'All in'

by Jan Gillis ('07)

Swimming is an individual sport, but Presgraves says JMU put the emphasis on the team.

SUMMARY: Amanda Presgraves ('16) took the drive to succeed from the swimming pool to entrepreneurship.

From Spring/Summer 2017 Madison

I knew I wanted to swim in college," says Amanda Presgraves ('16), "because I wanted to be part of a team." For Presgraves, who has been in a pool since she was 4 years old, swimming was the perfect outlet for her considerable energy. Even though she did not immediately qualify for the JMU women's swim team—"It's a team of incredibly talented swimmers," she says—"I knew I could work up to it." And she did.

"Swimming is an individual sport," says Presgraves. "It's easy to get caught up in the time of a race, but at JMU it was never like that." Instead, she says the emphasis was directed toward the team. "The coach told us to focus on three things: First, focus on each other, get behind each other; second, do the best you can; and third, have fun."

Amanda Presgraves ('16)
Amanda Presgraves ('16)

A kinesiology major, Presgraves says her interest in the discipline was part of her life long before she came to Madison. "Each day I was in the water, I was thinking about biomechanics, health and performance and how I could improve and share that with my teammates," she says. "When you spend 20 hours swimming each week, healing injuries and overcoming adversity is part of life."

She could not anticipate how big a part of her life it would become. "After my sophomore year, I needed double hip surgery, so when I came back in the fall I wasn't able to compete in swimming," she says. She admits to initially feeling confused and lost. "In my mind, I was 'Amanda the swimmer.'" But that soon changed. "I began to realize all the opportunities on JMU's campus."

While Presgraves is not the first athlete to be beset with injury, she may be at the forefront of those who make lemonade from lemons. She surmised that the success of the Starbucks truck on JMU's campus, combined with her peers' interest in healthful eating and sustainability, spelled opportunity; and she began working on an idea for a food truck that would bring local food onto campus. A Google search on how to start a business led to work with the Shenandoah Valley Small Business Development Center, and a venture creation class allowed her to pursue her entrepreneurial efforts with a cross-disciplinary team. Later, Aramark, which manages JMU's campus dining operations, offered to provide funding for the venture.

The generosity of scholarship donors made a huge impact on Presgraves' academic career.

However, if not for JMU's culture of engagement and professor/student collaboration, her unique vision would have floundered. "People were excited about my idea, but I was running out of time," she says. It was fall semester of her senior year when Dane Pedersen, head coach of the women's swim team, suggested that she talk over her idea with biology professor Mark Gabriele. Pedersen knew that the two swimmers shared a passion for food. The idea resonated with Gabriele. "He said, 'We're going to make this happen,'" she says.

Presgraves is thankful for Gabriele's mentorship on several levels. "He had been a very pivotal swimmer for JMU and helped build the culture that allowed me to flourish. I don't think he realizes the impact he's had on the generations of swimmers that have gone through the program or the impact of the principles of character he laid out," she says. Presgraves was also impressed by the amount of time he was willing to sacrifice to advise her on the project. "He was never even my professor," she says. "He just set aside time for this."

Amanda Presgraves ('16) and professor Mark Gabriele ('95) in the Fueled food truck.
Amanda Presgraves ('16) and professor Mark Gabriele ('95) in the Fueled food truck.

In fact, she says, "It really demonstrates what learning should be about and the relationships that can be built with advisers, faculty and mentors around campus. They believe in students and will selflessly give their time and resources to support them."

Today, Fueled, the student-run food truck, is operational, and The JMU Fueled Project course offers students from various disciplines the opportunity to continue to learn from and refine the entrepreneurial effort.

Presgraves' detour from the pool to entrepreneurship was significant. "I knew through Fueled that there was so much more that I needed to learn," she says. She is now at Wake Forest University completing a master's degree in management.

The impact of athletics in her life has been far-reaching. "Swimming shaped me into who I am today. Swimming was a platform to challenge myself, to grow, to be creative and engaged with others."

She's planning to apply the same energy she devoted to swimming and business to her future. Presgraves says it's important to her to "be engaged in meaningful projects on a large scale and be an impactful leader in life and in business. Anything I do, I go all in."

Watch the launch of Fueled.

Published: Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Last Updated: Wednesday, September 26, 2018

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