Seconds before Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota was named the Heisman Trophy winner in December, Best Buy Theater in New York City fell silent. In the audience, Lauren Van Vlierbergen sat rows away from Mariota knowing exactly what he was feeling.
The previous evening, Lauren had won a very similar honor when she was selected as the 21st Wendy’s High School Heisman National female winner.
Twelve national finalists were recognized in NYC. But Lauren was one of just two winners honored for her incredible accomplishments as a student-athlete and leader in her community of Algonquin, Illinois.
Though the Heisman is not something that most female athletes usually aim to win — it’s an honor usually reserved for the most outstanding college football player in the country — Lauren managed to do so before even graduating from high school.
“My teammates on all of my teams are my biggest motivators,” Lauren tells SI Kids. “Without them I would not have been able to do anything that I have accomplished.”
At Harry D. Jacobs High, Lauren’s a three-sport athlete that excels at basketball, track and field, and cross-country.
Running never seemed like it would become Lauren’s passion, but it has become the sport she loves and excels in. Along with winning All-Conference and All-District honors for four years, she has been named MVP and earned the title of varsity captain for both teams.
But Lauren’s accomplished off the field, too. In the classroom, she’s a member of the National Honor Society, an AP scholar with honors, and a VFW scholarship recipient.
She also gives back to her community. She’s the president of the Girls on the Run club, which works with young girls to help them become confident athletes and stronger individuals. She also supports her local “Relay for Life” walks and raises funds and awareness to save lives from cancer.
Lauren said she hopes she can be an example for young girls that they can accomplish any goal they work toward.
“I hope young girls who learn about my experience winning the high school Heisman believe anything is possible for them,” she says. “If girls put their minds to it, they can do anything. They should also try to be well-rounded and try their best at everything they do.”
Lauren will head to the University of Michigan in the fall, where she will continue to aspire for success in academics, sports, and in her future. She says she hopes to contribute as a freshman to the track and field and cross-country teams when the time comes.
“I’m excited to meet new people and build relationships with my teammates,” she says. “I know it’s really hard to be a contributing athlete at a big school at the [D1] level, but I’m looking forward to giving it my all.”
Photos: Ali Engin (track, school), Simon Russell/Getty Images for Wendy’s (Heisman)