© 2019 by Gamma Phi Beta Sorority, Inc.

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MARINA DEBIASI

(Florida Institute of Technology)

The Scholar Athlete

"The reality is that by the start of the next race everyone climbs the ladder from the same ground zero, and it is only the choices and effort put forth in that moment that determine its outcome."

Where did you grow up?

Plymouth, Michigan

Who is your role model?

My dad and my high school cross country coach, Dave Maskill.

Where do you live now?

Fort Collins, Colorado

What is your theme song?

Morning has Broken by Cat Stevens.

During track season, Marina competed in the 10k, 5k, 3k and 1,500m races and 5k/6k when it came time for cross country. This star runner graduated with a degree in chemical engineering and a 3.92 GPA. Even after recovering from a fractured vertebra during her sophomore cross country season, Marina was named both Sunshine State Conference Female Scholar Athlete of the Year and FIT Female Scholar Athlete of the Year by the Sunshine State Conference. She never expected to be nominated for either of these awards. “To me, this honor symbolizes the greatness that I did not know I had and that I did not know others noticed,” she shared. “It is one of my biggest reminders of the value of discipline, integrity and patience.”

Extended Interview

How did you discover your passion for running?­

I played soccer my entire life as an outside and center mid. I loved chasing the ball up and down the field so much that I would go home from playing all day and run a few more miles to get me ready for the next practice or game. I knew I would be hooked on running forever when I also started using it as an outlet for my energetic emotions. Being a feisty youngling, running allowed me to spend time alone digesting whatever was on my mind while also taming my fiery physical energy.

What events do you usually compete in?

I usually compete in the 10k, 5k, 3k and 1500m during track season and 5k/6k during cross country season. I preferred upper distance races that challenged my endurance and mental focus.

Do you still run now?

Yes! However, I took a couple of months off so that I could focus on other aspects of my life. Inevitably, running is forever a part of who I am, and without it I would be incomplete.

How do you define success?

To me, success has never meant any singular moment of award or praise or outcome. Even in satisfying moments when I scored well on a test or ran well in a race, it never led me to think, “Wow, I finally made it. I succeeded.” To dwell on these moments would have implied that I had reached my climax and only distracted me from future progress. The reality is that by the start of the next test or race everyone climbs the ladder from the same ground zero, and it is only the choices and effort put forth in that moment that determine its outcome. This is why I perceive my success as a continuation of my effective and honest efforts. More specifically, I believe that success is continuous and can relentlessly happen every day, not just on keynote days. Truly successful people do not prioritize their goals with an on/off switch. In addition, efforts toward success are performed with effectiveness and honesty. There is no point during the success journey when excuses are valid. While recovering from a fractured vertebra during my sophomore cross country season, I realized that I could not hold the same ideals for successful days as I had done when I was in better health. I had to make honest assessments with myself on how I was progressing and if I was being as effective as I could. These ingredients had been my recipe for creating a sensation of success even when I had not done anything notable. In other words, I feel successful when I know I gave my honest, best effort.

How did you fracture your vertebrae?

I fractured my L1 vertebra during my sophomore cross country season. It is not one of my brightest moments, but surely a lesson that I had to learn. In short, I hopped a fence and landed on my butt while also compressing my vertebrae. It was the day after the second race of the season, and I decided to go for a long run early the next morning. I was bummed that I did not run as fast as I had wanted to the day before, so I had planned a route to the beach and back that would be about 10 miles. As I walked outside I looked over at the fence next to my dorm and make a spontaneous decision to hop the fence so that I could add an extra mile to my run. However, as I kept walking towards the fence I had a very strong feeling screaming at me to not jump the fence - I had hopped this fence countless times but today felt very different. I reasoned that I always listened to my gut instinct, so I never knew what it would be like to not listen. Challenging this, I swung my feet over the top of the fence and jumped over. My feet slipped on the grass slick with dew and I crashed on my butt. My back immediately was shot with pain and I had no choice but to lay on the ground until one of the neighbors noticed me. He called an ambulance and I was carried away to the hospital. Although it was 7 a.m. on a Sunday, I was not seen for nearly two hours and the pain had become unbearable. I was relieved when the doctor came back with my X-ray saying that everything looked good and it was merely a bruise. As I carefully swung my legs over the bed, he came rushing back in as if in a movie and said, "Wait! Our radiologist took another look at the image. We are going to do an MRI because we think you may have a compression fracture." My heart sank. Sure enough, I had crunched my vertebrae in on itself. They told me to buy a back brace and sent me home. It would take three months before I was cleared to run again. Although the injury left me distraught, I can reason a handful of positive outcomes that I am grateful for. For one, it instilled invaluable patience and compassion for me and others. Although my family was a thousand miles away, my dad was able to send his regards with his own unique way. He had emailed Charles Krauthammer, a famous Fox News reporter who had experienced a permanent back injury made from an instantaneous decision while also in college. Charles had composed an encouraging email filled with wisdom and confidence that I keep with me as I recovered. While it was sometimes difficult for others to sympathize my situation, my Sorority sisters carried me with immeasurable faith and good will. They had been tender when I was weak and never wavered their trust in my recovery. I was motivated by their optimism and resiliently exercised in ways that I could by keeping up with pool running (treading water in the running motion) and upward biking. At the end of chapter a few months after my injury, we were encouraged to share positive stories with one another. When it was my turn, I do not think I was able to get any words out before I filled with emotion and cried in a way I had never cried in my entire life. Earlier that day I had successfully tied my shoe laces and completed one of my first runs since. The intense energy that passed through chapter that night was an experience that is burned forever into my memory.

This or That

Facebook or Instagram

Hours a Week

60+

iPhone or Android

Left Brain or Right Brain 

Heels or Flats

What motivates you?

I have always been a very self-motivated individual. In nearly every encounter, every experience, I extract some type of motivation to fuel my progress. I function on the belief that my life is limited by my thoughts, therefore, my potential greatness is defined by what I perceive my greatness is. It is said that whether you believe you can or whether you believe you cannot, you are usually correct. I have always been motivated to improve things that I believe could be better. Yet when at first it seems out of my reach, I ask myself, “Why not me?” And sometimes when I cannot shake myself up and my doubts hesitate my stride, I often hear a sister or coach or professor ask me, “Why not you?” I believe that this mentality has built a strong foundation of encouragement and confidence that never fails to motivate me to dig deep.

What does it mean to you to graduate with a 3.92 GPA in chemical engineering?

I was always a library hermit who would rewrite a semester’s worth of notes five times over before any exam. As anyone who really knows me could imagine, I was really hard on myself when I got my first B. I mean I ruined a perfect 4.0 and could never get that back! By my last academic year, I had a ruthless standard for myself and was doing everything right for success except taking care of my mental health. Throughout my senior year I was suffering from insomnia and the consistent sleep deprivation and stress fried the life out of my brain. Graduating with a 3.92 GPA in chemical engineering means just that to me. Good grades are comforting to look at but it is not worth everything. Truthfully, I am grateful for the way things ended up. It feels good to know that my hard work paid off in the end, but it was by no means a smooth path to victory. Overcoming the challenges made me a stronger, wiser, more compassionate person and certainly more grateful for my sisters, friends and family.

How did you balance your time to accomplish academically, be part of Gamma Phi and a student athlete?

I have always enjoyed managing my time to fit everything in. This is primarily because I have a severe case of FOMO (fear of missing out), so there was certainly no way that I was going to miss out on enjoying down time with sisters or teammates. Through the stresses of competition and school work, being a part of Gamma Phi stabilized me. Gamma Phi was my happy place where I could decompress, laugh myself into a good ab workout, enjoy experiences with some of my truest friends and always feel unconditionally loved. Even when the walls felt like they were crumbling I knew my foundation would stand strong. I do not think I would have made it through my undergraduate as a student athlete without being a member of Gamma Phi.

You’re at Colorado State University (CSU) working toward a master’s in civil engineering now, correct? How does graduate school compare to undergrad?

Graduate school at CSU for civil engineering is very different than undergraduate school at FIT for chemical engineering. Not having to train in the early mornings grants a good night’s sleep for the first while in four years, which truly makes a world of a difference. I adapted my high school work out routine in the evenings, which helps me relax after working all day. My experience working as a graduate teaching assistant has helped me realize my passion for teaching and helping others through education. It feels incredible to offer advice and guidance to students who are experiencing the same struggles and nightmares that I had been through.

What are your plans when you finish school?

Although I am still not certain which direction my research will take me, I plan to work or continue research in water treatment for either wastewater systems or natural waterways. I am interested in studying the effects of pharmaceutical contaminants transported in the water and how to improve the quality of water for society and ecosystems. However, if I were being realistic, I am also passionate about growing a farm, as well as developing myself as an artist or an actress or a musician or becoming the president. I really cannot be certain how my story with evolve, but nonetheless I plan to utilize my education and skills as an instrument for humanity. If there is a will there is a way.

Tell me about your reaction when you found out you were named the Sunshine State Conference Female Scholar Athlete of the Year and FIT Female Scholar Athlete of the Year by Sunshine State Conference (SSC).

I was running through the woods at my old high school cross country course when I got a call during the summer from my school’s athletic director of communications. I did not really know what he was saying and through my panting I simply said, “Oh, that’s nice,” and told him that I would just send him my resume when I got home and he could do whatever he wanted. Sometime later in the month someone forwarded me an article stating that I was named the Sunshine State Conference Female Athlete of the Year, and I was completely shocked. Not only was I practically hearing about my nomination for what was cognitively the first time, but I did not even know that this award existed! I was and forever will be extremely humbled by this nomination.

What does that honor mean to you?

There was never any indication throughout my undergrad that I was a nominee for this award. It was the hardest thing that I have ever worked toward that I did not even know I was working toward. And through it all, there were countless moments when I felt like giving up. Someone once said to me that just before you are about to quit the greatness happens. To me, this honor symbolizes the greatness that I did not know I had and that I did not know others noticed. It is one of my biggest reminders of the value of discipline, integrity and patience.

"Someone once said to me that just before you are about to quit the greatness happens."