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Leaving a Legacy

Leaving a Legacy

University of Florida point guard Sarah Lowe wants to be remembered for being more than a top student-athlete
By Kendra Hamilton

Her favorite movies are “Crash” and “Motorcycle Diaries.” During the 2004 presidential election, she got every player on the women’s basketball squad to register to vote. Last year, she was a finalist for a Rhodes Scholarship.

Who is this young prodigy? She’s Sarah Lowe, a 5’7” senior point guard from the University of Florida women’s basketball team and Diverse’s 2006 female Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholar of the Year. And not only is she not your “typical jock,” she’s not even your typical college student.

“I guess you could say I’m pretty ambitious. I want to redefine the stereotype of what it is to be a student-athlete,” says Lowe. “For me, it would never be enough to be one dimensional — the athlete — or even to be two dimensional — the student and the athlete. I’ve always demanded the third dimension, too — being the student and the athlete and the engaged member of the community.”

If, however, Lowe were a one-dimensional athlete, she’d be a darned good one. She played high school ball at posh Lower Merion High School in Ardmore, Pa., and played with the AAU Philadelphia Belles for five years. Lowe also earned a finalist spot on the 2002 McDonald’s All-America team and was a 2001 All America Honorable Mention in Street & Smith’s magazine.

Named tri-captain of the squad her freshman year, Lowe was the only Gator to start every game that year, leading the team in assists and steals. Though she lost her starting position the next season, Lowe has remained a team captain and “the heart of the team,” according to head coach Carolyn Peck, who in just four years has over-seen the most dramatic turn around in the program’s history.

The Gators were 9-19 in 2002-2003, then 19-11, playing the third toughest schedule in the country, in 2003-2004. The team struggled in 2004-2005, posting a 15-16 record; but this year they were 21-9 and earned an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.

“The things Sarah has done are the things that don’t necessarily show up in the stat sheets,” Peck says. “You’ve got to have a top-notch point guard to accomplish what this team has accomplished. This team goes as Sarah goes.”

So Lowe has the stats — 19 career double-digit-scoring games, two career double-figure rebounding games and 266 career assists, good for 11th all-time in the UF record book. She also has the grades — with not a fluff course in sight. Lowe is working on a double major in political science and Spanish, with a minor in criminology. Overall, she boasts a 3.88 GPA, but in upper division courses, it’s a straight 4.0.

She’s been on the Dean’s List for four years and the President’s List, for students who combine high academic achievement with extracurricular excellence, for four of her six semesters. She’s been on the Southeastern Conference’s All-Academic Team for four years and made ESPN The Magazine’s Academic All-District 3 First Team and Phi Beta Kappa. She ignored the voices that whispered athletics should always come first, spending 12 weeks studying in Mexico and Spain to improve her language proficiency and broaden her horizons. And then there was the small matter of the Rhodes Scholarship.

“That was definitely bittersweet,” says Lowe, speaking not of the fact that she wasn’t chosen, but the fact that “I had to miss our opening two games, and I hadn’t missed a game since I came here. But then it was also an incredible experience in the sense that you’re around so many other extremely motivated college students.”

Bryan Patterson, career counselor and coordinator of CHAMPS/Life Skills Program for the University Athletic Association, would probably say that is classic Sarah Lowe. “She has the commitment, the desire to do her best and be the best — she never settles for less, and that comes from her parents and her family,” Patterson says. “But she also has a humble spirit. She’s humble and thankful.”

The “x-factor,” with Lowe, that really makes her “one in a million,” Patterson says, “is her desire to improve her community.”

Lowe volunteers with Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Gainesville and says she talks to her little sister daily. She’s a peer leader, helping UF freshman manage the transition to college, as well as a student ambassador for the university alumni and president. She is a hostess at games and fund-raising events and gives tours to prospective students. Lowe also found the time to work on voter registration with the nonpartisan America Coming Together campaign in 2004, and she served as vice president of Swing UF, a campus group dedicated to informing young people about the issues.
“This is a young woman who seriously talks about wanting to join the Peace Corps,” says Peck.

That option is just one of many available to her. While she is interested in the Peace Corps, she is also considering spending part of her summer teaching photography at an orphanage in Tanzania. Then, if her Fulbright application comes through, possibly going to Costa Rica to study the Central American Free Trade Agreement. She hasn’t ruled out working on Capitol Hill either. And, of course, her playing days may not be over.

“If you want to affect change, I think politics is definitely the way,” she says. “I have a lot of ideas, and basketball is definitely still in the mix.”
For Lowe, “Life is all about experiences. I come from an affluent suburb. Three of my parents have Ph.D.s” — Lowe’s parents are divorced and remarried, and she is the youngest of six kids in the blended families — “so education is very important in my family. But I could have walked around in my bubble and never been aware of the levels of poverty and inequality that are so pathetic and sad in this rich country if it weren’t for sports.”

Lowe says she’s not interested in just “walking through” her college experience. “I want to leave a legacy,” she says. “In a school of 40,000 people, you could come and go and no one might ever know you were there. I want people to say, ‘Sarah Lowe came to the University of Florida and she did great things.’ And it’s not about the recognition, it’s about showing that it’s possible. That you don’t have to accept the limits … that people try to lay on you — that you find ways to do the things that are important.”

Lowe will certainly be missed, according to her coach.

“The end of the regular season was one of the hardest of my career — to look at seniors, the first class I’ve had for four full years, and think of them not being here,” Peck says. “And it’s especially tough with Sarah because of the relationship between coach and point guard, where she has to be almost an extension of your mind and your will.

“All I can say is if we were to have a child one day, I would want my child to be like Sarah Lowe — not because she’s a great ball player, even though she is, but because she’s such a great human being.”

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