EUGENE, Ore. -- Most graduates of high school go to college to figure out what they want to do with the rest of their lives.
Not Elizabeth Tepe, she knew exactly what she wanted to, though it took four years after high school to go to a university.A senior at Georgia, Tepe, who participated in the hammer throw at the NCAA championships, knew before she graduated that she wasn’t going to college right away.
“A month after I graduated high school I enlisted in the Marines,” Tepe said. “I was in the delayed entry program. I knew I wanted to be a Marine. I wasn’t ready for college and I wanted some adventure so this was perfect for me.”
Like any female Marine, Tepe did her boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina, and then combat training in North Carolina. She then went to Huntsville, Alabama, to learn how to be an ammunition technician, an assignment she coveted.
“I really wanted to do ammo tech, that to me was really cool,” Tepe said. “I am glad I got to do it.”
Tepe was then sent to Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, California, and spent the next three-plus years working a variety of jobs.
Another major life event happened, though Tepe wasn’t enamored at first with her future husband. Friends set the two up and it took a bit for her to warm up to him. Once she did, though the courtship was quick and 10 months later they were married.
Being a Marine as well, Tepe knew what to expect when her husband was deployed but that didn’t mean it was any easier to see him go.
“Because I was a Marine I understand the protocol,” Tepe said. “It’s still hard to stay behind and live your life while your other half is God knows where, but I felt like we had an advantage.”
To push aside the angst of her husband in the Middle East, Tepe enrolled at Saddleback College, about 30 miles from Pendleton. This time she knew she was ready for school.
“When I came out of the Marine Corps, I was like a blank slate as far as what I wanted to do,” Tepe said. “I was really excited about school. When I was in the military I got to find out who I was and I knew then I was ready for school where I wasn’t before.”
Tepe also knew she wanted to join the track team as a sprinter.
“I used to run distances in high school and I wanted to do sprints but I was a terrible sprinter,” Tepe said. “My track coach said ‘You have really long arms.’ I thought that was an odd compliment to give somebody but it turns out that is an advantage in the hammer.”
Another edge Tepe had was her military training.
“The footwork in the hammer is like drill in the Marine Corps,” Tepe said. “You get used to using your feet a certain way so when you do hammer it is pretty natural. The left face in the Marines is kind of like the first step in the hammer so yes, they are related a bit. Who would have thought that.”
At Saddleback, Tepe was a junior college national record holder and finished third in the hammer throw at the 2012 California State Championships all while maintaining a 4.0 grade-point average and being named the U.S. House of Representatives Student Veteran Leader of the Year.
“I was in a student veteran organization at Saddleback,” Tepe said. “Saddleback has a huge veteran population at that campus because it is so close to Camp Pendleton. I became an officer on that board and we got a lot of things done that I am really proud of.”
When it was time to transfer to a four-year university, Tepe was ready and wasted no time in selecting Georgia, despite never seeing the campus.
“My husband’s from Georgia and I had heard a lot of good things about the school and the coach and I didn’t even take a visit,” Tepe said. “It was the best decision I ever made.”
In her first year at Georgia Tepe won the hammer throw title at her first SEC Outdoor Championships after posting a personal-best toss of 203-4, but then fouled out at NCAA prelims.
This year she made NCAA’s and though she didn’t qualify for the finals, was happy with her performance.
I’ve only been throwing for four years,” Tepe said. “I think the NCAA’s were a win for me in many ways even though I didn’t qualify. I wish I had a little more experience, some of them have been throwing since they were 12, so I look at it like I’m not too bad for the amount of time I’ve been doing it.”
With her college career over, Tepe is going to continue working on throwing, while she completes degrees in biology and marine sciences.
"Now I think I am going into the next phase of life with the same optimism I have had before,” Tepe said. “I want to keep throwing and I want to graduate and then we will see where it all takes me.”
There’s a great chance Tepe will be ready for whatever comes next in her life.