Throwing Strikes: How One Bearcat Bowler Represented Team USA While Pursuing Her Master's Degree

Lauren Pate
Being a college student is definitely challenging; however, it’s arguably tougher to be a graduate student. After all, graduate students often have more responsibilities they need to tend to on a daily basis – their work, their family life, bills, and more – and this is on top of their demanding coursework. It can be even more challenging when you’re participating on a team sport. Lauren Pate ’19, a current graduate student at McKendree, shows that working toward a graduate degree while juggling a team sport and other responsibilities is more than possible. Read about her story below!

Why Lauren Chose to Make It McKendree

Lauren chose to become a Bearcat not only because she wanted to be on the bowling team but also because of how the campus itself made her feel. “Even if I weren’t on the bowling scholarship, I would’ve come to McKendree because it felt like home the second I set foot on campus,” she recalled. “Once I saw they had counseling as a graduate degree, I knew I needed to apply as soon as possible.”

While Lauren was an undergraduate student, she was a proud member of the bowling team. In fact, she was a part of the team who won two national championships in one week, the team that brought home McKendree’s first-ever NCAA National Championship and trophy in 2017. Lauren went on to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology with an emphasis in social welfare and social justice in 2019. She is currently earning her master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling and is expected to graduate in May 2022.

Finding Her Calling in Social Work and Counseling

Lauren has always had a passion for helping others, which is a large reason why she chose to pursue a bachelor’s degree in sociology, but she received additional motivation after tragedy struck in her family. “In 2015, I lost my cousin to a mental illness, which motivated me to help those who are suffering from mental illnesses, such as counseling or social work,” she said. “Once I saw that McKendree had the clinical mental health counseling program, I knew I needed to apply and pursue a career within that field.”

Lauren’s ultimate counseling goal once she graduates is to own her own practice or treatment center, or become a clinical director of a treatment center.

Using Helpful Skills to Conquer Obstacles

No one ever said that earning a graduate degree would be easy. Even Lauren has found it to be a difficult road at times. “It has been hard to juggle everything at once,” she said. “When I applied for graduate school, I had envisioned a plan of how things were going to work out, which included me to be bowling a lot. Unfortunately with the additional responsibilities, that is not what occurred. When I realized how much time graduate school consumed of my life, bowling was put on the back burner for some time.”

Bowling, however, couldn’t remain on the sidelines for long in Lauren’s life. “Bowling, to me, is a passion and something that helps me on my darkest days,” she said. “I learned how to manage my time better and make deadlines even sooner, just so I can get that extra time in on the lanes. I know when I have time, I will always be in the bowling center, whether I’m practicing or competing.”

Whenever Lauren has hard days, bowling definitely helps her refocus; however, she also draws inspiration from Shannon O’Keefe, the head coach of McKendree’s women’s bowling team. “She has been my role model since I committed to McKendree,” Lauren noted. “She has seen me on my tough days and made sure I was okay or checked in on me, especially when I was going through the hard time of not being able to bowl and compete as much as I could before. She and I have a bond that not many people have, and for that I am grateful.”

Answering the Call to Represent Team USA

It’s not every day that an athlete gets the opportunity to represent their country while competing for medals. In October, Lauren competed as a member of Team USA at the 2021 PANAM Bowling Elite Championships. Even sweeter is the fact that she competed on her 25th birthday, alongside her former McKendree teammate, Breanna Clemmer ‘21, as loved ones looked on and cheered. “It felt like I was back bowling with her in college!” she said. “We worked well together and I enjoyed every moment of bowling with her. We won the team event by 450 pins, and we were able to bring home the win.” Lauren also brought home a gold medal in doubles and team events, along with a bronze medal in trios.

“It was such a great experience – one that I will never forget,” Lauren added. “Being able to represent my country is an absolute dream come true. I have dreamt of that moment since I was a little girl bowling Saturday morning league.”

Lauren’s Advice for Making the Impossible Possible at McKendree

One piece of advice that Lauren would like to give athletes who are pursuing their careers is to take every opportunity they get when it comes to their sport. “It’s not every day that you will get a phone call to represent your country or travel across the country competing in your sport, and taking that opportunity will open another chapter in your life,” she said. “There are always going to be people who support every decision you’ve made, and I am forever grateful that I was able to take this opportunity while earning my graduate degree.”