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Pole Vaulter Honored for Overcoming Disease in Return to Studies and Training

Recipient of Wilma Rudolph Student-Athlete Achievement Award Aims for New Heights in Senior Year

By Maryland Athletics Staff

A Maryland pole vaulter who survived a series of strokes and brain surgery last year and is now retraining for competition is being honored for her resiliency as one of six recipients of the 2021 Wilma Rudolph Student-Athlete Achievement Awards. 

The National Association of Academic and Student-Athlete Development Professionals this week announced junior Gwendolyn Zeckowski as a student-athlete who has overcome great personal, academic or emotional odds to achieve academic success. It’s named for the former Olympic sprinter who was told as a child after contracting scarlet fever and polio that she would never walk again. 

Zeckowski was attending classes in February 2020 when she suffered a series of ischemic strokes. She was soon diagnosed with moyamoya disease, a rare, progressive disorder that affects the major arteries and blood vessels in the brain. She took a cross-country flight during the pandemic for surgery in California in June, then returned to school in August, cleared for training and determined to pick up where she left off.

“I still think I have the same goals as before—that I want to graduate, and I want to get my master’s degree and … I do want to vault 14 feet,” Zeckowksi said.

Her determination to shake off the disease and get back to competition is little short of amazing, said Head Track and Field Coach Andrew Valmon.

“I had seen a lot as a coach. I’d never seen anything like this,” he said. “For someone to come back through that and still be standing, saying, ‘Hey, I want to be a pole vaulter,’—that’s a great story.”

Maryland men’s soccer player Paul Bin ’20 received the award in 2019 in recognition of his struggles with depression and work to bring mental health issues to light.

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