Aggressive. Intelligent. Strong.
This is how friends of alumna Rachel Bombardier describe her.
When she first came to Castleton four years ago, she was already a dedicated hockey player and student. With some helpful and understanding coaches, and her own work ethic, she was able to add lacrosse to the mix along with academics and a part time job as an EMT.
This fall, all of her hard work was recognized when she was named a National Collegiate Athletic Association woman of the year top 30 honoree; the first Castleton athlete to earn such an honor.
“My lacrosse coach Hannah Corkery texted me. I had just gotten out of an anatomy lab and I was surprised and I didn’t even realize exactly what it was,” Bombardier said. “I didn’t realize it was such a big deal and it was such a large pool of people I was chosen from.”
This large pool she is referring to included a record 517 student athlete nominees from hundreds of colleges and universities in the United States.
Bombardier was first selected as the North Atlantic Conference woman of the year. She then joined 141 conference nominees in the competition for the NCAA honor and came out as one of the top ten women chosen from division III schools.
“We made history by this. I don’t think in my lifetime here it will ever happen again,” Castleton Athletic Director Tyson said. “I feel it put Castleton on the map.”
Not only is she the first Castleton athlete to earn this honor, she is also the first from the NAC to be named to the NCAA top 30.
“Rachel has distinguished herself nationally among an elite group of women and she is truly the best of what collegiate athletics offers,” said NAC Commissioner Marcella Zalot in a press release. “As our first recipient to be named a top 30 finalist, Rachel has made NAC history.”
Honorees are chosen based on their academic achievements, athletic achievements, community service and leadership qualities, according to the NCAA. Bombardier more than qualifies in these areas.
While at Castleton, the dual-sport athlete received all-academic honors from the NAC, the Eastern College Athletics Conference and the New England Hockey Conference while majoring in exercise science and working part-time.
Even before coming to Castleton, Bombardier was motivated to go after her goals. Coming from Pittsford, Vermont, she would have had to go to Rutland High School to play hockey. She found it was a better option to go to St. Paul’s, a boarding school in Concord, New Hampshire, and was able to play hockey there and take advantage of their impressive academics.
“It’s sort of how I was brought up and how I see the world. I am just driven and motivated to do well. That’s just how I am,” she said humbly. “I was given a lot of opportunities that I know a lot of people would love to have.”
“Rachel is focused and resilient. Not much shakes Rachel and I personally look up to her in her ability to take head on whatever life has thrown at her,” Corkery said. “Everything Rachel has been awarded she has deserved through her own determination, hard work, and ability to set high standards for herself and her peers.”
“I’m very proud of her,” Tyson said. “I feel she worked very hard on her academics and to be where she was on the athletic field. It’s great to see that something like this pays off.”
The honorees were treated to a weekend recognition ceremony in Indianapolis in mid-October. The weekend included activities for the honorees and an awards banquet.
“I felt like such a VIP. I hadn’t really been to a conference type event where you are treated so well,” Bombardier said. “A fruit platter in your room and sparkling water, and here’s a key to the hospitality room. They definitely went above and beyond.”
Corkery, her lacrosse coach, as well as Tyson and Bombardier’s mother, made the trip to Indianapolis to see her receive her honor.
“She was so modest and appreciative being around such wonderful and competent female athletes,” Corkery said. “I have always been proud of Rachel for all she has overcome and embraced but at that moment I knew Rachel was going to be doing amazing things in the future and I just felt fortunate to be there with her.”
Bombardier’s former teammates had endless positive things to say about her and how deserving she is of this honor.
“I can confidently say that Rachel has the strongest work ethic I have ever seen,” said former women’s hockey teammate Jess Cameron. “She fully understood the importance of her academics, athletics and personal life … and created a balance between all of those aspects.”
Cameron gave an example of Bombardier’s dedication.
“One day at the rink before practice, Rachel was drawing some sort of chemical structure on the board so she could study. She was taking advantage of those few extra minutes to do something productive. She was laughing and having fun with the team,” Cameron said. “It showed that she could create that balance in her life and enjoy all aspects at the same time.”
Ashley Pelkey, former teammate on the women’s lacrosse and hockey teams, calls Bombardier a role model.
“When you need help on your homework she will be the first one to help you. If you had a bad day and she realizes it she will help make the day or situation better,” Pelkey said, adding her amazement that Bombardier was able to handle a full course load of high level classes, work, play two sports, get good grades, be captain for two teams and still find time to eat healthy.
Bombardier was also a role model to Rachael Brazil, a former teammate on the women’s hockey team whom Bombardier made feel welcomed her freshman year.
“I remember the first day of classes, being a typical freshman, I sat down in a random seat off to the side in the lecture hall. All of a sudden Rachel came up to me and told me to come sit with her and another teammate. From that point on, we always sat next to each other and were lab partners. It was such a small gesture, but it made a huge impact on me as I was working on fitting in as a freshman,” Brazil said.
Bombardier’s playing was also something Brazil looked up to.
“I would say she was the toughest player on our team. She wasn’t afraid to go into the corners and fight for the puck or go up against a bigger opponent,” she said. “Whenever it was a battle between her and an opponent, I was confident she would come out on top.”
“I think it was her love of the game that was the most apparent; it was her passion that motivated her,” Brazil said. “She knew how to get everyone fired up for the game. I believe this positive attitude played a huge role in the team’s success.”
Asked what she misses most about being an athlete at Castleton, Bombardier said it’s her teammates.
“Being around my teammates and showing up to practice after a long day of classes with 20 or 25 other girls who are just as happy to be on the ice as you,” she said. “Now I’m in grad school and I have class every day, and they’re a lot harder than they were at Castleton, so I would do anything to have a two-hour practice with my best friends.”
Bombardier is now working on her master of medical science degree at UVM, which she’ll finish in May, and then hopes to attend medical school. She knows she wants to be a physician of some kind, but explained that clinical rotations don’t start until her third year of med school so she doesn’t know exactly what specialty she wants to go into yet.
She isn’t currently involved in sports, but is looking forward to seeing the Spartans play on the ice this winter and the field this spring.