There is only a small group of people who are gifted with both the natural talent and the penchant for bettering themselves that are able to succeed as a Division I varsity athlete.
There are even fewer who are able to do it in two different sports.
Then, there’s Natalie Bates, ’16.
In her fifth year at Lehigh and her first on the rowing team, Bates was named to the Academic All-Patriot League Team. She became the second ever student athlete at Lehigh to receive this honor in two different sports, having previously been named Academic All-Patriot League in track and field.
Bates admitted she was surprised to be named to the team, especially because it’s so difficult to differentiate her performance from that of her teammates.
“For track, it’s a little different because usually you’re at the top of your league, and you have individual performance you are clearly identified for,” Bates said.
For four years, Bates enjoyed a successful career in the track and field program, as well as in the classroom as an undergraduate. Because of her impressive grades, she was awarded the President’s scholarship — only given to those with a GPA of 3.75 or higher — allowing her to stay an additional year at Lehigh at no cost. She used her free fifth year to earn a degree in environmental science after having already graduated with a double major in supply chain management and finance.
In addition to her academic pursuits, Bates wanted to continue her athletic career despite having exhausted her eligibility on the track team. For her, rowing was the obvious choice.
“The crew team was very inviting,” Bates said. “They have a great walk-on process.”
Brian Conley, the head coach of the rowing team, had nothing but praise for Bates, who rowed in the varsity eight and was selected as a team captain despite being less experienced than many others in the program.
“When she arrived this year for the rowing team, she brought an attitude that was contagious in regards to a process of winning,” Conley said. “Her personality is one of perfection, so she was very hyper-focused on trying to learn the stroke as quickly as she could.”
Her hard work paid off, as she was able to flourish in the varsity eight that reached the finals of the Kerr Cup in April and won the Petite Finals at the Patriot League Championships in May.
Conley wasn’t the only one who noticed Bates’s meticulous personality. Matt Utesch, the track coach during her four years, praised her character as well, complimenting both her sharp focus and her consistent ability to set the tone for the team.
“Her work ethic obviously is outstanding both in the classroom and athletically, and I think that’s one of the reasons that coach Conley liked her so much,” Utesch said. “It was very obvious that she had two things on her mind when she was here. The first one was school and the second one was track.”
Maintaining a high level of performance in both academics and athletics isn’t easy, with both taking up large amounts of time during the week. For Bates, time management was the key to her success, as well as her singular focus on each aspect of her life at the appropriate time.
“When I’m at crew, my head, my body — everything about me is at the boathouse,” Bates said. “But when I’m back on land, I’m very focused on my academics. I try to keep them very separate, and that’s what really helps me to get things done when I have a task at hand.”