NCAA track champion.
Nationally-recognized and awarded student-athlete.
Mom of two.
Quite a resume.
Then again, Christy Cazzola is quite a Titan.
The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh graduate student earned the “Student Spotlight” during the UW System Board of Regents meeting on Aug. 22. And Cazzola used the opportunity to sling a medal around the neck of the System itself, lauding its accessibility, opportunities and support for students going the extra mile in their athletic and academic pursuits, particularly those students attending one of Wisconsin’s many stellar, NCAA Division III comprehensive universities.
“The University of Wisconsin System is one of the best examples of enriching and empowering people and small communities,” Cazzola said in her Friday remarks to the Board of Regents.
“When I talk about the UW system to people from out of state or with other runners that I have met on the road or have competed with, they are suddenly confused,” she said. “When I say the ‘University of Wisconsin’ – leaving the specific institution name off the end — they typically think ‘Madison.’ I have to explain to them that there are ‘many division one schools, many division two schools, and a lot of division three schools. It’s Division III, of course, that our Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Conference, or WIAC, is a member of. It is comprised of small division three schools.’ I am proud to say mine is UW Oshkosh. I am a Titan.”
Cazzola is a UW Oshkosh student and a mother of two who entered college after taking an academic break following a successful, Fox Valley high school athletic career. After enrolling at UW Oshkosh in her 20s, she earned a 3.40 GPA while pursuing her bachelor’s degree in secondary education. And she is now continuing her journey toward excellence by working to complete her master’s degree in educational leadership.
“But that’s not even close to where her story begins or ends,” UW System President Ray Cross said, in introducing Cazzola to the Board of Regents during his regular “Student Spotlight.” “This fierce competitor has earned more accolades than one can capture in summary, but I’ll try.”
Cazzola’s list of athletic and academic recognition is stunning and includes the following achievements:
- Most recently, she was named the 2013-14 Capital One Division III Academic All-America of the Year, as selected by the College Sports Information Directors of America.
- She was also named the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association’s National Outdoor Track Athlete of the Year for the second straight season in 2014, the Outstanding Track Performer at the NCAA Division III indoor and outdoor championships and the 2014 Honda Division III Athlete of the Year by the Collegiate Women Sports Awards.
- Her athletic efforts and dedication helped UW Oshkosh repeat as the indoor team champion.
- Now a graduate student, she is also the holder of five NCAA Division III all-time records.
- She finished her collegiate career with 16 national track and field titles – eight indoor and eight outdoor.
- She has been featured by ESPN and in Runner’s World magazine and has met the initial qualifying standards for the 2016 Olympic Trials.
During her remarks to the Regents, Cazzola emphasized the “uniqueness of our campuses and our entire system.” She said she regularly has had opportunities as she travels to compete around the U.S. to share how the interconnectedness of public higher education in Wisconsin distinctly propels its institutions’ tens of thousands of students.
“I describe how (the UW System) enriches our smaller campuses and everyone within,” she said. “We are open to sharing more ideas through use of interlibrary loans, by requesting high-level expert knowledge that is exclusive, such as student dissertations and professors’ writings. We never fear of having our pockets emptied. Students can request these resources and materials and read the incredible ideas they harbor, use them for research and send them back. Because of this System — this network of knowledge — students can write something and publish something and send it back out to that very System.”
Cazzola also shared praise for the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC), which has proven itself, with the support of UW System athletic programs and their home institutions, a perennial powerhouse in the NCAA Division III landscape.
“With state and UW System support for campuses like UW Oshkosh, student-athletes from small farm communities are taking trips all over the country to compete,” Cazzola said. “They are meeting people and seeing places they might never have seen. Our WIAC is one of the best conferences on record in division three history, and we represent at the national level in our wonderful state of Wisconsin.”
Cazzola’s Board of Regents spotlight included a 2012 “NCAA on Campus” profile video that, in the thick of her string national track and cross country championships, zoomed in on her daily life as an athlete, student and mom. Coaches and faculty members at UW Oshkosh still marvel at her daily schedule balancing practice, studies and family responsibilities in her pursuit of an advanced degree.
“How does she do it all? Now that is the million-dollar question,” Susan Kirkham, UW Oshkosh lecturer in the Department of Communications, said in the NCAA profile story. “Because I do not know how she does it all. I can’t imagine that she sleeps. Whatever it is, I want to know because I want some of that myself.”
Cazzola said, ultimately, her right-timed UW Oshkosh experience helped her “enrich and empower myself with the best of the best.”
“I found experts and professionals that connected with me and encouraged me,” she said. “They believed in me and supported me on my journey. I was able to make a self I would not have imagined in 2008 when I first stepped foot on campus. I am forever grateful to the people, the administrators and this System for who I have become today.”