by Jeff Tolvin
Gabrielle Farquharson has always felt fortunate to have a strong support network of family and friends – whether to help her as she grieved the loss of her mother a decade ago or celebrate her victory last year when she became the first Big Ten Conference champion at Rutgers.
“It was tough not having her there,” says the soft-spoken 22-year-old, recalling her mother, who coached her in her elementary-school years in Williamstown and passed away following a heart attack when Farquharson was in eighth grade. “I remember her coaching me but I always had a lot of support from family and friends. Dad was always there.”
Farquharson earned a master’s degree from the School of Social Work this month at Rutgers 2016 commencement ceremonies. She believes that facing both the ups and down of track and field competition as well as the unpredictability of life outside of sports will make her better able to master a career in social work and sports.
“Gabrielle is one of the most accomplished track and field student athletes in the history of our program,” says her head coach, James Robinson. “I’ve been very impressed with her commitment to academic and athletic excellence, her work ethic, and desire to achieve at the highest level in every area of her life. It has been an honor and pleasure to coach Gabrielle and be a part of such a tremendous legacy she has created.”
Farquharson has been running track for as long as she can remember. Following in the paths of her parents and her two older brothers, who were also runners, she became Rutgers’ first Big Ten Conference champion in any sport when she won the 200-meter race at last year’s indoor conference track and field championships.
She achieved gold again this year when she became a Big Ten 200-meter gold medalist with a time of 7.34 seconds. Farquharson also earned second-team All-America honors and recently qualified for the U.S. Track and Field Olympic Trials in the long jump (6.54 meters), with the chance of making it to the Olympic Games in Brazil this summer.
The track and field champion attributes the outstanding results in her final year to the unrelenting encouragement her teammates provided and to Rutgers’ entry into the Big Ten.
“The encouragement of my teammates pushed me,” said Farquharson, who set the indoor 200-meter record at Rutgers three times in 2015. “I trained a bit harder and felt more deeply committed.”
As a budding social worker, Farquharson’s final year at Rutgers also has been rewarding off the track. For the past year she has been working with high-achieving youngsters from low-income families who were struggling emotionally and academically.
This internship at the Princeton Preparatory Program has provided her with insight into the types of challenges social workers typically face as well as how lucky she was to receive support from family and friends when she was young and is confident in the direction she thinks her career will take.
“We’re talking about families who can’t afford their rent,” Farquharson said. “These kids are feeling that pain. You want to be there for them and let them know you are there to help.”
Even though Farquharson is a star at Rutgers, to these kids it did not matter. They didn’t care that she might be headed to the Olympics. How fast she could run or how far she could jump was never discussed with these 20 kids who confided in her about why they were emotionally upset or worried. All that mattered what that she cared and wanted to help.
“This was all about them,” she said. “We never discussed my achievements as an athlete.”
It was on-the-job training that Farquharson embraced. She found herself searching for social service agencies that could help their families with financial assistance so they could pay the rent. “It’s personally rewarding when you can help people who are really hurting,” she said. “I’m learning how to do that.”
Still, Farquharson is not ready to stop competing and is hoping to be able to combine her running with a social work career. Following graduation, she’s scheduled for the NCAA East Regional Track and Field championships, then the Olympic trials, and will be looking at her options to become a professional athlete.
It’s also possible that her internship experience will lead Farquharson to a role working with children, a desire she’s had since she studied family and child development growing up in Willliamstown.
“It’s never a good feeling to have anxieties,” she says. “It creates lots of negative energy. People, particularly young children, should not have to go through that. If I can help, that would be very rewarding.”
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