KOKOMO, Ind. — A mission trip to Haiti inspired Emma Byrum’s desire to be a nurse.
Indiana University Kokomo allowed her to earn her nursing degree, while also continuing her track and field career.
“I feel like IU Kokomo provided an opportunity for me to be an awesome student and an awesome athlete,” said Byrum, from Kokomo. “I get to compete at the NAIA level. At Division I schools, you can’t choose certain majors, but here nursing is possible. I’ve seen lots of friends who are student athletes able to balance difficult majors and sport and do them both proficiently.”
Now a senior, Byrum has excelled in the classroom and on the track and field team, qualifying for NAIA nationals in 2023 in the javelin — a throwing sport she learned at IUK.
“Javelin is interesting because it basically requires you to be a jack of all trades and master of none,” she said. “It encompasses mobility, throwing, lifting, and sprinting, or a lot of general fitness stuff that takes a lot of time.”
In 2023, she was among 28 NAIA competitors to qualify for nationals in javelin and placed 14th. Her goal for the 2024 season is to qualify for nationals again and earn All-American honors by finishing in the top eight.
Byrum also was named an All-Academic Athlete by the US Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association. To earn this distinction, an athlete must have a cumulative GPA of at least 3.25 on a 4.0 scale and have achieved an automatic or provisional qualifying mark for either the indoor or outdoor season.
She achieved these accomplishments while also maintaining high grades in her classes, and credits teamwork for allowing her to succeed.
“Our coaches are really good about prioritizing academics. That’s how I’ve been able to do nursing to the capacity I have. It is integral that my professors and coaches all work together as a team so I can accomplish my goals as a student and an athlete. We’ve worked well together from the beginning. I communicate with my professors and coaches and let them know what my needs are. They are quick to respond and help me get those needs met.”
In addition to her studies and athletic competition, Byrum works at Community Howard Regional Health as a tech in the emergency department. She hopes to continue working there as a nurse after she graduates in May.
“That’s another thing I’ve been able to balance, being a tech, a student, and an athlete,” she said. “I’ve gotten the best of all those worlds. I’m grateful to everyone who has worked together to help me get where I’m at. There’s no way I could have done this alone. There are so many people who have helped me get where I am.”
Byrum also wants to be more involved in missionary nursing, an idea sparked by a high school mission trip to Haiti.
“I was able to shadow the physicians in a hospital there and that’s how I discovered my passion for medicine,” she said. “I felt like the Lord put it on my heart to pursue missionary nursing.”
She’s interested in mission work not just overseas, but also close to home.
“I’ve realized there is a great need for medical care and spiritual growth right here in the community I was raised in,” she said. “I can find existing opportunities and then from there see how that goes.”