Mari Rabie Makes the Grade

Mari Rabie Makes the Grade

By Peter Holmes on 03/12/09 at 7:37 pm

South Africa’s Mari Rabie became the first African triathlete to win a world championship medal when she crossed the line in Vancouver to take bronze in the under 23 women’s race in 2008. That result gained her selection for the Beijing Olympic Games where she finished 43rd. Aside from her passion for sport, Rabie is an accomplished academic and recently gained the Rhodes Scholarship following a hard selection interview to study at Oxford University in England.

The Rhodes Scholarships were founded by the Will of Cecil, John Rhodes, and they have been operating since 1903. Rhodes had himself been to Oxford University, and had such a high regard for the University that he wanted people from what was then the British Empire, and from the United States and Germany, to benefit from the intellectual, cultural, social and sporting opportunities Oxford offers. He therefore expected Rhodes Scholars to be sufficiently intellectually and academically competent to achieve a good degree while enjoying the additional benefits of Oxford life.

The scholarship is for full-time study and pays the entire tuition fee. It also provides the student with a comfortable living allowance of £11,000 ($18,000 USD) per year, and also pays the cost of transport to and from Oxford.

So Mari, where exactly you will study?
I will study at the University of Oxford, doing a Msc in Mathematical and Computational Finance in the department of Mathematics which falls under Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences. In my second year I want to do my Masters in Financial Economics at the Oxford Siad Business school.

How many people get awarded the Rhodes Scholarship?
In South Africa just ten people get it, but five places are allocated to particular schools. I was one of five from the rest of the country. In total a class of 82 scholars are selected each year from Australia, Bermuda, Canada, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Jamaica and Commonwealth Caribbean, Kenya, New Zealand, Pakistan, Southern Africa (including South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, and Swaziland), United States, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

What the scholarship include?
The scholarships are generous financially. They cover all your living, travel and academic expenses for one or possibly two, and in rare cases three, years at Oxford.  The Scholarship is for full-time study and pays your entire tuition fee. It provides you with a comfortable living allowance of £11,000 ($18,000 USD) per year, and also pays the cost of transport for you and your necessary belongings to and from Oxford.

What qualities do you need to be selected?
The selection committee was looking for intellectually gifted and motivated young people with the talent and the desire to lead and with a genuine commitment to serve their societies. Proven intellectual ability and academic motivation are preconditions for selection. Obviously Oxford is a highly regarded university, with many thousands of students from all over the world seeking places and so the departments and colleges of Oxford will not admit applicants if this intellectual and academic criterion is not met.

To be selected as a Rhodes Scholar from Southern Africa you must fulfil the residential and other requirements in the particular category for which you wish to apply. Then, your academic grades at university have to be good enough to gain admission to the University of Oxford. Young people in Britain compete intensely for admission to Oxford, so standards are very high. Speaking roughly, to gain admission to Oxford as a Southern African, you would have had to have obtained a first degree.

What will become of Mari the triathlete when you start your studies?
Mari the triathlete will not go anywhere. Triathlon always has been and always will be a part of the life, the intensity might just differ. I guess I am an athletic academic, happiest when combining my sport with strenuous academic activities. It is not always easy and if it were, I probably wouldn’t be doing it.

At Oxford my academics will definitely have precedence over everything else. This scholarship is a marvellous opportunity, but at the same time comes the responsibly of ploughing my knowledge and energy back into the development of South Africa. I simply can not treat the suffering in my continent with indifference.

But to be honest, I believe the northern hemisphere academic year fits in better with the triathlon season. From September 2007 until March 2009 I have had three stress fractures, so my first focus now is to get at least a solid base of injury free running in and then take it from there.