D3Week: Excellence Abound: A Q & A with senior rider Flynn Vickowski

D3Week: Excellence Abound: A Q & A with senior rider Flynn Vickowski

by Claire Herlin '15, MHC Equestrian team member

Senior Flynn Vickowski, a member of the Varsity Equestrian Team on campus, reflects on her four years as a student athlete after winning Regional Champion in Intermediate Fences in her final semester.  But she’s not just a star athlete.  Dedicated to pursuing research, inspiring young minds, and constantly pushing her own limits, riding is just one of the many talents Flynn has to offer.


What are your best memories as a member of the Equestrian team?

One of my very best memories was my first year on the team when we earned a perfect score at our first regular season show. It was a wonderful feeling to be a part of this team’s reputation so quickly. Another awesome memory was a road trip to Kentucky for Nationals that year with two good friends. It was thirteen hours straight driving; there were many, many laughs, and we didn’t get into our hotel room until 4:15am. We met the team out in the lobby at 4:45am, and we were delirious yet had more energy than our just-having-woken-up teammates.

Almost every part of being captain during my junior year manifests itself in a great memory. I especially enjoyed psyching the team up before competitions with emails, quotes, and decorations on our bus.

Lastly, team meetings hold a lot of good memories for me. It’s nice to know that every week at the same time you get to be with some of your best friends. Jokes abound, and there are many laughs between all of the serious business we go over. It’s a guaranteed good time when you put all of us in a room together.

How has your experience on an athletic team influenced your academics or prepared you for post-college life?

Being on the Equestrian team has absolutely influenced me to be more driven and, if possible, even more competitive. Above all, being a part of the team allowed me to take a break from academics and have fun exercising.  While it is a demanding sport on your muscles and your brain, riding also forces you to breathe and think clearly while navigating a horse over jumps and around the arena. Additionally, the team has allowed me to have an instant group of close friends with whom I can hang out, talk horses, get meals, and do homework. The team is a support system, and it’s a family. It keeps me healthy. The horses are calming for a frazzled brain, and the competitions are a reward for a hard week of riding.

Being a part of a team in general is akin to what one will experience post-college. It has taught me to be patient with some people and know how to speak on the same level as others and work together. Also, being on a collegiate riding team is special because it adds a team element to a sport that has always been primarily geared towards individuals. I appreciate how cohesive and supportive my team has been and I’ve truly enjoyed riding with them.

What else have you been involved in at Mount Holyoke besides athletics?

At Mount Holyoke I have done research in many different labs.  In Gary Gillis’ lab, we studied the biomechanics of toad hopping and presented the research at a few scientific conferences in California, Texas, and at Harvard University. I am currently completing my senior thesis, which involves green anoles and how they use their tails to control their bodies during the in-flight phase of jumps or falls.

I also began belly dancing last semester in the club on campus and performed in the group dance at our end of semester show. This semester I am planning to do both the group dance and a solo dance. Additionally, over the past year I have attended two conferences dedicated to women empowerment, and those experiences have been incredible. This semester I am coordinating an event dedicated to advocacy for more women in STEM fields and am so excited to bring young girls to see our school and check out our diverse science labs.

Where do you see yourself in a year?  In five?

In a year I would absolutely love to be in Chile completing a Fulbright. I am currently a finalist and am waiting to hear from them any day. If I am not a recipient of the grant then I hope to be a research assistant or interning in some field that allows me to be in contact with animals frequently. I am primarily interested in pursuing animal cognition or behavior as well as conservation work. In five years, I hopefully will have completed a Master’s and potentially a PhD in a related field. Throughout these years, whether it is a year from now or five years from now, I see myself traveling a lot as well, especially in Latin America, and potentially even spending some time living there.

 Who is your biggest hero and why?

My biggest hero and inspiration is undoubtedly my mother. She single-handedly raised my brother and me while we were very young while simultaneously getting her MBA and working full-time. I frequently call on her for help, sending her emails almost every day asking her to proofread something, give me feedback, or answer various questions. She truly has always put my brother and me first and wants to provide us with anything and everything that she can. Her biggest concern is the success of her children, and her dedication shows.  She constantly tells me to do what makes me happy and that “you only go around once so just go for it.” She encourages me to look past the frustrations of the now, and see into the positive changes my decisions will have on the future.  It is because of her that I pursue absolutely any opportunity that comes my way. She has instilled in me that if I work hard and want something enough, I have the knowledge to chase that, and she will always be there for me no matter the outcome. She is my hero and always will be.

What do you see as your most significant accomplishment?

Two of my most significant accomplishments have been very recent happenings. First, I was recently offered a position in the department of Zoology at Oxford University to complete a PhD. Additionally, I have been selected as a finalist for a Fulbright grant to do research on humpback whales in Chile. Furthermore, I have been selected to attend a few leadership and women empowerment conferences through the Weismann Center. I was also able to present at and attend many research conferences across the country. Those experiences have been unforgettable and integral to my growth as a research student and a leader.

As an accomplished student and athlete, how difficult was it to stay strong at both during your four years?

It was definitely not easy and was an overwhelming struggle sometimes. There were times when I wanted to give up one to focus on the other because it would just make things simpler, but I couldn’t stand to see myself give up when I had come so far and made the balance work for so long. Having to organize and schedule so many things actually helped me to perform better because there was no time to sit around and complain about what I had to do. The drive I feel in athletics is very comparable to that which I feel in academics. One can truly compliment the other and push you to excel.

 How did being an officer for the team influence what you got out of the team?

Being team captain really rounded out my experience. The position was something I had always dreamed of doing, and everything about my year as captain was spectacular. Of course there were difficulties, but it was overall a very positive and rewarding experience. As an officer I was able to influence the overall feeling of the team and promote an atmosphere of team camaraderie, competitiveness, and cohesiveness. Seeing the team from the perspective of an officer, I also learned to appreciate and understand the workings of what goes on behind the scenes. It allowed me to be a better teammate and leader within the team because I now know what it’s like to be on both sides and can appreciate both. I feel a lot more of a connection to this team after leading it for a year, and I am thankful to have had the chance.

What are your plans of what you would like to do after leaving Mount Holyoke?

After Mount Holyoke, I’d like to do some traveling and relax a bit. I’ve worked very hard for my whole education and especially these past four years. In the fall, I’d like to have a research assistant position or an internship. I imagine I will go into animal cognition, behavior, welfare, or conservation. I’d like to continue to travel and especially see more of Latin America while keeping up with my Spanish. Additionally, I’d like to continue my passion for advocacy for more women in STEM fields. Hopefully my work can turn into a way to inspire more young girls to stay engaged in STEM and pursue careers in related fields.

Looking back, are there things about your experience that you would change?

I think that I would have liked to spend a little less time worrying about academics and a little more time enjoying downtime with my teammates. Also, I would spend more time at the barn with horses simply visiting them and taking in all the peaceful feelings that come from cuddling a horse. Otherwise, I’m very happy with the amount of Tournament and Nationals trips that I attended just to support my teammates. Those were such special journeys, and the bonding was incredible.

What has been the most rewarding moment or part of your career as a Mount Holyoke student-athlete?

There have been rewarding moments of perfect scores at shows, and there have also been even more rewarding wins at tournaments or even winning the whole tournament series one year. Our high-finishing positions at Nationals have also been particularly exciting and joyful. As an individual, I’ve felt very rewarded by all the work I’ve put in to my riding and overall  fitness. I took part in the “Speed Strength Power Agility Workshop” during a couple of different semesters with combinations of the lacrosse, soccer, rugby, tennis, and volleyball coaches, and I felt accomplished to be representing equestrians and justifying our strength, stamina, fitness, and ability.

Also, all of my hard work allowed me to qualify and to compete very well at Regionals and Zones for two years and again this year. Other very rewarding moments were seeing all of the MHC athletic teams come together in events such as the flag football tournament, National Student-Athlete Days, and Game of the Week match ups. The athletic community here can be pretty special with its support of each team and each other. I’m honored to have been a part of it and been able to take part in so many aspects of it.

An inside look at a day in the life of Flynn:

Every day is a little bit different. On a typical Monday/Wednesday I get up around 7am. I live off-campus, so I make my own breakfast and pack lunch for the day. In the morning I also tend to finish some homework or answer a few emails since it’s a quick and easy task. Most days are pretty packed, so typically I dress in riding clothes for my lesson later in the day. After class ends at 9:50am, I try to use my time as efficiently as possible before I need to be at the barn at 10:45am, so I might have a meeting or work on my thesis research. If not, I go to the barn early and check some things off my to-do list while chatting with my fellow riders. We tack up our horses 30 minutes before our lesson and then ride for an hour. After cooling down the horses and putting everything away, I head down the hill to work in the lab again or do reading or homework for the next day. On Wednesdays, I stay at the barn for another three hours or so since I work as an Admissions Equestrian Fellow. By 6pm I usually head home to make dinner. On Mondays I have belly dance practice from 8-10pm, and on Wednesdays I have team meeting at 8pm. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I spend part of my day at UMass Amherst, and on both days I have team workout in the gym from 5:30-6:30pm. On Fridays, I have class from 9-9:50am, research lab meeting at 1pm, and team practice either before or after both.  Believe it or not, I still try to find time to breathe and hang out with my friends, so there is usually a time during the week or on Friday when we make dinner together or watch a movie or bake something.  I try to make very good use of my time and do my work in a lot of little pockets of time throughout any given day.

Photos courtesy of RJB Sports Photography, Frank Poulin Sports Photography and the MHC SID Office.