Twins Prepare for 2021 Olympics, First-Year as College of Pharmacy Students

By Ben Boulden

Like so many people throughout the world with plans affected by the COVID-19 global pandemic, they had anticipated starting as first-year UAMS College of Pharmacy students in August. They still will but now they will have to balance academics with athletics.

Both sisters, who grew up in Cabot, had Olympic dreams for 2020 that now are dreams for 2021.

Tori Hoggard vaults over a bar. Hoggard is a first-year student at the UAMS College of Pharmacy.

Tori Hoggard vaults over a bar. Hoggard is a first-year student at the UAMS College of Pharmacy.

Lexi Jacobus qualified for Team USA and competed in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, and she and Hoggard had hoped to qualify for the 2020 games in Tokyo when the International Olympic Committee announced the postponement of the world competition until summer 2021.

Hoggard said the postponement wasn’t a complete surprise given the pandemic, but they were disappointed in the news. They were somewhat consoled at how supportive the College of Pharmacy was, though.

Originally, the sisters had planned on attending in the 2019-2020 academic year. Later, they decided to wait a year, so they could train and compete to qualify for the Olympics before starting school. The college was able to accommodate them with the delay. When the postponement was announced and before they could consult with college administration, they got a phone call.

“The day the postponement of the Olympics was announced Angie Choi reached out to both of us and said, ‘We’ll support you whatever your plans are for this next year. We want to help you out,’” Jacobus said. “I thought that was so kind that the day the IOC made the announcement Dr. Choi and the admissions committee thought of us.”

Choi, Ed.D., is the College of Pharmacy director of admissions.

“When I first heard about the Olympics postponement, I wanted to reach out to them,” Choi said. “I can’t imagine training like they do and then COVID hits. When you think about four years of training and what a long commitment that is.”

Ultimately, Hoggard and Jacobus decided they couldn’t put off pursuing a Pharm.D. degree any longer. They resolved to start their postgraduate education this year while also training for and competing in pole vaulting track-and-field meets.

They had done it as undergraduates while completing bachelor’s degrees in biochemistry.

While having a student who also is an Olympic athlete is rare in the college, making it feasible for students with complicated lives to pursue an education in pharmacy is not new for the college’s administration.

“It’s not common, of course, but it’s not really the exception either,” said Lanita White, Pharm.D., the college’s assistant dean for student affairs. “Our students are very different in 2020 than even in 2006. We have students who are parents, who have spouses and are caregivers for parents. They are working more while going to school than in the past, or driving across longer distances to campus. We have gotten accustomed to being flexible and nimble with our students. We have dealt with these challenges before in other ways.”

White said not every rule can be bent, but the college doesn’t want to see potentially talented students forego an education and career in pharmacy because of a life challenge that can be worked around.

“All the first-year pharmacy students are sharing a common experience, but the lenses through which they look at it are very diverse,” Choi said. “There are all kinds of issues. Some may be pursuing Olympic dreams. We look at them and ask what kind of support they will need to complete school.”

After all, Jacobus and Hoggard also had another common goal and dream — pharmacy. Choi said she knows the sisters also want to help people.

“I think I’ve known I wanted to be a pharmacist since high school,” Jacobus said. “I’ve always been interested in the medical field, both of us. We always were interested in math and science. I didn’t want to be a doctor or surgeon, but I was interested in how medicine works in the body.”

Hoggard said she wants to have a family with her husband, and a career in pharmacy may make that more feasible than some other professions.

The distance learning through live video required for most of the college’s classes in 2020 may make balancing athletics and academics easier for them than the traditional classroom experience, Hoggard said.

“We’re excited to start school and continue training,” Hoggard said. “We have a group of supportive people behind us from pharmacy school to our coaches and family. Everyone is very supportive of our decision and know we both are going to work hard. We’re excited for the next year and what it will bring us.”