May 4, 2010
by John Lock, Illinois Sports Information
Angela Bizzarri won something. Again.
"I don't win everything," she insists.
The Big Ten Medal of Honor is presented annually to a male and female senior, from each university in the Big Ten, who exemplifies excellence in athletics and in the classroom, and Bizzarri won.
"Winning an NCAA title is one moment in time," Bizzarri said. "But the Medal of Honor summarizes all the high points of my four years here."
Angela is used to winning. She was the National Cross Country Athlete of the Year. She holds seven school records. She has five Academic All-Big Ten accolades. She's a two-time winner of the University of Illinois Female Athlete of the Year. Oh, and she has those three NCAA championships.
"I have some races I win and some races I lose," Bizzarri said. "The coaching staff has done a great job of helping me win when it's important - winning when you'd hear about it."
Off the track, she's pretty successful, as well. She's majoring in molecular and cellular biology - she thought about engineering, but she preferred her biology classes - and is a three-time U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association All-Academic selection.
She has volunteered at a Big Brothers Big Sisters Holiday Party, a Special Spectators event, elementary school reading nights, an Illini Kids Club Pizza Party, and the Urbana Sweetcorn Festival. She also volunteers a few hours each week to the Provena dialysis center, Carle hospital ER and physical therapy unit.
She schedules every minute of every day during tough stretches of the semester.
"Some semesters are harder than others. You have to define what you want to do," she says.
The molecular and cellular biology major's GPA? 3.62. Bizzarri sets her expectations high so she can compete with herself for the grades.
"It's really hard for me not to, which is good and bad," Bizzarri said. "It's bad at the point that it takes too much time. It's good because it forces me to get good grades."
On pace to graduate this December, Bizzarri is hoping to work in a field similar to a nurse practitioner. But she hopes to keep running competitively, of course. It always comes back to competing.
By her own admission, Bizzarri wasn't the best recruit. Her goal for her freshman year was just to travel with the team.
"My expectations have evolved since I've been here and I've seen how good I can be," she said.
Now, everyone knows her name. The Daily Illini named her the No. 4 Fighting Illini Athlete of the Decade - behind two Olympians and all-time Illini favorite Dee Brown.
"You can't go from OK to really good in one year. I've been patient," Bizzarri said. "I've done a good job of slowly getting better in the last four years. Where I'm at now is a large jump from where I started four years ago, and it's because of those little steps."
With her name recognition comes a responsibility, and she takes it seriously. Of all her community service volunteer work, she cites a Special Spectators event as the favorite. She's volunteered with kids' programs; she volunteers every week helping the elderly.
"I enjoy the community service," Bizzarri said. "As a student, you don't get to be involved as much as if I were living at home. I like the opportunity to interact with the community and people of different ages."
Maybe she likes having the focus on other people for once. Of all the articles written on her in the past few years, she only reads a few of them. Her coach called her "shy and humble" in her recommendation for the Medal of Honor.
"I don't like talking about what I've done," Bizzarri said. "For me, it's just what I'm doing. I don't see it as a big production."
So she runs. Bizzarri runs about 50 miles per week, taking one day off every week.
"It's almost relaxing," Bizzarri said. "After you run six days a week for so many years, it's definitely a stress reliever."
Running takes her mind off the tough major, the weekly volunteer work and the national-championship expectations. But it can't distract those who decide the Medal of Honor. This year, Bizzarri made it an easy choice.
"It's obviously a huge honor," Bizzarri said. "I know the track athletes who have gotten it in the past few years, and they are all incredible athletes and amazing people. I think it's really special I could do this for the University of Illinois and the women's track team."