Whether on the court or in the lab, Tonya Aaron ’13 rises to a challenge.
(Photo by Scott Cook) Sweat dripping, clock ticking, crowd cheering: that’s how Tonya Aaron ’13 will remember the last 20 minutes of her varsity basketball career.
Coming off a historical 2011-12 season, which included a Final Four run, the women’s basketball team had just landed its second-straight Sunshine State Conference Championship, and was now competing in the second round of the NCAA Division II South Region Tournament.
“I was thinking ‘I’m a senior, this is my last game, we have to win,’” Aaron says. “All odds were against us; I knew I had to bring it.” And she did. Aaron’s performance in this game was her college best. Good thing, because it turned out to be the last game she ever played as a college student. In spite of a valiant effort, the Tars lost to Nova Southeastern 73-57.
“It didn’t hit me at first,” she says. “Once the game was over, I did my normal thing, got on the bus, got back to Rollins, and threw my stuff in the locker. But I didn’t come back [to my locker] for two weeks. I just couldn’t deal with it; the fact that I am not on the team anymore.”
Aaron also couldn’t deal with all the free time. After a four-year college career of “bringing it,” both athletically and academically, the biochemistry and molecular biology major simply didn’t know what to do. “Basketball is what’s kept me organized; I don’t know what to do with myself when I have free time.”
That’s because Aaron thrives under pressure, a characteristic that prompted Assistant Coach Tami Stark to give her the nickname ‘Clutch.’ “It’s like, when you need a last-second shot, Tonya will get it done,” Stark says. “But if I’m bored or if I find something too easy, I just won’t do it,” Aaron says.
As she wraps up her final weeks of college, Aaron is looking back with a sense of achievement on what she accomplished at Rollins, including participation in a Student-Faculty Collaborative Scholarship project with Assistant Professor of Biology Susan Walsh, as well as a summer research internship at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. It was there that she decided to pursue her MD/PhD with a focus on becoming a clinical oncologist.
“I just want to live up to my potential,” Aaron says. “I never want to look back and wish that I had tried harder.” Truth be told, she also wanted to show up her dad, who she says is fiercely competitive. “I’m not going to lie; my dad is an aviation technician, and he’ really smart. Since as long as I can remember, I grew up hearing about him being the top of his class. Now that I am a biochemist, he’s officially said that I’m smarter than him,” says Aaron, who, thanks to her Trinidadian heritage, spent the summer of 2011 playing for the Trinidad and Tobago national women’s basketball team in the Olympic trials.
Poised and articulate, Aaron exudes a sense of confidence that can be traced back, at least in part, to the work she’s done as a two-term vice president of the Black Student Union (BSU), where she planned and hosted events such as Step Afrika, Rally Rollins, and Diversity Dialogue talks.
“In high school, my basketball team was very competitive. If you were on it, that’s all you did,” Aaron says. “I promised myself that in college I would be more involved outside of basketball. I wanted to have the full college experience.”
That leave-nothing-on-the-table attitude paired with a tenacious spirit has translated into a fiercely self-motivated person. “I’ve never needed to be told what needs to be done; I don’t need or want to be micromanaged. Just put the challenge in front of me, and I’ll bring it.”