Annie Lydens is accustomed to juggling a demanding academic schedule at Pomona College and her running career for Pomona-Pitzer with equally exceptional results.
Lydens, a senior, has a 3.99 grade-point average while studying philosophy, politics and economics. She was chosen for internships the last two summers at NATO headquarters in Belgium and with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the State Department. As an athlete, she finished third at the NCAA Division 3 cross-country championships last year. This year, she overcame surgery in January and a recent hip injury to qualify for the national meet again with a seventh-place finish in the West regional competition.
This weekend, however, her parallel worlds will collide.
After much thought she decided to pass up the cross-country nationals on Saturday in order to be in Seattle for the final interview phase of the Rhodes Scholarship selection process. Two winners from each of 16 districts across the United States will be awarded the prestigious scholarship to study at England's Oxford University. Lydens will be interviewed by the selection committee on Friday and will learn the result on Saturday.
"It's difficult to be asked to choose between two sides of myself," she said Wednesday. "But I feel pretty confident about the decision that I made."
It helped, too, that she didn't have to choose between the Rhodes interview and an NCAA team championship. She would have competed for an individual title.
"It was a decision that I took very seriously because when I think about the amount of time that I've put into my season and the amount of time that my coach and the rest of the team have put in, you don't want to just dismiss that lightly," said Lydens, who plans to run outdoor track in the spring.
"But at the same time, because I was making a decision that really had a bearing on me as an individual, it was easier than, say, if I had to choose if my entire team had made it to nationals."
Born in Japan to American parents—her father works in the Asian financial markets—Lydens has lived in Japan and Singapore and has visited as many countries (21) as she has lived years on Earth. Besides spending the summer after her sophomore year in Belgium, she has taught English to children in Bhutan, worked in Cambodia and lived with a Maori tribe in New Zealand. She has packed more into her young life than most people will do in a lifetime.
"I envision reading about her at some point in the future as doing something remarkable," said her coach, Kirk Reynolds. "I'm not sure what role that would be but she could pretty much do anything she wants in life."
Although her parents plan to return to the U.S. next year Lydens anticipates living and working abroad.
"I think I'll continue to migrate throughout my life," she said.
Which is appropriate, because studying immigration and its patterns figure prominently in her future. If she wins the Rhodes Scholarship she plans to pursue two master's degrees, one in global governance and diplomacy and another in forced migration and refugee studies. She hopes to work for the International Organization for Migration or the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Pomona has produced 12 Rhodes Scholars. Among them, from the class of 1958, is a track-rugby-football player named Kris Kristofferson, who also proved to be quite a musician.
"Pomona is fantastic because it's Division 3, which really allows me to explore the two sides of myself," Lydens said. "Because Pomona really emphasizes the student-athlete, both sides of that, I've been able to pursue a lot of different things I may not have had an opportunity to pursue at other schools."
She believes that her parallel career as an athlete will be an asset during this last part of the Rhodes selection process.
"Having a racing background is really helping me go into this weekend because you learn to prepare and trust all of the preparations that you've done over the past, in my case, four years or my entire life, for this," she said. "There's something about having that athletic mentality that I think will come in handy.
"I don't actually feel nervous because I feel like I'm confident in who I am as a person. And I think the Rhodes committee will do a good job of selecting the two people that they think will use the scholarship in the best way. If I am one of those people I will feel incredibly lucky. And even if I'm not one of those people, I still feel incredibly lucky just to be offered this interview."
No matter the verdict, Lydens clearly is a winner.