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This Week’s LION: Abby McCoy – Champion in Life

This Week’s LION: Abby McCoy – Champion in Life

I once had the pleasure of meeting James Irwin, one of the twelve men who walked on the moon. Irwin noted that, like his fellow moon-walking astronauts, he also suffered from depression years afterward. What happened was that they hit their peak in their late thirties and early forties. Think about it — after you have walked on the moon, what else could you do in life that could compare to that? Others, such as Olympic champions who peak early in life, go through the same motivation withdrawal. When you reach the summit, it seems the only place to go afterward is down.

It takes tremendous discipline and hard work to achieve the heights of becoming a pioneer or champion, especially as a young person, but it is harder still to keep those kinds of accomplishments in perspective.

This is why Abby McCoy was one of the most astonishing individuals I have had the pleasure to interview and get to know. During her college career at Emory & Henry College in Emory, Virginia, Abby has twice been a national equestrian champion — as a freshman and just recently as a senior. This accomplishment is the rarest of the rare.

Abby McCoy has been winning competitions for her riding skills since age 11. Forgive the pun, but most folks would be riding high with those triumphs. Yet, as proud as she is of her achievements in the tournament arena, Abby saw these feats as an era in her life that was coming to a close. More important to her was that she had received her undergraduate degree in physics with a minor in mathematics, not only graduating with honors but also the only female in her class with this degree and only one of three graduates who received their diploma from the president of the college.

Abby McCoy is the daughter of Ed McCoy, chief adult probation officer for Lycoming County, and Joy Reynolds McCoy, who just recently stepped down after thirteen years as a judge for the Lycoming County Court of Common Pleas. Growing up with such influential parents and a brother four years older who was a champion athlete would seem to not leave much oxygen in the room for Abby. Providentially, at age four, she discovered the joy of horse riding, and it turned out that she was pretty good at it.

There is a complex dynamic between horse and rider in equestrian competition. Horses have instincts, and Abby discovered early on that all horses seemed to like her. She also discovered that her physical skill set matched the full-body workout that competitive riding takes. And the young lady that would later enjoy studying engineering and data analysis also had the intellect to know how to navigate the challenges of championship competitions.

When I asked Abby about aspiring to greater equestrian heights, perhaps even the Olympics, she quickly dismissed the idea. She stated that her competitive riding was over and was happy with her accomplishments. In fact, she credits her horse, Gatwick, as the primary key to her success. Though it is almost unheard of with horses, Gatwick sort of ‘grew up’ with Abby. Through the years, Abby and Gatwick went from 2’ jumps to 3’ jumps and then 3’3’’ hurdles competitions. Abby is rather modest in this regard because it takes great control and positioning from the rider to win championships, no matter how great the horse.

Abby is extremely thankful for her upbringing and the opportunities she has had to travel and work with gifted individuals. Yet, at the same time, she has never let anyone else ‘define’ her. She knows she has a high-profile family, but she decided early on to prove the stereotypes wrong. She wanted to carve out her own personality and goals. Anyone who challenges herself as much as Abby would face more than her share of disappointments, but she also steadied her mind to never let negativity get to her. Abby is now preparing for her graduate studies and will eventually seek an occupation in the science field, probably research.

Very, very few 22-year-olds have the stability and maturity of this young lady. If I were around for another couple of decades, it would not surprise me if Abby McCoy would make a great discovery or some breakthrough in science. She has more than knowledge in her head; she uses her intellect to solve tough problems and also has the grit to not let difficulties stop her. Abby McCoy is a special kind of champion, one who has not yet begun to reach her peak.