KINGSTON, R.I. – April 21, 2015 – University of Rhode Island swimming coach Mick Westcott made it easy for Cromwell (Conn.) High School student Emily Thomesen to decide where she would go to college.
“When I was being recruited by (Mick), he said academics come before athletics, and that’s why I came here,” said Thomesen, who has a 3.72 grade point average and who will earn her bachelor’s degree in pharmaceutical sciences May 17. “I wanted to earn my degree, and he was true to that philosophy the entire time I was here.
“I was preparing for a big organic chemistry exam and I was nervous,” said Thomesen, who was a two-time Atlantic 10 Conference Academic All-Conference selection and URI dean’s list member for each of her eight semesters. “I needed to skip one day of practice to get ready for the exam, and I asked Mick if he would allow me to do that. I promised that I would do a double during the next practice session. He allowed me to miss practice, but he also held me accountable in terms of my team responsibilities.”
The recipient of a URI College of Pharmacy scholarship, a University scholarship and athletics scholarship passed the exam.
“Emily never stops reaching out to people,” Westcott said. “It’s not just about her accomplishments, it’s her whole person. That’s what is irreplaceable. She doesn’t dwell on her accomplishments because there is always someone to help.”
Her URI swimming resume is full of individual and team accomplishments, but one story stands out.
It began in her sophomore year when she and her 200-yard medley relay teammates finished third in the A-10 finals and were preparing to take the podium for the awarding of their bronze medals. Then came the announcement from the officials—URI had had a false start. The three-tenths-of-a-second jump led to a disqualification and crushing disappointment.
But a year later, the Rams were back in the hunt in the A-10 finals.
“Our junior year was our path to redemption and we wanted revenge,” Thomesen said. “I was doing the 50-yard backstroke in (the 200 medley relay), and we all wanted to finish first so badly. We finished out of second by just a half-second. But we broke our own record and we won the bronze. We then joined in a huddle, and let the moment sink in.”
She also had a big moment of individual glory in her sophomore year, when she was ceded third in the A-10 finals in the 100-yard backstroke.
“When I finished, I looked up (for the results) and saw that I dropped an amazing amount from my time and finished third. “My time qualified me for the NCAA B cut, which gave me the opportunity to compete at the U.S. Winter Nationals.”
While excelling in the pool, she served as a URI medicinal chemistry intern, and a URI Honors intern with ChildVloice International in Uganda where she conducted research on cultural norms relating to sexual and gender-based violence.
She also completed undergraduate research internships in the College of Pharmacy and the Graduate School of Oceanography.
So one might guess that Thomesen, who began at URI as a biological sciences major at URI, would be seeking a career relating to pharmaceutical or marine research. You would be wrong.
Her experiences in Uganda and Nepal, with URI’s Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies, as a lifeguard at Brownstone Exploration & Discovery Park in Portland, Ct. and her leadership role in Serve-Up Christian College Fellowship, have led her to seek another bachelor’s degree, this time in nursing. Thomesen is applying to the accelerated nursing programs at Duke University and the University of Connecticut so she can become a registered nurse in 18 months.
“I learned the value of community and support in my time with the student-athletes who gathered for Bible study and discussion. I developed friendships across all teams,” said the recipient of the House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello-Rhode Island House of Representatives 2014-Scholar-Athlete Award.
“When I was a lifeguard at Discovery Park, it was a very intense place that offered such activities as zip lining and wake boarding,” Thomesen said. “During that time, I participated in a deep-water backboard rescue. I used skills I had perfected, and once the emergency developed, I knew I could help. I learned that I could take someone from a serious to a safe situation.”
And when she was in Uganda and Nepal, the senior with the URI email user name of luv-seaturtle, discovered she had a deep interest in social justice. She saw the effects of profound poverty, war and environmental degradation.
“I no longer was as excited about fish embryos, and I didn’t think laboratory research was right for me either,” Thomesen said. “My work in Uganda confirmed that I wanted to serve, that I wanted to be a nurse. I’d see these victims of war and their blank faces. But there was this inner joy. I played soccer with kids who hadn’t eaten all day, yet they were still kids, laughing and having fun. That resilience, that hope is why I want to serve.”
She said she would miss her teammates and the rush of competition. She is deeply grateful to the biological sciences and pharmaceutical sciences faculty who provided her with such a strong foundation in the sciences. But mostly, she’ll think of Tabitha, a girl she met in Uganda.
“When I told her I was studying science, Tabitha was in awe, and told me she just wants to be free of disease and study all the time. She is the inspiration for my career. I want to serve women and help.”
READY FOR GRADUATION: University of Rhode Island senior Emily Thomesen poses for a photo as her graduation from the University approaches. URI photo by Nora Lewis.
SMOOTH STROKE: Emily Thomesen competing in the backstroke during her career at the University of Rhode Island. Photo courtesy of Mike Scott.
Photo by Nora Lewis