“We thought, ‘Well, all right. She had a great run in high school, and I’m sure she’ll do OK in college,’” Craig Drake said. “And now, we can truthfully say she’s had a great run in college as well. We’re not sure where this all ends.”

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