With three academic degrees and eight current athletic records over five years, Karolin Anders is, to put it numerically, a first-rate student-athlete.
Karolin earned bachelor’s degrees in history and English in under four years, and will earn a master’s in English this spring, all before she times out of NCAA eligibility (oh, and that’s while training for the pentathlon and heptathlon, among the most demanding events on the track and field schedule).
Though she credits her success and focus on “a really small social life,” you’d never guess that from meeting her. She is cheerful, charismatic and overwhelmingly positive, qualities that would make her the life of party (if she had time for that) and lend well to her current leadership role as team captain.
“Let’s go to America!”
Karolin started competing in track and field back home in Berlin, joining the local team at age 8. What kid wouldn’t love track? Sprinting against your friends, throwing heavy objects, leaping into sand traps. “I just remember lots of days playing in the grass,” she recalled, “and then, at one point, it got pretty serious.” Fast forward several years and she’s an athletic force, taking the Berlin city titles in high jump, heptathlon and triple jump.
College, though, wasn’t on her radar. “I’m one of those people that maybe wouldn’t have ended up in college right away, or ever,” she noted. Her boyfriend, Franz Burghagen ’15, suggested they try competing for an American university and she agreed. “I had no direction,” she laughed. “Okay, that’s a good plan, let’s go to America!”
She contacted teams where she and Franz — a javelin thrower — could both compete, and focused on the Northwest (having done a student exchange in Washington in 11th grade). She found both support and scholarships at UAA. “Coach Ryan [McWilliams] contacted us and he was one of the kindest, most encouraging people,” she said.
Academic pressure started as soon as she arrived in Anchorage. Franz had started college in Germany, and could only compete for 2.5 years, per NCAA regulations. So Karolin overloaded on courses and summer semesters to catch up. “I was really trying to get my bachelor’s done at that point, just to make sure I wouldn’t be left behind,” she noted. “I was confident I could do it, and when I realized I could do it, I realized how many more opportunities opened through that.” Like, say, a master’s degree in English.
She started graduate school midway through her fourth year (after a senior year injury, Karolin redshirted in outdoor to maintain eligibility). Again, she had to catch up. “Everybody already had a [thesis] topic and I had eight, which kind of reflects my personality,” she laughed. “I have all these ideas, and they made me focus really quickly.”
Her thesis analyzes Threepenny Opera, the first play she saw as a kid, and a performance she credits for sparking her interest in literature. Specifically, she’s comparing English translations of the German play from 1939, 1954 and her own translation from 2016 to explore how translated texts reflect the social-historical context of the author as well as linguistic variation.
Sounds dense? It’s not. “It’s super-fun,” she exclaimed. “Everybody tells you at one point you’re not going to like your thesis anymore. I’m still good.”
“The best event”
So how do you fit all this in to five years, especially when common sense and even academic advisors say it’s not possible?
“A rare little social life, that’s a huge component. You have to set your priorities right,” she said. That includes studying while traveling with the team; “Sometimes on the plane, people would rather not sit next to me because I’m the boring one.”
Her training schedule is also demanding. Karolin competes in indoor pentathlon and outdoor heptathlon (and holds UAA records in both) meaning she trains for seven events — hurdles, sprints, middle distance, shot put, high jump, long jump and javelin. Practice is never boring, but usually exhausting. She arrives in the morning with the jumpers, then stays to train with the runners.
That hard work pays off at meets where, oddly, she’s become friends with the competition. “It’s a great atmosphere. It’s the best event,” she said. At meets, she spends the entire weekend with her competitors, creating a familiar and supportive community. Everyone knows when someone hits their personal best, even if they don’t win the event. “We have a rivalry, but not in the same away,” she said. “That’s an appreciation you don’t get anywhere else.”
Words from the wise
People assume she’s naturally great in class and sports, but that’s not the case. “School was never easy for me. I had to figure it out,” she said. “And I wasn’t a super-good athlete it was just work. Lots of work. I owe a lot to Coach Ryan,” she added.
Like most athletes, she wants to see more improvement in her senior year. Maybe she’ll reach nationals for the fifth year in a row. Maybe she’ll set a few more records on her way out the door (she currently boasts UAA’s best measures in five indoor and three outdoor events). But she’s prepared to relinquish those crowns. “Records are meant to be broken,” she said. “I encourage others to just take them down.”
On that note, she has a motivating message for all UAA students. “I would like to encourage everybody to set high goals and try to figure it out somehow. You have to make sacrifices if you set those goals,” but, if she hadn’t found a way to earn three degrees in five years, “I would regret it so much right now.”
Take note, students of UAA. Your academic goals are attainable. “Everything worked out well because I made the right decisions, and I’m so glad,” she said, smiling.
Indoor track is already afoot. Karolin joins the team for her final outdoor season in March. Click here for the full Seawolf schedule.
Written by J. Besl, UAA Office of University Advancement