March 15, 2017
By Brad Muller | More Features
Jennifer Wood and Ruth Sorrel were outstanding members of South Carolina's equestrian team nearly two decades ago, and they were even better friends. It's only fitting that both of the former Gamecocks are being honored with distinguished alumni awards by the National Collegiate Equestrian Association this year. Wood rode Hunt Seat, while Sorrel competed in the Western discipline, but they both qualified at the same time for the respective championships in the same year.
"We're still best friends," Sorrel (1998-2000) said. "We both rode at the same time. That year we both qualified (at nationals), we both finished third or fourth after the first segment and we both ended up seventh. So it was neat that we both did that the same year, and now we've won this in the same year, too. It's always an honor to be recognized by your peers. You are nominated by your head coach, so I greatly appreciate that Boo (Major) nominated me."
"We're really close friends to this day," Wood (1997-2001) said. "We talk and text all the time. I'm really happy for her because I know how hard she works and how much she loves the team. We always made each other laugh. We were always making fun of each other. Ruth has the best sense of humor. She is just a person who makes you smile every day. There are lot of good stories.
"I was an English rider. We had different levels of riders on the team. The Western side of the team was very new at the time, so they needed to fill the Western team. I decided to try reining. Ruth was always coaching me along with Boo, which was really fun."
The distinguished alumni awards are presented to women who, after the completion of their undergraduate degree at an NCEA institution, have made significant contributions in a professional field.
"I was surprised when I heard that I had won the award," Wood said. "I didn't really consider winning it, so it was a very pleasant surprise."
When you get into that situation where other people are depending on you, and it's such a team effort, then it really changes your outlook on the sport and on yourself as an athlete.
Wood graduated Magna Cum Laude in 2001 with a degree in marketing, and was the high point hunt seat rider in IHSA Zone 5, Region 2 for two years. She competed in the Caccione Cup and finished second in 2000. She was a freelance writer and photographer with Phelps Media group before forming her own company -- Jennifer Wood Media, Inc., which is a comprehensive public relations marketing firm for the equestrian industry. In 2006, she won the USEF Pegasus Award for media in the category of Best Single News Article and was recently named the Press Officer for the FEI World Equestrian Games Tryon 2018 in North Carolina.
"I have my Jennifer Wood Media and I also started a new company called Jump Media," Wood said. "They are very similar companies. They offer P.R. and marketing to the equestrian world. We help promote athletes, equestrian businesses and events. We're at the some of the biggest horse shows in North America in helping get the word out about the sport."
"She was an extremely talented rider that helped the USC Equestrian team make its mark when we were members of the IHSA," Major said of Wood in recommending her for the award. "She made excellent grades and always rode to the best of her ability.
"Jennifer has truly had a tremendous impact on the equine community with her expertise in marketing and public relations. With the explosion of social media over the last 10 years, Jennifer has been at the forefront of it making sure her articles are wherever an equestrian enthusiast might want to look for them."
Sorrel earned a degree in insurance and risk management and is currently an assistant coach with the Gamecocks. She was a team captain as a senior, was the IHSA High Point Rider for Zone 5, Region II, and took seventh place at the IHSA Championship in 2000 in the AQHA Trophy Class. She previously served as an assistant coach at Fresno State and Auburn before returning to her alma mater and helped the Gamecocks win national championships in 2006, 2007 and 2015 as well as several conference championships.
"Ruth Sorrel has been a tremendous influence on the University of South Carolina's equestrian team as a coach, student athlete and alumnus," Major said in her recommendation of Sorrel. "She was a terrific captain of our team and the entire team had nothing but respect and admiration for her when she was a student athlete at USC. She has been my right hand person to go to for advice, direction, and just about anything else you could think of."
While both enjoyed accolades for how they performed, some of their best memories come from experiences outside of the ring.
"The best part was just being a part of a team," Wood said. "Equestrian as a sport can be very individual oriented. I grew up riding and only worried about myself and my horse. When you get into that situation where other people are depending on you, and it's such a team effort, then it really changes your outlook on the sport and on yourself as an athlete. So getting to know all of the girls was great, and as we got older, helping the younger ones along and how to be a part of a team, along with school and all of that, was a great experience all together. I love USC, and I love Columbia."
Other memories include an ill-fated bus ride where the bus driver went the wrong way on the interstate after a competition at Berry College in Rome, Ga., and the team ended up crossing into Tennessee before anyone realized what had happened. The duo also recalled Wood's singing while listening to music on her headphones on the bus, but not exactly carrying the tune well.
"She was attempting to sing along with the amazing Lauryn Hill and as you can imagine it wasn't the greatest sounding music you have ever heard," Sorrel said. "Let's just say we were much better riders than singers!"
The two Gamecocks also noted how their experience at South Carolina helped prepare them for life after college.
"Boo always treated us like adults," Sorrel said. "We weren't hand-held. She treated us with respect, so we learned and grew all together. It was fun and it was difficult. It was very challenging. I learned a lot. Boo was always so helpful and supportive, in and out of the arena. She had everything to do with our success."
"Being a student-athlete, you have to learn time management," Wood said. "You have two things that are mutually important. My education was very important, and the horses and the team were equally important. You have to learn how to deal with both. That has served me very well going forward in starting my own business and being successful at it. Now I'm balancing that with having a family and a son."
Originally from Naperville, Ill.,Wood, 37, and her husband are proud parents of a 20-month-old boy and live in Orange Park, Fla. Sorrel is helping to get the Gamecocks ready for the SEC Championship later this month.
The 2017 Distinguished Alumni will be recognized at the Opening Ceremony of the NCEA National Championship event scheduled for Wednesday, April 12 at the Extraco Center in Waco, Texas. The two Gamecocks are part of a class of former equestrians chosen for seven categories nationally. Sorrel is recognized in the Equine category, which includes riders, trainers or coaches, while Wood is honored in the media and communication field. Their past academic, athletics, service and post graduate success are all taken into account for the nominees.
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