Rebekah Topham wants to tell the story about her difficulties reading when she came to Wichita State in 2015.
It is a story she wants told the right way because she is a perfectionist. She comes to the interview prepared with notes, compiled at 2 a.m. that day, so that nothing is missed.
She want to tell the story to inspire others who might fear essay questions or see letters scrambled into an unintelligible pile and wonder if they can get through college and pursue whatever they love. She wants to tell the story to be authentic in a world where social media can make everything seem like gold medals and selfies.
"I've been through a lot, and if other people are struggling with similar things, it might help them have hope," she said. "I used to have a panic attack with a two-page paper. Looking back, it's kind of funny. My freshman year, I was stressed about the littlest things. I remember crying every single day. So much anxiety."
Topham says, "I can't read" as a shorthand way to describe her journey.
That is an exaggeration, in that she could read well enough to navigate daily life and familiar settings, such as in a grocery store or restaurant. She could read traffic and street signs, although an unusual street name might stop her.
When it comes to college academics, it is close enough to the truth that it demonstrates how hard she worked to compile a nearly perfect grade-point average as an All-American distance runner.
This month, Topham posted a picture on her Instagram account while wearing her mortarboard to celebrate graduation. She will continue school at Wichita State to pursue her physical education coaching certificate. In the spring of 2021, she will use her final season of outdoor track eligibility, replacing the one canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic.
That part of Topham's story seemed unlikely as she won four Iowa Class 1A cross country titles at Griswold High School and 11 gold and four silver medals in the Iowa track and field meet. She wasn't interested in college.
"I didn't think I was smart enough," she said.
Five years later, Topham graduated witha 3.89 grade-point average, acedimic All-American and all-conference honrs, and confidence in her ability to read, write, test and work her way through it all. She is one of three Shockers selected to participate in the NCAA Leadership Development - Career in Sport Forum this spring.
"She had the skills to be successful in terms of being organized and disciplined in her work," said Sarah Mathews, Wichita State's director of compliance. "We just had to catch her knowledge up. She used all her resources available to her. It was a lot of time and a lot of stress and a lot of effort, and it paid off."
Wichita Stae director of athletics Damon Boatright remembers te3lling former WSU president John Bardo about Topham's challenges. Boatright believed the support system in the athletic department would write a succcess story.
"Make this our fines hour," he said. "That's what the people who are hands-on with Rebekah did. It's a great testament to our institution and what we can provide to students. That's not just athletics - it goes all the way across campus."
Wichita State administrators and coaches wanted her story told because it sets the example for what a student-athlete can accomplish with time, dedication, organization and support.
One her Instagram account, Topham posts pictures of her on the medals stand, smiling with fireiends and hjugging family. She also postts, accounts of the stress of running, the exhaustion and health problems that bothered her.
"I don't like it when people only post good stuff," she said. "I don't want people thinking my life is perfect, because it's not."
“Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.” ~John Wooden, They Call Me Coach