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The world on her terms

Former River Ridge star Lauren Mayros is making the most of a life of athletics and academics.

By JAMAL THALJI, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 7, 2002

She lunched with former archbishop Desmond Tutu. She made Jimmy Carter cry. Bill Clinton told her where to find all the really good pubs in Oxford, England.

This week it's off to the Masters to give a little speech and maybe catch Tiger Woods tee it up at Augusta National.

In the fall, she'll tee off at the Links at St. Andrews, and hope she doesn't shank the ball too badly at the hallowed "home of golf."

Heck, when Lauren Mayros is back in the States after a year in Europe, she might even bring back her master's degree.

"I've done some really cool things," she said.

An understatement, to be sure.

At the ripe old age of 22, the former River Ridge soccer star has lived a lifetime the last four years.

Hers is a story with more than one lesson. Take from it what you will:

Learn how rewarding hard, hard work can be.

For the former River Ridge student body president and National Honor Society member, it meant reaching the upper echelons of prestigious Emory University in Atlanta.

Learn what a commitment to academic excellence versus Division I athletics can lead to.

For Mayros, the 1997 and 1998 Times North Suncoast Soccer Player of the Year, it meant turning down offers to play at American, West Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth and Miami to play for the Division III Eagles -- and she hasn't regretted a minute of it.

Learn how determination can lead to the goal of a lifetime.

It led Mayros to be named one of four recipients of the exclusive Robert T. Jones Jr. Memorial Scholarship Fund Award -- named for golfing legend Bobby Jones -- which recognizes outstanding academics and extracurriculars with a year of study as an Emory ambassador to the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

To her father, Van, the lesson of his daughter's life is this: She decided what is most important in life and never stopped chasing it.

"Lauren was a soccer player who went to college to learn, to become a student, and to create a career for herself after school," he said. "So many kids who play at so many levels of their sports really overlook beyond those four years (playing.)

"She made the ultimate decision. I think there's a great lesson in that. You go to college to advance in life, not to extend your high school career for another four years. That's choosing a school for all the right reasons."

* * *

First, the Jimmy Carter story.

The Carter Center, dedicated to human rights and conflict resolution and named for the 39th president of the United States, is in Atlanta and has close ties with Emory.

Every year, the former president speaks at the Carter Town Hall meeting. Mayros came to the 18th annual speech in 1999 to hear one of the people she admires most.

Questions were taken for the end of the speech, and Mayros jotted down a spur-of-the-moment inquiry.

"I started writing that he's more than just a politician," Mayros said. "He's a poet and a farmer and a nuclear engineer, so I asked him to recite his favorite poem that he had written.

"Lo and behold, I submitted the question and it got picked. It was the last question of the night. So they read it out loud to him and he said, "That's a great question,' and he said, "My favorite poem is entitled Rosalynn. I wrote it for my wife.'

"He said he won't recite the entire poem but said the last two lines go:

* * *

I still hear birds singing when

Rosalynn smiles at me.' "

* * *

Mayros was swooning.

"It was wonderful," she said. "He was crying. I was crying. My knees were shaking. I was like, "That was unreal. I can't believe that just happened.'

"I'll never forget it. That just showed me what an incredible person he is. In front of all these 20-something kids, he just let down his guard. Here was one of the most powerful men in the world and he was able to show his sensitive side, how much his wife meant to him."

* * *

Ranked as the 18th-best university in the nation by U.S. News & World Report, Emory University is one of the nation's most prestigious private institutions, home to law, medical and business schools ranked among the nation's top 25 graduate programs by the same magazine.

So, of course, Mayros fell for the place. Hard.

She is president of Pi Sigma Alpha, the Political Science Honor's Society. She's excelled academically, earning Dean's List honors from 1999-01 and joining the National Collegiate Scholars Honors Society.

For three years, she has been a group leader with the Freshman Advising and Mentoring at Emory program, or FAME, which guides incoming freshmen. She tutored kids in English and reading at Druid Hills High School, and coached soccer at youth clinics. She earned a seat on the Faculty and Student Senate on Drugs and Alcohol. She interned as a researcher at CNN International.

Mayros, a political science major, will graduate this spring with a 3.64 GPA and a bachelor's degree in international relations with a focus on Western Europe. It is just the beginning for someone who hopes to one day be a professor.

"In my major, I've focused on conflict and security issues," she said. "So I've taken a lot of courses on government and war, the politics of it, and I've come to like it a lot.

"What I want to study is conflict resolution and the mediation process. I would one day love to make some kind of contribution to the field, to help an organization like the United Nations figure out what they're going to do when they go into a place like Somalia."

Her freshman year, her FAME group invited a guest professor and lecturer at Emory to lunch.

Retired Archbishop of Cape Town Desmond Mpilo Tutu accepted.

They ate red beans and rice with the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner and anti-apartheid and South African human rights activist.

"He talked about how he grew up, all of his experiences in South Africa and the anti-apartheid movement," Mayros said.

Through experiences like that, her mother, Roxann, director of the Lighthouse for the Blind in Miami, said her daughter matured in many ways.

"I think she's grown into a pretty phenomenal young woman," said mom. "She presents herself with such aplomb. I took her to a business dinner and she carried the conversation as if she was used to being in that realm all the time.

"She's matured, but she's still Lauren. I think if kids from high school met her they would think she's still Lauren. She's had a lot of great experiences there, but she's had disappointments, too."

* * *

Now, the Bill Clinton story.

In the summer of 2001, Mayros traveled to Oxford University in England and spent two months studying English political literature and the British history of the first and second world wars.

"I kind of enjoyed the whole atmosphere of Oxford," she said. "It was very historic and intellectual."

Mayros and a group of friends were walking to dinner when they noticed Secret Service agents all over the school. Former president Clinton was visiting.

"We rounded a corner and sure enough, there was Clinton," she said. "He had gone to Wimbledon that day, and he was back visiting University College (Clinton's old college was where Mayros studied) and he came back with some friends to reminisce, showing them where he lived and where he studied. It's also where Chelsea (the president's daughter) studied, so I think he was going there to make sure she got a nice room that summer.

"He was really gracious. He sat and talked to us for 15 minutes. He told us where all the good bars and pubs were in Oxford. I had my camera with us, so I got it out and asked if we could all get a picture with him, and he said yes.

"I can understand how he survived impeachment. There was something about his presence, his aura. I was just thinking, meeting him, "This is unreal.' "

* * *

The biggest question Mayros faced coming out of high school was: Where would she play soccer?

Her father is impressed with her choice. After all, she was one of the Tampa Bay area's top prep soccer talents. She played for the Tampa Bay Heather club team, one of the country's best. Coaches from all over desired her. The coach at Harvard loved her.

But Mayros had other ideas.

"It was wide-open for her, really," Van said. "She could have gone to virtually any school she wanted to. But ultimately, it just comes down to a field, and she just had the right field at Emory."

Field of study, that is. Mayros valued academics above all else, but wouldn't trade her years with the Eagles for anything.

"I was afraid (Division III) wouldn't be as competitive as I was used to," she said. "I was pleasantly surprised. We've played multiple Division I schools and beaten them. It was a really great four years for me. We made it to the NCAA tournament (in 2000) and we strung together the second-longest winning steak (29 games in 1999, second-most in Division III history.)

A three-year letter winner, Mayros played fullback and helped Emory win University Athletic Association championships in 1998 and 2001 and went on a playing tour of Europe with the Eagles.

Her one regret is that after finishing this season ranked No. 6 in the nation with a 17-1-1 record and a win over No. 2 Trinity (Texas), Emory was not selected to the NCAA tournament.

Her favorite memory is of the 2000 NCAA South Regional, which Emory lost at home to Trinity on penalty kicks after four overtimes. Mayros never left the field.

"It was the never-ending game," she said. "That will go down as my greatest memory. We had this humongous crowd and they were ranked No. 1.

"We played an hour of overtime, and it was a 2 1/2-hour game. I played every single minute of the game. I don't think I've ever been more mentally and physically tired after a game. Even though we lost and I was incredibly heartbroken, you literally left it all on the field. It was an incredible game."

* * *

Mayros is as humble as she is hard-working, with one notable exception: the Bobby Jones scholarship.

"I feel bad saying it, but I've always wanted this since my freshman year because it's the premier scholarship to get at Emory," she said. "It's a big opportunity, it has a lot of prestige with it, so I can't help but be proud of it."

Only four Emory undergraduates are selected every year to spend a year as scholar-ambassadors at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, which also sends four ambassadors of its own to Emory, its sister school.

Jones was an Emory law graduate, and the scholarship that bears his name is meant to reward his qualities.

"I think they really want the epitome of the all-around student," Mayros said. "You obviously have to have a lot of school and community involvement, and not only that, you have to show leadership, and I think my athletics contributed as well.

"They're looking for ambassadors. They want people outgoing, energetic, people who are going to get involved in the community of St. Andrews and just be a really great representative of Emory in Scotland."

It was a rigorous application process. Applicants had to chat with each of the 14 selection committee members at a packed social, but without appearing too anxious, and without treating it like a grocery list. "It was nerve-wracking," Mayros said.

The next day, the committee split in half, taking turns grilling applicants in 30-minute interviews.

"They just shoot questions at you the whole time," she said. "There were two political science professors there, and they just nailed me with questions about everything from U.S. policies in the Middle East to the missile defense system to domestic politics in Scotland.

"They do not refrain from anything."

Including Jones' remarkable life.

Mayros will visit two icons of the Jones legend -- Augusta National and the Masters -- this week. She and other Emory ambassadors will be introduced to the scholarship trustees and say a few words at a function Saturday then take in the 2002 Masters.

And she sure can't go to Scotland, to St. Andrews no less, and not play a round of golf at the "home of golf," the Links at St. Andrews -- well, she's sure going to attempt to, anyway.

Elder sister Toni, 24, is the golfer in the family, while her younger sister most definitely is not. Dad has his work cut out.

"There's golfers who come from all over the world to there," Mayros said. "I don't want to be the one holding everyone up and embarrassing myself."

The committee also wanted to know what Mayros intends to study in Scotland. Of course, her answer was prepared well in advance: She hopes to work with the Center for the Study of Political Terrorism and Violence at St. Andrews.

Mayros' credits will count toward a master's degree, or she could take the plunge and get it from St. Andrews, but then she wouldn't have time to spend that traveling stipend around Europe.

"I think it's an affirmation of her four years at Emory," Roxann Mayros said, "and how hard she's worked. She will tell you that she's not the smartest kid, that she's not naturally brilliant. But she is a hard worker, whether on the soccer field or in the classroom."

* * *

Hard to believe, Van Mayros said, that he wondered if his daughter would even want to leave home after her senior year at River Ridge.

"When she left, I really almost considered that quite miraculous," he said. "She was not a homebody, but she was not the type I expected to want to go away to school, away from the comforts of home.

"But the mere fact she did I think turned out to be a great move. It fostered an independence, which I think all kids need to have.

"That's what you want your kids to do, figure out what they want to do."

For Mayros, that means living life on her terms, and dedicating every day to her education.

"It would be an incredible feeling for me to contribute to the body of knowledge (in her field)," she said. "I think being a college professor is a great life.

"I think devoting your life to mastering one's discipline is so rewarding."

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