Living in Eugene, OR, Erin Gray will always put the Razorback before the Duck. Coming to the University of Arkansas as an out-of-state student, her expectations of the area were uncertain. However, her time spent on campus led her to develop not only a pride in the University of Arkansas, which she still conveys today, but she continues to support the institution as a life member of the Arkansas Alumni Association.
Arriving in Fayetteville, she admits her first impression was not favorable, saying, “I was on a recruiting trip and when we landed at XNA. I thought, ‘there is no way I’m going to come here for school.’” Once she reached the Fayetteville campus, her idea of the area changed and she soon fell in love with the campus and appreciated the college-town feel that is Fayetteville.
Opting to pursue a biology degree, her mind was set on pre-med with plans to enter into the medical field one day. However, her interests grew beyond the scope of medicine and she soon found herself adding political science as a second major her sophomore year. “I’ve always liked politics and I really enjoyed the classes,” she said.
Balancing two majors, Gray felt fortunate to have multiple faculty members who provided useful insight and guidance during her time on campus. “Dr. Cynthia Sagers taught my evolutionary science class and was always willing to listen to my ideas and was such an enthusiastic and great teacher,” she said. Along with Dr. Sagers, Gray admits Dr. Sidney Burris and Dr. Janine Parry were instrumental in helping her to grow as a student at the U of A.
An interest in medicine and politics were not the only areas Gray was passionate about while in school. Running track and cross country, she was encouraged by women’s Track and Field Head Coach Lance Harter to apply to the University of Arkansas. As a student, she ran track and cross country for the Razorbacks and was a member of the student athlete advisory committee, which is the governing student body for the NCAA.
Her academic accomplishments, as well as her achievements in leadership, community involvement and extracurricular activities, led her to receive the Arkansas Alumni Association’s Senior Honor Citation in 2009. “I was excited and it felt incredible to be honored. Before I attended school at the U of A, I had no ties to Arkansas. Receiving this award really cemented my place within the school and in Arkansas,” she said. Presented to students who demonstrate excellence in academics, leadership, extracurricular activities and community service, awardees receive a $500 cash award and a lifetime membership in the Arkansas Alumni Association.
After graduating in 2009, Gray moved back to Eugene, her hometown, and now works as a research assistant at the University of Oregon. Working in a lab, her time spent studying genetic diseases and looking at the thyroid development of specific fish allows her to maintain a flexible schedule. With her dad as her coach, she spends much of her time outside the lab training for race walking.
In May 2012, she traveled to Russia to represent the U.S. Track and Field in the World Cup Race Walk Championships. Never believing that she would pursue such a sport, she admits that it was her dad who encouraged her to try race walking. “Initially, I had trouble with running because of stress fractures. My dad was a race walker in the ’70s and he had me try the event. I ended up liking it, but the hardest thing was that the technique was hard to master.” Through training and dedication, Gray went on to finish 61st at the World Cup in Russia. However, her stint in Russia only helped to prepare her for what she experienced in Oregon. Facing tough competitors, on July 1 she competed in the 2012 Olympic trials race walk and finished in third place.
Although she won’t be traveling to London, Gray is grateful for the experience and believes that this will now allow her to focus on preparing for medical school, which she will begin in six weeks at Western University of Health Sciences in Lebanon, OR. “I’ve always known I wanted to be a doctor,” she said. Studying in the osteopathic medical school, she is looking at four years of schooling with an additional three years of residency, but she is ready for the challenge and the work ahead.
While her upcoming schedule won’t allow for as much flexibility and free time, Gray refuses to let that stop her from staying connected to the university that helped her get to where she is today, saying, “Because I am so far away from Arkansas, receiving the magazine and newsletters…it makes me feel like I’m right back in Arkansas.” A strong advocate for the U of A and the Alumni Association, Gray has given t-shirts to various guides on her sport-related travels.
“I feel like Arkansas really influenced me and helped shape the person I am today…the scholarship I received is unmatched by any other school and the school itself provides such amazing opportunities to students,” she admits.
Hoping to return to Arkansas for Thanksgiving, Gray plans to attend the big football game between Arkansas and LSU. Once informed that the game would be in Fayetteville this year, her excitement grew as she realized she would be coming back to where it all began.