SU mourns loss of stellar student-athlete

Tamara Ovejera-Bill Smith

Tamara Ovejera competes at the 2017 Third Annual Ship U Invite. Ovejera holds four school-records in multiple throwing events. 

Shippensburg University lost a big-hearted member of the Raider family this week.

The university announced on Friday via email that Tamara Ovejera, a senior student-athlete on the women’s track-and-field team, had passed away. The university did not share details of her passing, but the news rocked the campus, leaving many in shock over the loss of such a warm and friendly character and a superb athlete.

Ovejera transferred to SU from Clemson University in 2014 and immediately became a star for the track-and-field team. 

She quickly became the school record-holder in the shot put in indoor (48 feet, 0 1/2 inches) and outdoor competition (47 feet, 11 1/4 inches), as well as the SU record holder in the discus (159 feet, 6 inches) and hammer throw (169 feet, 7 inches) over her three years on the team.

She brought an air of excitement to track meets for the Raiders and spectators were always immediately focused on Ovejera when she stepped up for her throws. Every throw felt like it had the potential to break another school or national record. She is the reigning Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) indoor champion in the shot put and she earned a spot on the All-America Second Team at the end of last season.

Her personality, however, was not just based on the field. She had one of the biggest hearts and biggest smiles on campus.

Bill Morgal

Ovejera competes in the shot put at the 2017 NCAA championships for SU.

Ovejera was a friend to almost anyone she met and she had a welcoming and friendly air about her. Friends said that she was one of the easiest people to talk to, no matter the topic. She was understanding and always willing to listen. 

“Every moment we spent together, she made me feel like I was important to her,” former track-and-field athlete and SU alumna Erin Doherty said. “That was one of her strongest characteristics; she developed that type of relationship with almost every person she talked with.”

Doherty said that from speaking with Ovejera’s friends from high school and from her time at Clemson, it was easy to see that Tamara’s focus was always on her friends and family. She was more concerned about others rather than herself, always trying to do whatever she could to help those around her.

Another friend who spent a lot of time with Ovejera is SU record-breaker and alumnus Caleb Bartlett. Bartlett was always around Ovejera, whether it was in the weight room or on the field, and said there was never a dull moment.

“We trained as athletes together, studied as students together and laughed and goofed around all the time,” Bartlett said. “She had a kind heart towards others, a fun-loving personality; [she was also] someone you could trust to be a straight shooter.”

What made the situation even more surreal was that the majority of the team had spoken to or seen Tamara in the previous couple days before the announcement, according to Bartlett. Everyone was still in shock and caught off guard by the suddenness of her passing.

Doherty came back to SU after Ovejera’s death to spend time with the track-and-field team and even went to the team’s opening meet of the indoor season at the Bison Opener at Bucknell University this weekend. 

“It was nice being around people who knew her,” Doherty said.

Doherty was very thankful for Ovejera’s friendship and for all the times she could talk to Tamara about problems she was having and they would work through them together. 

“She gave herself fully to her friends and family, something you don’t see a lot of in this day and age,” Doherty said. “That’s the hardest part of it all, really. I hate that I have to rely on a cliché – Tam hated clichés – but she truly changed the lives of everyone she interacted with.”

Before Saturday’s basketball games at Heiges Field House, SU honored the life of Ovejera with a moment of silence. 

The 2017-18 indoor track-and-field season began on Saturday at Bucknell University, and it was SU’s first event without its conference champion.

The Raiders received support from numerous teams across the conference, as Slippery Rock University’s throwers took a moment of silence to reflect on the life of Ovejera, who they competed against every year at the conference meet.

Ovejera will go down in SU history as one of the school’s greatest female field athletes. Her contributions to the track-and-field team are insurmountable, but she contributed to the campus community as well with her understanding and cheery personality. She was always found across campus at a variety of events, and was always cheering on other teams at SU.

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