It’s one thing to be a standout in the sport of track and field.
It’s another to be an excellent student.
And yet, it’s another when one finds the time, as a high school student, to be able to give back in many ways to the community.
Put it all together and you have Kara Whelply, who recently graduated as the valedictorian of the Class of 2013 at St. Dominic Academy in Jersey City.
Whelply was a four-year letter winner in cross country and track and field with the storied Blue Devils’ program.
“As a sophomore, she ran a 2:36 half [800-meter run],” said veteran SDA track coach and athletic director John Nagel. “That’s pretty good. She was also on some of our cross country teams that won championships. She was also willing to try different things. She also went head first into becoming a student of the history of the sport.”
But it’s her immense dedication to her volunteer work that makes Whelply stand out from the rest of young women her age.
“As a junior at St. Dominic, you are required to do some sort of community service project,” Whelply said. “I had a teacher who was involved with Gospel Roads, an organization that worked with Habitat for Humanity, based in Alabama. I wanted to do something different, so this interested me.”
So in July of 2011, Whelply went with fellow SDA students and long-time friends Megan and Sarah Sisk to Pratt City, Alabama and help to rebuild homes devastated by the tornadoes that ripped through Alabama that summer.
“We built homes for the tornado victims, but it wasn’t just that,” Whepley said. “We organized donations in Birmingham to help the tornado victims. We volunteered at a day camp for underprivileged children.”
Whelply’s older brother, Grant, also volunteered doing work for Habitat for Humanity when he was a student at St. Peter’s Prep, so it seemed natural for Kara.
“I definitely wanted to do something like that,” Whelply said. “I’m not the kind of person to stack books on a library shelf. I had to do something with my hands. I wanted to do something more creative. I think we all went in a little blind. My Mom wasn’t too keen with the idea of me using a power saw.”
As it turned out, Whelply never did use a saw.
“But I did become a professional in putting up home siding,” Whelply said. “It was such a great experience that I went back.”
So sure enough, in July of last year, Whelply signed up for another two-week tour of volunteerism in Alabama.
Once again, Whelply did a lot of hands-on work in helping to build homes, with many a day spent with hammer and nails and wood. She was tearing down wallpaper, ripping down sheet rock, breaking down walls.
But Whelply also helped to refurbish homes in a place called Lifeline Village, which helps young women who are pregnant and do not receive any assistance, monetarily and emotionally.
“These women and young girls who don’t have support at home and have nowhere to go,” Whelply said. “The Lifeline Village gives them a chance to have a place to live and a place to receive an education.”
Whelply also volunteered her time to work at the Holy Rosary Day Camp once again, working with the underprivileged youngsters.
“I went back to work with the kids in the day care and some of them remembered me,” Whelply said. “That was gratifying.”
Wheply also was involved in the SDA Hospitality Club, the Student Ambassadors, the Mock Trial Competition and was vice-president of Dominican Youth in Action. She was also a member of the National Honor Society and get this – the Chinese National Honor Society. Whelply was a student of Chinese at SDA for her four years and received the Chinese Language Award.
She also volunteered for the Madeline LoRe Cancer Foundation and for the United States Senate campaign of State Sen. Joe Kyrillos in 2012.
That’s a lot for any teenager to carry on their plate.
“It was never a question of being focused on just one thing,” Whelply said.
Whelply gave a lot of credit to Nagel.
“John’s really the person who encouraged me the most,” Whelply said. “It wasn’t a choice of being able to balance everything. St. Dominic’s track teaches you to be involved. John was always willing to stay late with me at the [Jersey City] Armory to help me finish my workouts on my own. He was always willing to help me.
Added Whelply, “All the people at St. Dom’s make it easier. They really helped me grow up.”
“She’s very self motivated,” Nagel said. “When you do a lot of things, the tendency is to have one thing suffer. A lot of it becomes a juggling act. But she’s a bright kid and motivated. It took some maturing, but she really did well. She’s going to be used in public relations terms as we move forward, in terms of what it takes to be a good student/athlete. She’s proof of it.”
Incredibly, Whelply is only the third SDA track product to become class valedictorian, with friend and teammate Sarah Sisk earning the similar distinction a year ago. Margaret Laracy was also a runner who was atop her graduating class in 1999. Sisk is now a track athlete at New York University.
“Being friends with Sarah is always good motivation,” Whelply said. “She was also focused and driven like I am. I really never thought of being the valedictorian, but I always wanted to be the best.”
Whelply became such a fan of her two stints in Alabama that she will enroll at the University of Alabama’s pre-med program in the fall. Whelply also plans to minor in Chinese at Alabama.
“I really liked the people there,” Whelply said. “It was either the University of Michigan or Alabama, but Alabama was just the right fit for me. I’m in the honors college and the pre-med program. When I went to Alabama the first time, I never thought I would end up applying. But after spending two summers there and the people I’ve met are so incredible with their hospitality, it feels like I belong.”
Whelply credited her parents for being so supportive.
“They were the ones who took me to practice at 5 a.m. and then came back to get me after some study sessions were done at night,” Whelply said. “I’m really proud of myself in what I’ve accomplished, but I’m more proud of the way they’re proud of me.”
And now, if Whelply ever wants to become a carpenter instead of a doctor, she has the proper training.
“My uncle is a roofer and I know he doesn’t want me to work with him,” Whelply said. “I don’t think anyone should have to pay me for my siding work.”
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com.