Student-athlete Liz Phillips, Engineering Class of ’12, is a force to be reckoned with. While carrying a 4.0 grade-point average as a biomedical engineering major, she captured national recognition for her athletic prowess. In 2011, Phillips became the first-ever three-time winner of the NCAA’s Elite 89 Award, which recognizes the individual reaching the pinnacle of competition at the national championship level, while also achieving the highest academic standard among peers. Thanks to Phillips, Washington University now boasts seven Elite 89 Award winners — the most in NCAA Division III.
Washington Magazine: When did you first get into running? What made you take an interest in it?
Liz Phillips: I started running cross country in fifth grade because several of my soccer teammates joined the cross country team. Then I joined track in seventh grade. At first, I hated running because I became very nervous before each race, and my coach put a lot of pressure on me to do well as an individual. In high school, I had an amazing coach who taught me that running is all about the team, not the individual. Suddenly, when running for my teammates, and not for myself, I stopped being nervous and running became so much fun!
WM: What do you enjoy most about running?
LP: What I truly love about running is the team atmosphere. I love cheering for my teammates while donning body paint and brightly colored spandex. I love mentoring freshmen as they navigate the new world that is college life and varsity athletics. And most of all, I just love the feeling that everything I do has a bigger purpose, that each race I run, all the pain I put myself through, all the sacrifices I make are not for myself but for my teammates.
“I just love the feeling that everything I do has a bigger purpose, that each race I run, all the pain I put myself through, all the sacrifices I make are not for myself but for my teammates.” —Liz Phillips
WM: How do you balance being a 4.0 student and an award-winning athlete?
LP: For me, the key to balancing athletics and academics is time-management. When I am very busy, I become an expert at managing my time and never wasting a free moment. If I only focused on athletics, I would probably go crazy. Running serves as a release for me from the pressures of academics. I couldn’t imagine ever giving it up.
WM: What does it mean to you to win the Elite 89 Award for the third time?
LP: It truly is an honor. The Elite 89 Award is really special to me because it represents the balance I try to maintain in my life. I don’t want to be a one-dimensional person focused completely on running or on academics. The Elite 89 Award is an honor because it shows that you can maintain that balance and be successful in many things.
WM: Do you have a favorite memory from cross country and/or track & field?
LP: My favorite memory comes from our national cross country meet in 2010. We went into the meet ranked 8th, but after an awesome team race, we ended up taking 2nd! When the team places flashed up on the jumbo screen, I cried with joy, as did many of my teammates. How often do you get to cry with joy?
WM: What do your future plans entail?
LP: I am planning on attending medical school next year. I am really excited to start this next chapter in my life and really make a positive impact in others’ lives!