GREENWICH — If there was a contest to find the most refreshingly unique FCIAC athlete for the last school year, Tara Ford would be difficult to beat.
Consider: Ford, who graduated from Greenwich in June, had three free periods at the end of her senior year and voluntary decided to take two AP courses, in economics and psychology, even though she had no experience in either subject. She does not have a driver’s license so she logs a lot of miles by foot (fortunately she lives close to downtown). Ford spent so much time studying as a junior that a lack of sleep contributed to her puncturing a lung.
Ford was convinced by Steve Lapham, the Cardinals’ volleyball coach, to try out as a sophomore even though she had not played the sport. At 5-10, it was easy to see why Lapham would try to recruit Ford, though he may have had second thoughts when she showed up that first day wearing sports shorts, Converse All-Stars and didn’t know the basic rule of three touches.
Ford became so good so quickly that by the end of her junior year it was apparent she was good enough to play in college. So when schools did not come after Ford, she went after them, emailing as many as 50 coaches a day, following up with the schools she was most interested in when there were no replies.
After playing a major role in helping the Cardinals win league and state titles, she went to each college visit and overnight unaccompanied, because she said her mother was unfamiliar with the process and trusted her middle child’s uncommon maturity.
Oh, and Ford was also president of the French club, played the flute in the band until her senior year and worked a job on her one open weekend day.
Do we have a winner?
“I really love school. I mean I really love school,” Ford said. “When you learn more and actually apply it in real life and talk to somebody I think that’s so cool. I feel if you know many things what can go wrong? And I love being part of a team. Learning to trust people on the court.”
Ford was offered by the seven colleges that topped her list. After interviewing Ford for this story last week, it is easy to see how she must have hit every interview out of the park — Ford was once a member of the Greenwich softball team. Ford decided to attend Kenyon and will start her college career next week.
“I can’t wait,” Ford said. “I’m excited about challenging myself in volleyball and taking classes that I have never been exposed to before.”
Ford is best known as being a key component last fall for the Cardinals, who after a 4-4 start showed tremendous cohesion and ran off their final 20 matches to win just their second FCIAC and state titles.
“Honestly it was unforgettable,” Ford said. “I will take each and every game to heart. I literally learned something each week and about being a captain. The way you trust your players so well, it makes it so much easier to play. The playoffs, it was the most high intensity. Usually I don’t play well when I’m nervous but we weren’t nervous, we were so comfortable. We knew if we just did our jobs we would do well.”
Ford admitted she started the first day of practices as a sophomore uncertain if she was going to try out for the volleyball or cross country team.
“I love to run,” Ford said. “I said I would try volleyball for a day and then I loved it. That’s why I went the next day.”
Ford said after a tough first season things started to click when she played on her club volleyball team. She made the Greenwich varsity the next fall.
“That’s when it took off,” Ford said. “It was surreal. It was really cool. My background is we have such a big sports family and everyone had a different sport. When I found my sport it was really, really special to me. I was so into fitness; I was so happy. I knew I could actually work so hard at something. I’m so focused on grades so to have that also in sports meant so much to me.”
Ford said her development was accelerated by spending extra hours working in the gym with Nicole Wood, the Cardinals’ setter and her club teammate.
Though Ford said her closest friends are sometimes amused by an equal obsession for educational pursuits, she has reasonable explanations.
— On foregoing two free periods to take a pair of AP courses: “Mostly because I wanted to take the classes to begin with. Everyone has the senioritis or whatever. I just felt that it was so boring. I still wanted to challenge myself in some way. I just thought it was so much more fulfilling. I’m not going to get anything out of an open. I’m going to need it for college sometime. Everyone is going to need to know about business cycles when they are an adult. When you are dealing with finances. Psych can apply to so much.”
— On deciding to play volleyball in college: “I never really considered it honestly. I didn’t know about the college process to begin with so I didn’t know that was something even possible for me. I thought it was D I or nothing at all. I didn’t even know about D III. Then I figured out with D III you could play and focus on academics as well.”
— On ending up in the hospital because of her self-imposed study schedule: “I was doing club at the time and I would do all my homework and finish at like 12 o’clock and then I would study for my APs, so I would study two weeks in advance for three hours and then maybe decide to go to bed. Some days I had to get up early. After three hours of sleep for two weeks I got sick, really started coughing and punctured my lung. I didn’t sleep at all my junior year.”
— On why she reached out to college coaches: “It’s kind of hard because they get so many emails a day, so it’s sort of a wildcard if they will answer you. If they didn’t answer me and it was a school I really liked I would call them and leave messages. I was not going to miss out just because they didn’t get back to me. I was recruiting myself.”
— On what makes Tara Ford tick: “If I have a goal I’m going for it.”
Ford hasn’t deviated much from her usual pursuits this summer. She works three jobs, trains two to three times a day to stay in shape and for leisure reads economic and business books.
Ford said she will always be indebted to her Greenwich coach.
“I wouldn’t be here without Coach Lapham,” she said. “It’s crazy.”
My last question for Ford came without sarcasm: What is she most excited about at Kenyon, academics or volleyball?
“That’s a hard pick,” she said. “Do I have to pick one? Equal.”