In the Arena with Sophie Caplan '19, MAcc '20

“It is not the critic who counts; not the one who points out how the strong one stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the one who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again; who spends themselves in a worthy cause; who at the best knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if they fail, at least fail while daring greatly, so that their place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

- President Theodore Roosevelt, Citizenship in a Republic

Sophie Caplan is a Master of Accounting (MAcc) candidate within the Raymond A. Mason School of Business. A native of Clarksville, MD, Caplan has consistently achieved unrivaled heights within her academic, professional, and athletic “arenas.” Her performance draws an ultimate parallel to infamous words embedded throughout President Theodore Roosevelt's words:

"The credit belongs to the one who is actually in the arena…who spends themselves in a worthy cause [and] if they fail, at least fail while daring greatly…"

Academically, Sophie is among the most elite minds of William & Mary students. Caplan earned her BBA in Accounting from the Mason School in May of 2019, leading her entire class of undergraduate business majors in grade point average and earning the Wayne F. Gibbs Accounting Society Award.

Sophie also only needed three years to complete her undergraduate degree.

Caplan's brilliance is most trustfully conveyed by third-person testimony. In a recent interview, Mason School Professor of Accounting, Rachel Stephens, who has taught Sophie in both undergraduate and graduate accounting classes, chronicled a memorable event that encapsulates the impact that Sophie is able to make on both her peers and her leaders.

"[On a Friday afternoon in September 2019], we were preparing to discuss the formation of a C corporation, which is defined in a specific provision of the Internal Revenue Code 351. And I happened to run into Sophie and a group of students. Just for the fun of it, I asked them who had read 351, and they all laughed like 'Professor, we don't have class for two more days, we don't know yet.' But Sophie responded and rattled off the requirements for 351 as if she had the Internal Revenue Code right in front of her. And it is that type of student and that type of preparation and level of engagement that drives me to be a better professor. Having a student like Sophie in my accounting courses drives me to improve my presence in the room because she is so prepared. Every lecture that she sits in, it is clear that she is 100% prepared and 100% engaged, which makes the experience better for all of the students involved."

Seldom does Professor Stephens offer an opinion regarding her students on camera or audio, but she noted that the gesture was more of a tribute to Sophie – one of her brightest pupils.

Professionally, Caplan plans to spend herself in a worthy cause by trailblazing a philanthropic career path. Sophie admires the many benefits of a vocation in public accounting, and she is well aware that the general norm for accounting students of her caliber is to matriculate into an entry-level role within one of the Big Four public accounting firms.

However, Caplan has a different vision in mind. Instead, she is aiming to lead the accounting and business efforts of a non-profit organization. Sophie's overall motivation regarding her alternative career plan is to maximize her emotional fulfillment, and, in doing so, be legitimately excited to go to work each day.

She has already completed summer internships with The Ulman Foundation, which supports young adults battling cancer, and Athletes Serving Athletes, which empowers those with limited mobility to train for and participate in mainstream running events. After completing her MAcc degree and earning her CPA, Sophie aims to land at an organization such as these two, whose missions particularly align with her core values.

Athletically, Sophie has thrived in relative obscurity compared to many other sporting events. Track and Field as a whole is in the global spotlight once every four years for the Olympic Games, and even then, pole vaulters do not earn nearly as much media attention as the likes of prime-time distance, relay, and sprint events.

A select phrase of President Roosevelt's rings incredibly true in terms of pole vaulters, for, of those athletes who 'fail while daring greatly,' pole vaulters are the cream of the crop. It requires an incredibly refined technique for an athlete to leverage enough potential energy through a flexed carbon-fiber pole for their inverted body to be launched a dozen feet towards the sky and over a suspended crossbar, only for them to fall to back earth as fiercely as they once took off. Training sessions and competitions are riddled with failure as competitors iterate and adjust their techniques to succeed.

And while Sophie consistently battles gravity at practice and in competition, she has had her fair share of bouts with the injury bug.

After experiencing a "nagging pinch" in her left wrist that sidelined her from competing and practicing in the autumn months of 2018, an x-ray revealed that Sophie's ulna had oddly grown longer than her radius and was protruding into the ligaments, bones, and tissue within her wrist joint. With no clear explanation for why or how this had occurred, physicians presumed the physiological anomaly dated back to a broken wrist Sophie had suffered at the age of 7, which potentially stunted the growth of her radius.

All speculation aside, Sophie underwent an Ulnar Shortening Osteotomy in January of 2019, forcing her to medically redshirt her third season of pole vaulting. The procedure was incredibly invasive: surgeons broke her ulna, removed enough bone to make her forearm bones equidistant, and implanted a series of screws. It forced her to medically step back from her third year of track and field, and unforeseen complications from the aggressive procedure could have ended her career as a Division-I pole vaulter.

The surgery was a success. But that didn't make her recovery any easier.

With toughness, persistence, and an unwavering passion for greatness, Sophie braved an intense rehabilitation process, which allotted nearly six months before she was permitted to even pick up a pole with her injured wrist. However, amidst the series of slings, casts, braces, painful physical therapy sessions, and several follow-up surgeries to remove the hardware that once fused her ulna back together, Caplan earned a newfound perspective and grew much more appreciative for what she had normally been able to do.

Perhaps the most difficult part of her injury was the inability to compete. For any athlete, proximity to the competition is incredibly motivating. However, when Sophie's ability to compete was stripped from her, she maintained the same levels of commitment she had before.

Coach Heacock was able to comment on Sophie's rehabilitation efforts before the 2019-2020 NCAA Track & Field season began,

"She was there every single day. Whether it was supporting her teammates, doing core work because she couldn't use her upper body, or helping our jumps coaches 'count steps' – which is an insider term for a pole vaulter – her effort never waned. She's an ultimate team player. Whatever she was able to do, she did 110%. And the gains she was able to make in that [rehabilitating] time, we are going to see as she returns to compete for us once again."

On December 7, 2019, after nearly fifteen months as a spectator, Sophie returned to NCAA competition at the United States Naval Academy's Navy Invitational.

She jumped a lifetime best.
The triumph of high achievement.
The credit is hers.