Chelsea Knotts and Elizabeth Tiller stop for a photo during a 2010 study abroad trip to China.
April 23, 2012
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- University of Tennessee seniors Elizabeth Tiller and Chelsea Knotts, both members of the Haslam Scholars Program, could run circles around most students with their hard work in the classroom. On top of that, they are both runners on the cross country and track teams and active contributors to Redeeming Hope Ministries, a group focused on helping the urban homeless in Knoxville.
Knotts, who is nearing graduation with a 3.89 grade point average in biochemistry, cellular and molecular biology, started a running club for Redeeming Hope Ministries which gave some of the homeless in the area basic athletic gear and a group with which to run. She also is one of seven 2012 recipients of the Torchbearer Award, the highest honor awarded at UT, going to students who excel academically, give to their community and show professional promise.
Tiller, who owns a 3.96 GPA in Spanish and public administration, is a Peyton Manning Scholar from Tuscaloosa, Ala. She also is a board member with Redeeming Hope Ministries and is studying the economics of making that organization as efficient as possible as part of her senior thesis.
These two have spent the past four years in Knoxville not only as athletes, but as students at the highest level and active members of the community. With just a few more weeks in their last semester and final track season at Rocky Top, the two are getting ready for the next stages of their lives.
When did you first get interested in running?
ET: "I was 11, in middle school. My science teacher was the cross country coach, and she was really awesome, so I thought, `O.K., it looks like the cross country team has a lot of fun, so I'll join.'"
CK: "It was about the same. I was in fifth grade, just running around outside, and the vice principal came out and said, `I'm the cross country coach, and you look like you should join the team.'"
How did you know what would be the best distance for you?
CK: "Basically, I used to run a lot of distances in middle school, and the 800 was just the distance I did the best at. As I got into high school, I was doing fewer and fewer events, until that was the only one I had."
ET: "For me, it was pretty obvious. I have no foot speed, but I can go and go forever. It just made sense for me to do distance."
What other sports did you play?
ET: "Growing up, I did everything. Softball, swimming, tennis, gymnastics. I did a bunch of different activities. And when I fell in love with running, everything else just fell aside."
CK: "I was a girly-girl. I danced for 13 years. I cheered for 10 years and did gymnastics for 10 years as well. Running was on the side, really, until high school."
Do you have any other family members who play sports?
ET: "My brother ran track and cross country. My grandfather ran for Georgia, and then my dad was a walk-on at Alabama, so running is in the family."
CK: "I don't have any runners in my family. My brother is a big football player. I have a cousin that's really good at baseball who may be going pro."
What is your favorite thing about running?
CK: "I think the freedom. Training for track is really hard and difficult, but just going out for a run, especially at night, it's freeing. It makes me feel alive."
ET: "I like going out on a really long run and getting to that point of exhaustion and then going slightly past it because you know that you're pushing your body to new limits, and you get the weird endorphins and adrenaline rushing. You think, "Wow, this hurts a lot, but I'm feeling really good at the same time."
What is the sense of camaraderie like among the Lady Vols?
ET: "I'd say it's really strong. The whole team rallies around every person as an individual and as a group. We like to support all the events that are going on. Everyone seems really interested and excited about everyone's performance, whether you're the best or you're just trying to PR."
CK: "I think we're also really supportive of people and what they're trying to do outside of running as well. It's more like a family and less like a competitive team."
If you could compete in any track or field event other than your own, what would it be?
ET: "I'd do the 400 hurdles. I just like the idea of being able to go fast and it's somewhat endurance-based, since it isn't the 100 hurdles. And then you're having to clear this additional obstacle."
CK: "I think I would like to do a pentathlon. It would feel good to be good at everything."
ET: "Story of your life."
What has the Haslam Scholars program done for your college experience?
CK: "It's made it a lot less stressful. From the very beginning, I immediately had a group of people I could interact with and be friends with. It's made school less stressful because I've had people I could reach out to for help if I was struggling with something. It's obviously made paying for college less stressful. Every aspect of college has been better and more fulfilling because of the Haslam Scholars program."
ET: "It's sort of ironic that you say being part of an elite scholars program is less stressful. You would think the opposite. I would say that coming in and knowing people and actually having people around, because I knew no one coming here, having a group of 15 scholars plus the mentorship was really crucial. By the time I got accustomed to the athletics, I had both sides of me, both the student and the athlete, had its own fulfillment. I felt like I was always getting the best of both worlds."
What is the sense of friendship like among the Haslam Scholars?
CK: "We're pretty close. We're not all best friends, but we all get along and love to hang out. We all get along together. Because we are all so different, we've definitely formed our own friend groups outside of the program, but we can always count on each other if we need something."
ET: "And then we'll all realize that it's been a long time since we all got together as a group, and one of the scholars, Brittany, will say, "Hey, let's all have a movie night," or something, so it's nice to know that even though we're all really busy and have our own separate lives, we still really care about each other and want to have that bonding experience."
What does it take to balance extreme academic rigor with being on an athletics team?
ET: "I always think of it as compartmentalization. When I'm at practice, I'm at practice. But when it ends, then it's time to go to class and be focused on that. I put on my athlete hat or put on my student hat and rotate between the two."
CK: "I always have trouble with this question. I don't really have a lot of habits or methods for the madness, but I was thinking about the one thing that's gotten me through college, with being an athlete and a part of the Haslam Scholars Program, is remembering to have fun, too. That's been key to getting through any hard time is remembering to relax and do something that I just want to do for me and no one else."
What are your research projects about?
CK: "I'm researching endocrine destructors. Those are chemicals that bind to estrogen receptors in our body and do things that we don't want them to do. I'm doing it on a computer, with molecular modeling, so I'm not actually working in a lab."
ET: "I'm doing an economic analysis of Redeeming Hope Ministries, so taking a hard hat approach to the organization and determining whether or not it's functioning efficiently as a non-profit should."
What motivates you the most to do well in school and track?
ET: "I guess it's how I was raised. I was brought up to do the absolute best and give 100% all the time. If 100% wasn't getting you to the top, then give 110% and give even more. That inner drive is what's always helped me."
CK: "I just feel better about myself when I do well. I guess that is what motivates me to do what I do. I feel good about me."
How did you get involved with the Redeeming Hope Ministries?
ET: "I started going to Redeemer Church of Knoxville as a freshman, and I heard about this thing called Food in the Fort, where they distribute food to homeless people on Wednesday mornings, and since I didn't have class then, I started going and got really interested. I got to know the director better, and that led to me taking on other responsibilities and it snowballed from there."
CK: "I went to a few events with Elizabeth freshman and sophomore year. At one of the events, I met Eddie, the director of Redeeming Hope, and I just really liked him. He suggested a book for me to read, and we just clicked instantly. From that point on, I just started taking a more active role. It increased mostly toward the end of my junior year."
What is your involvement there?
ET: "I'm on the board, and I have an official title, but right now I'm not putting as much work in as I did last summer. I do whatever I feel like I can that will help Eddie with whatever he needs. Right now, we're promoting this wine tasting event that's going on May 4th, and so just trying to raise money for the organization is the biggest thing."
CK: "I started the running club, which is on hold because of life as a senior, but I am going to be handing that off to other people, which is really exciting. Other than that, I helped organize the 5K and am organizing the wine tasting. I write articles and help Eddie with donation request letters and things like that."
How did you get the idea to start a running club?
CK: "I always wanted to start something at Tennessee. I tried a few different things that I was interested in, but they all fell through. Then I decided that this would be a way I could help out tangibly with Redeeming Hope Ministries, and I knew that we would be working with them as part of the Haslam Scholars Program. I thought it would be a way I could make a mark, and I enjoy running and interacting with other people. Plus I think it's good for anyone to be a part of a group that they feel like they belong to, especially one that's promoting a healthier lifestyle."
ET: "I came and would run with them some over the summer. It was great to interact with people who are passionate about running in a different way. They're doing it to improve their lives or meet new people, or to interact with someone whose life is so different from their own. I just really enjoyed talking with them."
Who came up with the idea for the Running with Hope 5K in November?
CK: "It might have been me. I don't really remember. We're also on the Student-Athletic Advisory Committee, and they had talked about doing a 5K. Every time, though, they would throw it to the wind and say it was too hard. When we decided to partner with Redeeming Hope, I said that we should do a 5K. Surely it wouldn't be that hard. We organized it a little bit through SAAC, and it would always fall through, so I kind of had an idea of what it would take, but not really an idea, either."
What was it like to be behind the scenes instead of on the course?
ET: "I ended up running it, too. I was cutting up bagels and spreading out cream cheese when they were about to shoot the gun, and then I jumped in and ran. It did involve as much work as I thought it would. I thought it would be an intense process, but it also was really fun, seeing all this work that you and a bunch of people helped to do, and it all came together at the right time. It ended up being a huge success and we got tons of comments afterwards about how well it was run. That was definitely fulfilling."
Do you think HSP will take it on again next year?
ET: "They better! I'll be here, so I'm willing to help out with it."
CK: "They've already started planning it. I think they're going to do it a little differently, maybe a night run to attract more college students. They're still thinking about doing it."
What does the Torchbearer Award mean to you personally?
ET: "That she's awesome."
CK: "It's definitely a really big honor, to receive the Torchbearer award. Sometimes, it makes me feel a little guilty. I think there are so many people who are equally deserving of that award, and there's not enough to go around. I wish that all the students who did something for the community or the university could be recognized. It's definitely really prestigious, and it's such an honor. I was really happy to receive it."
What is it like being a Peyton Manning Scholar and Lady Vol from Tuscaloosa?
ET: "It's very different. I didn't realize how much Peyton Manning meant to Tennessee until I came here to go to school. To me, he was just an amazing professional football player, but there's obviously so much pride that comes from him having played here for so long and being such a great student-athlete in general. My appreciation for him and the scholarship has only grown since I got here. Meeting him was awesome, too. There's a picture of us in the front hall of my high school. It was really special."
What do you like to do when you aren't in class or training?
ET: "Sleep. I like to read, too."
CK: "She'll read anything. She even reads her textbooks. It blows my mind."
ET: "I do! I'm one of those kids."
CK: "I just enjoy doing anything. I enjoy hiking. I take my camera everywhere I go, and people get really annoyed with me taking pictures. I enjoy dancing and having a good time."
What's something interesting about you that people may not know?
CK: "I'm really disorganized, but I'm also really compulsive. My room is always a disaster, but when it isn't a disaster, my clothes are perfectly folded in a specific way, and they're color-organized. Everything is either put perfectly away or it's exploding. There's no in between."
ET: "I'm the opposite. Saying my room is neat as a pin is an under-exaggeration."
CK: "If something is on the floor of her room... It's a running joke with me and my roommate that we'll go in there and toss a pen on the ground, and she'll just have an absolute panic attack about the mess that has occurred here."
ET: "It makes me feel better about myself if my environment is in order because my life is never in order and at least something tangible is."
CK: "I'm compulsive, especially with colors. If I have a set of markers, and I lose one, I seriously consider throwing them all away. I also love Disney. I want to own every Disney movie one day."
If you could meet one person, living or dead, who would it be and why?
CK: "I would really like to meet Jesus. I know that's really cliché, but I'm really interested in meeting him because I think he's a really awesome guy. I think, in a lot of ways, I strive to be the type of person he was. It would be cool to meet him. And there's so many stories circulating about who he really was and what he actually did, I'd like to hear it from him."
ET: "This is always a weird question to me. I feel like a three-year-old or a five-year-old, but I'd really like to meet a president because they're people who are in a position of power, but you know they're human and they make very real mistakes, and they're always under fire. To actually meet the person for whom they are and get to know them on a level despite their title and prestige, and know them as a person."
CK: "I'd also like to meet Mother Teresa. I'd like to meet a lot of people."
What's the one thing you can't live without?
ET: "My laptop. It organizes my life completely. If I don't have my laptop, I seriously don't know what I have going on that day."
CK: "I'm a really social person, so I probably couldn't live without other people."
ET: "You make me sound like a terrible person, like I don't need people."
CK: "I'm fairly dependent on other people as a source of happiness and liveliness."
What is your favorite food?
CK: "It really depends on my mood. I love milk. I drink a lot of milk, and I would drink even more if I had a larger budget."
ET: "I really love peanut butter. I would eat more peanut butter if it weren't so calorie-dense. If I had the metabolism of Michael Phelps, I would eat so much peanut butter."
What's your biggest fear?
CK: "This goes along with me enjoying people, but my biggest fear is succeeding in everything I want to do, and not having anyone to share it with."
ET: "My biggest fear is, for everything that I do and everything I accomplish, that it won't be enough and I'll have missed the mark. To think, "I gave and gave, and I still didn't reach my goal."
Who is an athlete you admire?
ET: "I really admire Chanelle (Price) a lot, and Phoebe (Wright)."
CK: "I would agree. I think I admire people most who I know because I see how hard they work. I admire a lot of my teammates. They have a lot of drive that I sometimes wish I had more of."
Do you have any hidden talents?
CK: "I don't know. I can be creative sometimes. I love scrapbooking. I'm not especially good at painting, but I'm crafty."
ET: "Growing up, I was more musical. I did choir and played the piano for 10 years."
CK: "I also used to be a good dancer. I haven't done it in a few years, but I would enjoy doing it again once I'm done with this."
What are your majors, and what are your favorite classes?
ET: "I have two majors, Spanish and Public Administration, through the College of Business. I always really enjoy my Spanish classes, because they're the fun classes. I get to read stories and talk about them in class and what they mean to me. Business classes are harder, more technical classes."
CK: "I'm in BCMB, which is Biochemistry. I really like any of my science classes until I have to take the tests. They're always really interesting to me. In particular, the class I would suggest people take is a class on Evolution in Society. It was a really awesome class, and so much fun. I also took Bioethics, which was basically medical ethics. It was really interesting and pushed my mind in different ways, while still applying to my future."
What are your plans for after you graduate?
ET: "I'll be staying here in the MBA program, but this summer I'm interning in Washington, DC, in Congress. I'll be having that fun before coming back to go to school. I want to go into non-profit work, and eventually start my own non-profit. I think that I need some skills first, which is why I'm getting my MBA."
CK: "I'll be going to medical school, back home at West Virginia University in the fall. This summer, I will be doing anything but school. I'm really interested in Neurosurgery, but I'm open to any type of medical profession. I would like to work abroad with a program like Doctors without Borders."