By Benjamin Wideman / SLC Sports Information Director
MANITOWOC, Wis. — Abby Gerhard's highlight as a Silver Lake College student-athlete was competing in back-to-back USCAA National Basketball Championships.
The athletically gifted senior from Iron Mountain, Michigan, also excelled on the Lakers women's volleyball team for two years, and for the past couple of seasons she has been a solid contributor on the cross country team.
But the most inspiring thing about Abby isn't her athletic achievements.
Rather, it's what she has accomplished in the classroom by overcoming a learning disability that caused her to struggle tremendously with test taking and left her skeptical she'd even try college sports.
Through hard work, support from her family and assistance from dedicated school personnel, Abby thrived ever since being classified with a learning disability early in her sophomore year at Iron Mountain High School.
Now, seven years later, Abby's athletic achievements are complemented by an even more impressive list of academic accomplishments. The SLC dean's list honoree was named a USCAA Academic All-American in basketball and cross country, and her strong GPA helped both squads earn Scholar Team status from the NAIA.
"Seeing what Abby has done truly brings tears to my eyes," her mother, Barb, said as her voice cracked. "I'm just very, very proud of her because, as her mom, I have seen how hard she has worked over all these years to get where she is now. She's a kind, compassionate and goal-oriented daughter, and an all-around good person. And she's going to be a wonderful teacher. I'm truly so proud of her."
Abby, who's on track to graduate in May, is majoring in Special Education, Early Childhood Education and Elementary Education, with the goal of being a middle school special education teacher.
Abby's passion for special education stems from being placed into a special education setting at Iron Mountain High School after being classified with a learning disability. She performed well on homework assignments up until that point, but she struggled mightily with test taking. It was determined that she needed a quiet place to take tests as well as someone to read her the tests for better comprehension, so for every class she went to special ed for tests.
"That was the hardest part for me as a high school sophomore, because people can be judgmental — especially at that age," Abby said. "I started out by telling my parents I wanted to do it but I didn't want people to know why I was leaving the classroom. It was a little hard at first because some upperclassmen would say things about me and special ed.
"But within a couple of weeks I didn't care what other people thought, because I could see results. People would come to me like, 'You're in the special ed room?' and I said, 'Umm, yeah, and I absolutely love it!' My grades were getting better and my GPA was going up. And I got along well with the other special ed students, because I had talked to them in school all the time before that anyway. All I needed was that quiet area and someone to read me the tests and I was fine."
Added Barb: "Sometimes there can be a stigma to leaving a classroom with other students you know and going to the special ed room. But it didn't take long for Abby to embrace it. The teachers were fantastic and it made a huge difference."
Abby competed in basketball, volleyball and track in high school, but she hadn't considered playing college sports because of her grades. She figured she'd need all of her time to keep up with the higher-level college academics.
But her positive experience as a special ed student boosted her GPA and sent her confidence skyrocketing. So much so, in fact, that not long after meeting with Silver Lake College representatives at a college fair she began considering playing sports after high school.
Abby, who received the Tom Izzo-Steve Mariucci Student-Athlete Scholarship in high school, eagerly ended up signing a letter of intent to play on the Lakers women's basketball team. And she also joined the volleyball team as a freshman (at the encouragement of her friend and former high school classmate Jordan Barbeau, who's now the SLC assistant volleyball coach).
She transitioned from volleyball to cross country last season and is preparing for this, her last semester as a student-athlete.
Abby is scheduled to put in 80 hours in a classroom setting this semester before student-teaching during the spring semester. After graduating in May she'll enthusiastically pursue her career as a teacher — something she wanted to do ever since elementary school.
"Even with all the struggles I had over the years when I was little, being a teacher was all I wanted," said Abby, who, throughout college, continued taking tests separately like in high school. "Originally, I wanted to teach early education, but now I want to help students in special ed as a teacher like they helped me when I was younger."
Bob Gerhard is thrilled to see his daughter thriving in both academics and athletics.
"She has come such a long way — overcoming things in school and becoming a leader," he said. "You really couldn't ask for a better daughter in any way. She leads by example and is one of the hardest-working people I know. I couldn't ask for anything more of her, and she's going to impact a lot of people's lives as a teacher in the future."
PHOTO: Abby Gerhard/Photo by Benjamin Wideman, SLC Sports Information Director