Iowa javelin thrower Marissa Mueller named Rhodes Scholar

Canadian will study surgical sciences at Oxford

Marissa Mueller - NCAA West Preliminary track and field on May 23, 2019, at Hornet Stadium in Sacramento, California. (D
Marissa Mueller — NCAA West Preliminary track and field on May 23, 2019, at Hornet Stadium in Sacramento, California. (Darren Miller/

University of Iowa javelin thrower Marissa Mueller was named Monday one of 11 Canadian Rhodes scholars, launching her graduate study in surgical sciences at Oxford University in England.

Mueller, 20, of Petrolia, Ontario, Canada, told The Gazette earlier this month she understands why the Rhodes Scholarship, one of the world’s most prestigious academic awards, often goes to college athletes.

“The more I think about it, sports and school, sports and science, there’s so much overlap,” said Mueller, a UI senior studying biomedical engineering.

“When I’m throwing javelin for Iowa track and field, you have to think technically, listen to your coach, be adaptable, be patient, manage your time and work with your teammates. You have to improve and learn how to deal with failure and success,” she said.

“You do the exact same thing in school. Instead of using barbells, you’ve got hundreds of pounds of textbooks and exams. It’s the material you are learning. It’s an analogous skill set. Being involved in both has made me better at each.”

Mueller will join more than 100 scholars from more than 60 countries at Oxford in August. The 32 American Rhodes scholars were announced Saturday.

“The Scholarships call for and recognize a set of timeless virtues — intellectual excellence, strength of character, energy to strive, commitment to serve and instinct to lead,” said Richard Pan, the Canadian secretary of the Rhodes Trust and chair for the Rhodes scholarships in Canada. “We are proud of the opportunities that the Scholarships provide to our most talented, passionate and charismatic university graduates.”


The Rhodes Scholarship, created in 1903, is awarded based on applications, university endorsements, reference letters and a final interview that happened virtually on Saturday.

Mueller said Monday morning she learned Saturday night she was selected.

“I never thought this would happen, but it’s been incredible.” she said.

Mueller has been an athlete since she was a young child, playing soccer, volleyball and track and field before trying the javelin when she was in high school.

“It kind of just leapt off my hand,” she said.

When she throws the javelin, Mueller inhales, brings back her arm, arcs her back and lets the spear fly.

“As soon as you release it, you know whether or not it’s going to be a good throw,” she said, comparing the feeling to driving through the big gold coin on the Mario Kart video game. “That’s the feeling that makes you want to come back and keep doing it.”

But throwing javelin at Iowa has had its challenges.

Mueller had back injuries her freshman year and lost some of her sophomore season. At the Big Ten finals last spring, she tore her rotator cuff and labrum, the rubbery tissue that keeps the shoulder joint in place. Mueller had shoulder surgery this past summer and now has regular physical therapy as part of her training.

“My shoulder feels the best that it has since last year at Big Ten,” she said. “I’m really optimistic I will be able to give it my all for this final go-round. COVID permitted.”

The Big Ten in March canceled all spring sports, including track and field, for 2020. Fall seasons for most UI sports were canceled, but Track and Field still is scheduled to have a spring season in 2021.

Mueller has maintained a 4.0 grade-point average through rigorous classes and extracurricular activities, such as being chairwoman of the Iowa Student Athlete Advisory Committee.


In April, Mueller was one of two UI undergraduates to receive the Hancher-Finkbine Medallion, the highest campuswide award recognizing learning, leadership and loyalty, the UI reported. She is thought to be the first female student-athlete to receive the award in school history.

Other college athletes who became Rhodes scholars include:

1959: Pete Dawkins, halfback at the U.S. Military Academy, Heisman Award winner and military hero

1965: Bill Bradley, who played basketball at Princeton before joining the NBA (and later running for president)

1997: Annette Salmeen, Olympic gold medalist in swimming and UCLA graduate

2008: Myron Rolle, Florida State University safety who now is a neurosurgeon

2014: Jessica Glennie, University of Texas Austin rower and architecture student

2019: Madison Tung, first female wrestler and wrestling national champion at the U.S. Air Force Academy

Recent UI Rhodes scholars are Austin Hughes, 2019; Jeffrey Ding, 2016; and Renugan Raidoo, 2011, the UI reported.

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