(Editor’s Note: Montana Sports Information release)
MISSOULA – Of the 38 winter-sport Montana student-athletes named Academic All-Big Sky Conference on Monday (see full list below), no entry stands out quite like this one: Emily Cheroske, computer science.
That she is into coding, database design and back-end programming, a female storming the bastion of what is largely considered a male domain, is one thing. That she is running at Montana at all is quite another.
Because a few years ago, nobody would have predicted either, not for the home-schooled girl from Bigfork who was more into creating and selling clay sculptures than running.
But that’s mostly because a foot injury sidelined her for two years.
“I fell in love with running my freshman year of high school, but then I developed Freiberg’s Infraction,” she says. “I couldn’t run for two years because of it.”
Cheroske, who ran at Bigfork High as a freshman, was home-schooled as a sophomore and junior, until surgery finally corrected the issue with her foot.
Finally able to run again, she reached out to her former coach at Bigfork, who told Cheroske she would be welcomed back with open arms. So she decided to give competitive running one more chance.
“I was like, I’ll take one more step and see if I can actually make something out of this. I ran my senior year and had a really great season,” says Cheroske, who finished second in the 400 and 800 meters at the 2014 Class B state meet, behind only Makena Morley in the latter.
That drew the attention of Montana distance coach Vicky Pounds, whose offer of a small scholarship changed everything for Cheroske.
Before she had the offer to run with the Grizzlies, Cheroske was planning to enroll at Flathead Valley Community College.
“It made it affordable for me, so running pulled me out of Kalispell,” says Cheroske, who is now a nine-time Academic All-Big Sky honoree in cross country and indoor and outdoor track and field.
She is the type of athlete Montana relies on for its ongoing success — lightly recruited with untapped talent, ready to put in the hard work to reach her potential.
She went from giving running one more try in high school to becoming one of the final 96 NCAA Division I half-milers competing in the country last May.
Cheroske made the NCAA West Regional in the 800 meters for the first time last spring, which came after finishing second in the event at the 2017 Big Sky indoor championships.
She was also part of the 4×400-meter relay team at the meet in Pocatello that broke the school record.
Last summer Cheroske was named USTFCCCA All-Academic, quite possibly making her the only female track and field athlete at NCAA regionals who also doubled as a computer science major.
“I might be breaking the stereotype a little bit,” she says. “I definitely stand out in all my classes. It’s great, because I make so many new friends. Everyone is curious to get to know me. There aren’t that many girls in the department.”
She arrived at Montana thinking she would pursue a degree in exercise science, but after she started doing some coding in her spare time — and who of us hasn’t? — she discovered it was a way for her to stay in touch with her artistic side.
“It’s a great outlet for my creativity,” says Cheroske, who already has a job lined up as a back-end programmer for an adventure company based in Missoula. “In all my classes, I’m drawn more toward the artistic elements, like web design, database design and back-end programming.
“My favorite class is data visualization, because you can take these huge data sets and put them into a form that is easy for other people to read. I can channel my artistic energy into cool data visualizations.”
She loves Silicon Valley, the HBO series, perhaps because she can see herself in the show. Or not see herself. “It’s one of my favorite tech shows, but they don’t show many women programmers,” she says.
And she knows she is probably the anti-programmer, or the exact opposite of what you picture in your mind when asked to visualize one, conditioned as we’ve all been by movies and TV.
“You think of someone in a dark basement, overweight and drinking Mountain Dew,” she says. “I don’t think a lot of women are drawn to tech. I think it’s seen as uncool to do.”
So she’s out to break the mold. She’s thin as a reed but powered by a big engine, and she possesses a reticent, laidback nature.
And she’s has running as a release, because who can’t picture Cheroske spending three hours trying to de-bug something, only to come up empty? Then reaching for her shoes to burn off the stress?
“Running is the perfect outlet. It’s the perfect way to take out my frustrations with school and computer science in general,” she says.
When the inherent biases of the field get to her, and they are there, at every turn, there is always the track, steady as it is, never changing, free of all prejudice. You pretty much get what you deserve. No one comes to the starting line of the 800 meters with a four-second advantage.
“Track is an even playing field,” she says. “It’s something that I know if I put the work in, I will see an output.”
It’s the same reward that’s come for the other 37 Montana student-athletes on the list as well. No matter the sport or major, effort tends to lead to results.
Montana’s Academic All-Big Sky Conference winter selections
Men’s basketball: Jamar Akoh (Jr., Management); Lars Espe (Fr., Psychology); Fabijan Krslovic (Sr., Finance); Michael Oguine (Jr., Management)
Women’s basketball: Sierra Anderson (Jr., Master’s in Public administration); McKenzie Johnston (So., Health and human performance); Caitlin Lonergan (So., Health and human performance); Emma Stockholm (So., Elementary education)
Men’s indoor track and field: Andrea Baratte (Fr., Wildlife biology); Charlie Bush (Sr., Health and human performance); Micah Drew (Sr., Health and human performance); Jonathan Eastwood (So., Women’s and gender studies); Morgan Eitel (So., Health and human performance); Trevor Henry (Fr., Computer science); Colton Hess (Fr., Health and human performance); Kyle Kredo (Fr., Wildlife biology); Karsten Pease (Jr., Computer science); Kyle Peterson (Fr., Wildlife biology); Jacob Price (Fr., Undeclared); Parker Spadt (So., Political science); Jordan Stow (Fr., History); Rhett Streeter (Fr., Business administration)
Women’s indoor track and field: Jessica Bailey (Jr., Health and human performance); Jane Booth (So., Health and human performance); Emily Cheroske (Sr., Computer science); Abby Dodge (Fr., Undeclared); Jenna Dukovcic (Sr., Biology); Samantha Engebretsen (So., Social work); Megan Franz (Jr., Biology); Mariah Harvey (So., Elementary education); Maeve Holman (Fr., Geosciences); Jaree Mane (Fr., Health and human performance); Mijah McLeod (Fr., Health and human performance); Madison Neufeld (Sr., Health and human performance); Carla Nicosia (Jr., Health and human performance); Chloe Seferos (So., Health and human performance); Carly Smiedala (So., Psychology); Jansen Ziola (Fr., Pre-pharmacy)