JTC 24: From Adversity to Achievement

Sarah Martin's journey marked by determination and triumph

A woman wearing a light blue shirt and jeans stands smiling in a park.

This story is part of the 2024 Journey to Commencement series, which celebrates the pinnacle of the academic year by highlighting University of Mississippi students and their outstanding academic and personal journeys from college student to college graduate.

As a nontraditional, first-generation student, Sarah Martin understands the value of hard work and sacrifice. Starting at an early age, Martin's determination, perseverance and unwavering commitment to her dreams led her on a journey that arrives at her destination this May as a graduate of the Master of Science in Athletic Training program at the University of Mississippi.

"Growing up in (Mountain Grove) Missouri, as the eldest of three siblings, I learned the importance of responsibility and resilience," Martin said. Since she was young, Martin dreamed of pursuing higher education, but financial constraints loomed. However, she refused to let adversity define her path.


Sarah Martin is among the students who will receive their degrees at the university 2024 Commencement ceremonies, set for May 8-12. Photo by Srijita Chattopadhyay/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

After a four-year gap following high school, Martin opted to start her academic journey at a community college. She saved every penny while juggling multiple part-time jobs to support herself and reach her academic goals.

After earning her associate degree, Martin transferred to the university, where she continued to defy the odds. Immersing herself in the world of athletic training, she embraced every opportunity to expand her knowledge and skills. As a student assistant for the Ole Miss athletics department during her undergraduate years, Martin thrived in the fast-paced environment, showcasing her work ethic and passion for helping others.

Despite the demanding workload, Martin never lost sight of her goal. Her journey was not without its challenges – late nights spent studying, sacrifices to make ends meet and moments of doubt that threatened her resolve. Yet, through it all, Martin remained steadfast, drawing strength from her determination and the support of her loved ones.

Heather Shirley, an assistant professor and program director of athletic training for the master's program, gets to know students even before they enter the MSAT program and then watches them grow into young professionals.

"Sarah is the kind of person that greets a challenge head-on with a smile on her face and a determined outlook," Shirley said. "She made it clear from the start that she was here to learn all that she could to be successful and willing to make the sacrifice to meet her professional goals."

Two years later, her hard work paid off as she was one of the first in her class to pass the certification exam, a testament to her dedication and determination. With a job offer in hand, Martin's passion for athletic training has opened doors to a promising future.

None of this is a surprise to one of Martin's clinical preceptors, Justin Ware, director of sports medicine at Northwest Mississippi Community College.


Sarah Martin and her fellow Ole Miss football student aides celebrate the 2022 Egg Bowl win over Mississippi State with Rebel offensive lineman Eli Acker (back left) and quarterback Jaxson Dart (front left) in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Submitted photo

"Sarah was an excellent athletic training student during her time at Northwest Mississippi Community College," Ware said. "She came to her clinical site every day with proper questions and the willingness to better herself. Her hard work never went unnoticed while on the football field and in the athletic training room. I can't wait to see the impact she makes throughout her athletic training career." 

Despite the possibilities of working in big markets for collegiate or professional sports, Martin's heart remains close to her roots. She has decided to return to her hometown in Missouri, where she has accepted a position as a secondary school athletic trainer.

"For me, it wasn't just about securing a job – it was about giving back to the community that had shaped me into the person I had become," Martin said. "In my new role, I hope to continue to inspire and empower others, just as I have always tried to do."

Armed with continued determination and her boundless compassion, Martin is ready to make a difference – one athlete at a time. Her mentee, Caden Mitchell, a first-year student in the athletic training master's program, agrees that Martin has what it takes.

"Sarah was always incredibly helpful, encouraging, supportive and kind," Mitchell said. "She would go out of her way as a mentor to make me feel like I have everything I need to succeed.

"She has and always will be my favorite athletic trainer because she was my best athletic training friend."

See more photos of Sarah's Journey to Commencement


Heather Shirley, School of Applied Sciences



April 25, 2024


Sarah Martin

A woman stands on the playing field of a stadium, holding a basket of water bottles.

Sarah Martin works on the field as a training aide during the thrilling 2023 Rebel win over LSU at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Photo by Alana Akil /Department of Intercollegiate Athletics

A man and a woman embrace a young woman wearing graduation robes in a park.

Sarah Martin (center) celebrates earning her bachelor's degree at the University of Mississippi's 2021 Commencement in the Grove with her parents, Pam (left) and Dennis Martin. Submitted photo

Seven young men and women stand on the playing field of a stadium.

Ole Miss student athletic training aides (from left) Brycen Robinson, Taylor Luth, Sara Hoffman, Sarah Martin, Annie Mauldin, Blaise Thomas and Cole Smith gather in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium for 2021 Senior Night. Submitted photo

A young woman offers a water bottle to football players standing in a huddle.

Sarah Martin (middle right) works on the field during a time out in the 2023 Peach Bowl in Atlanta, where the Ole Miss Rebels defeated Penn State 38-25. Submitted photo

A young woman stands inside a stadium.

With her master's degree from Ole Miss in hand, Sarah Martin plans to return to her hometown of Mountain Grove, Missouri, where she will work as a secondary school athletic trainer. Submitted photo