It's no surprise to her soccer teammates that Rachel Sadowski, who studied Environmental Science at Lynchburg College before earning a master's degree in Marine Biodiversity & Conservation at La Jolla's Scripps Institution of Oceanography, wants to spend her life working at the convergence of the land and the sea in order to make the world better.
Sadowski, a second-year center-back with a talent for quickly converting defense into offense for the San Diego SeaLions, does the same thing on the soccer field.
"There are certainly parallels between the two," says Sadowski. "Coastal areas are the land's first line of defense from the effects of the ocean, especially in strong storms or sea level rise, and they are an important transition zone linking the two and sustaining life. Likewise, every defensive situation we'll face in a soccer game reveals transition opportunities that, if properly utilized, can lead to us scoring a goal and winning a match."
The SeaLions' record so far this season proves the point -- they are 4-0, having scored 9 goals while conceding just one, for a goal-differential that puts them in the top 20 of the WPSL's 119 teams.
"Rachel is able to read other teams' attempts to bring play into our defensive end of the field, interrupt and redirect those efforts, and launch counter-attacks," says SeaLions' coach Lu Snyder. "That creates scoring chances. She doesn't get much credit for our goals, but she's often a source of them."
Sadowski was an energetic, active child in her hometown of Lewes, Delaware, and her parents - Jim, an environmental manager and Vicki, a software engineer - had little choice but to get her into soccer by the time she was three years old. "I loved running around, and soccer was perfect for me," Rachel recalls. "Our house was near the Rehoboth Bay marshlands and the Atlantic Ocean, and my parents made sure that I knew the importance of taking care of our outdoor environments."
Her Lynchburg College Hornets didn't lose an ODAC Conference soccer match during her four seasons on the team, and were consistently ranked in the NCAA top 10. She graduated Summa Cum Laude after being voted ODAC Women's Soccer Scholar-Athlete of the Year as a senior, and was awarded membership in Phi Kappa Phi, the nation's oldest and most-selective honors society.
Sadowski also earned first-team NSCAA Scholar All-American honors in 2012 and 2013, was a two-time athletic All-American, and upon graduation was selected to receive a rare and prestigious NCAA Post-Graduate Scholarship for her "academic, athletic, and community achievements" during her college career -- becoming the first women's soccer player to earn that award. That scholarship helped bring her to Scripps.
While earning her master's degree, she worked as a research assistant for the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve, collecting and analyzing data and identifying vegetation species to be monitored for changes in marsh distribution caused by sea level rise. She also assisted the San Diego Audobon Society's "ReWild Mission Bay" project, preparing feasibility studies to restore a section of Mission Bay wetlands. She is now on the staff of the San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas.
"Rachel has an ability to create confidence," says Tyler Adair, who plays alongside Sadowski on the SeaLions' defensive back line. "When she pushes us forward we know she's got us covered, and when she moves up on offense, we're determined to make sure she knows we've got her back. She makes us better than the sum of the parts."
Both the SeaLions, and our planet, will benefit from Sadowski's efforts in the long run.