It might be impossible to find someone so accomplished as a student-athlete as former Princeton softball and field hockey player Jen Babik. That's because she piled up awards for both her athletic and academic skills.
If an Ivy League athlete wants to be selected as a Rhodes Scholar, then he or she had better not play baseball or softball. The last Ivy baseball player selected by the Rhodes Committee was Dartmouth player Howland H. Sargeant in 1932, before the League's formation. The only softball player ever selected is Princeton shortstop Jen Babik.
Babik thinks there is no bias against baseball or softball in the Rhodes selection process. "I'm surprised about the lack of baseball or softball players, but I don't think it has to do with the fact that they don't play the sport at Oxford," she says. If there is such a bias, Babik certainly has the qualifications to overcome it.
A three-time first team All-Ivy selection, Babik holds a number of offensive records at Princeton, including most games played, most at bats in a career, and most runs in a season. Her teams won three Ivy League championships, and went to the College World Series in Oklahoma City her senior year.
In addition, Babik was selected twice for academic All-Ivy honors, not in softball, but field hockey. She played alto sax in the jazz ensemble and earned a degree in molecular biology. She won the Pyne prize, the highest general award given to a Princeton undergraduate. It is given for "excellent scholarship, character and excellent leadership in the best interests of Princeton University." She also won an NCAA Postgraduate scholarship.
Far from making her time at Princeton harder, Babik felt that playing sports added needed balance to her life. "I have never felt at all that playing sports detracted from my academics. Part of being an athlete at Princeton is about finding a way to make sure that when you are at practice you focus on practice and when in class or the lab, you focus on that."
Babik also feels that the values and skills she learned playing sports have carried over into the rest of her life. In her words "it taught me how to really work hard for something, how to work as a member of a team, and how to deal with stressful situations and how to recover after making mistakes." Coach Cindy Cohen gets a lot of the credit. "She instilled in us that leadership was manifested by our actions, not by labels," says Babik.
After Princeton, Babik attended Oxford on her Rhodes Scholarship and earned a D.Phil. from the Board of Physiological Sciences. Not surprisingly, she also played sports, earning a blue in football (soccer). She also tried playing cricket on her lab's men's team. "Most of the men there couldn't believe I was really there to play, not just to watch. So when I finally got to bat, the bowler was throwing me really slow balls, and it was very irritating, since I had seen faster pitching in the World Series than any of them could ever throw."
After earning her Oxford doctorate Babik went to medical school and is now chief resident in internal medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. She plans to do a fellowship in infectious diseases and pursue a career in academic medicine. As in other aspects of her life, she sees parallels between medicine and sports. "I think one similarity is that you have to put in a lot of time, hard work and dedication. In addition, medicine involves a lot of teamwork to achieve one's goal, in this case the best possible care of a patient."
As important as sports have been in her life, Babik's parents must have been very glad of one decision they made early on. They decided to put their children's pleasure above landscaping. "I used to play a lot of sports in my backyard with my older brother and neighborhood kids," she explains. "My parents allowed us to basically turn half our yard into a baseball diamond!"
— Suzanne Eschenbach