Husker senior Mary Weatherholt holds the godson she has served as a nanny for four months.
Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Unique Twist Defines Mary Weatherholt Story

By NU Athletic Communications

Randy York’s N-Sider

Imagine accomplishing every academic and athletic goal you had as a collegiate freshman and not finding happiness. Imagine finding that happiness in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, a group that elevates your achievements far beyond what you ever dreamed possible. Take that perfect storm and get your Bachelor’s degree when you’re 20 years old and then amp it up another notch for a history-making senior season that puts you: 1) among the top 11 best female tennis players in the NCAA; 2) positions you and your playing partner as one of the top three doubles teams in the country; and 3) connects the Husker team you joined when you were 16 years old to tennis history –  the school’s first-ever Sweet 16 NCAA appearance.

Imagine experiencing those magic moments that create a resume so robust you become the 2013 Nebraska Female Student-Athlete of the Year on a Sunday night in mid-April and then share the Huskers’ 2013 Heart & Soul Award, the highest honor in NU’s Life Skills program, the next morning. Since you and your Big Ten Championship teammates are held up in a Chicago airport returning from a conference match at Michigan State, your mother accepts both honors in your absence. The Mary Weatherholt Story is a unique one, and the ultimate punch line hasn’t even surfaced.

Meet Mary’s mom, Nancy Weatherholt, who graciously accepted both of Mary’s high honors on her daughter's behalf. An associate accounting professor at the Henry W. Bloch School of Management at the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC), Nancy holds a Ph.D. from the University of Kansas. Meet Reynold Simpson, her husband and Mary’s father, who is associate professor of music theory and director of the Center for Computer Assisted Instruction in Music at UMKC. Dr. Simpson is a graduate of The Peabody Conservatory of the Johns Hopkins University, the Juilliard School, and Princeton University.

The Question: What’s Your Ultimate Goal?

Since Nebraska Athletics is built on the triple goals of Success in Academics, Success in Athletics and Success in Life, the first question I ask Mary Weatherholt in a sit-down interview in a Student-Life Complex conference room is what she considers to be her ultimate goal in life after sweeping Nebraska’s top honors. “The ultimate goal?” she asked. “Yes,” I said. “The ultimate goal to succeed in life.”

As fast as she can return an explosive backhand, Weatherholt’s answer is as sincere as it is quick. “Honestly,” she said, “at some point, later in life, my ultimate goal is to be a stay-at-home mom, so I can raise my kids and glorify God.”

My immediate reaction was thanking Mary for saying something so unexpectedly bold and delivering it with such confidence. “Stay-at-home moms have the hardest jobs in the world,” she said, bridging immediately to why she respects and admires every mom who takes on that role. “It’s something you can really invest in ... sometimes, though, the outside world gives it a bad rap, but I can vouch for how important that role is. For the last four months, I was a nanny for my best friend’s son. I know.”

Nanny Learned to Support Her Own Answer

Mary Weatherholt a nanny? Is this the same Mary who teams with fellow senior Patricia Veresova as one of the NCAA’s top three doubles teams? The same Mary who had the nation’s No. 7-ranked women’s singles player from North Carolina down in the third set last week when play ended?

“I spent six hours a day, five days a week as a nanny since the first of the year,” Weatherholt said, explaining how she was in charge of Liam, her godson and the son of Will Henry and wife Jennifer (Mary's best friend). From 6:30 every morning until 30 minutes into the noon hour,  “It worked out really well,” Weatherholt said. “Jen had someone she could trust with Liam, and now she’s been able to transition from full-time at the office to part-time at home.”

“I wouldn’t have gone to work if Mary had not been there to help me get through what I needed to get through,” Jennifer said. “She was wonderful.”  Mary’s reply: “I wouldn’t have an ultimate goal if I didn’t have the experience I had. It all went so fast. I didn’t know how tough something like that was until trying it. I love that little baby so much, but it’s still not the kind of love a mom can give. I gained so much respect for mothers and others who take care of children. I remember telling my mother that I couldn’t wait for Liam to crawl so I could just sit down by myself for a minute.”

Mary’s Mom Made Major Sacrifices Herself

She told her mom that, knowing she had no such luxury of staying home with her. “She was a single mom and working full-time to get tenured,” Mary said. “She didn’t meet my dad until I was four years old. He’s not my biological dad, but he’s my dad and took over full parental rights when I was 6 or 7.”

Mary remembers her dad giving her the choice to pick her last name at age 7. “Well, my name is Mary Weatherholt,” she said then. “That’s my mom’s maiden name, and I’m really proud of it.” So is her mom, who decided to keep the Weatherholt name for consistency. “In our family, the guys are the Simpsons and the girls are the Weatherholts, but we’re all one family,” Mary said, adding that after she finishes her college tennis career, she wants to take a couple months off, so she can go home and spend meaningful time with her two younger brothers, Rob Simpson and Will Simpson, who will be a senior and a freshman, respectively, at Shawnee Mission East High School in Overland Park, Kan.

Mary received her Bachelor’s degree a year ago at age 20 and still carries a 3.873 GPA in Business Administration after one year of graduate work. She insists that her younger brothers are smarter than she is. “I struggled whether to go to grad school,” she said. “Finally, I just took 12 hours. My parents always wanted me to go to grad school. If I would have done grad school this year, it would have only been because everyone wanted me to do it. That’s not how I can make decisions. I just felt that wasn’t the direction God was leading me, so I’m a non-degree seeking graduate student who wanted to take a graphics class just for fun, so I did. I also just took two nutrition classes – the Science of Food and Nutrition 100 – and that ended up being a good way for me to help my friend out and still take classes I thought would be useful.”

Roy Helu Jr., Wife Dani Christian Role Models

Make no mistake. Mary Weatherholt is not sloughing off. She’s just taking a short sabbatical from the academic/athletic pressure-cooker. “I’ve always been appreciative of meeting my best friend in a Bible study and becoming a Christian at Nebraska," she said. "I remember meeting student-athletes like Roy Helu Jr. and seeing how their faith related to how they compete. I came to know Christ at the end of my freshman year, and that experience helped me realize what things really mattered to me and what I might be called to do in life.

“My ideas really started to blend over the last couple years. What I was able to do helping out a friend just reinforced everything I was thinking,” Weatherholt said. “I’m really sad when anyone looks down on a stay-at-home mom. It was the first time I took care of a baby, and I was so in awe of how they’re formed and how natural it is to care for one.”

Weatherholt laughs about the dichotomy of being a tennis star and a nanny in the same week. “We’d have a huge win on a Sunday in the Big Ten and then the next morning I was taking care of a big poop explosion,” she said. “The whole experience was so humbling, and it just balanced out everything I was thinking.”

Big Stuff, Little Stuff the Same in God’s Eyes

The combined experiences make a song ring inside Weatherholt’s head. “There’s a song that says no matter what you do, do for the glory of the One who made you because God sees little stuff, big stuff and in between stuff all the same,” she said. “I think that song helped point me in the right direction. Whether I’m helping my teammates battle or come together or helping my best friend out as a nanny, God sees it all the same. It’s so cool when you look at the world that way. Liam had every bit as much of my attention as my toughest opponent. One’s not better or worse than the other. Both are very important in God’s eyes.”

When Weatherholt saw Helu deal with the notoriety of breaking Nebraska’s single-game rushing record against Missouri and handle the adversity of an injury or a fumble, she could view athletics beyond mere wins and losses. She could view it in terms of giving your level best every time you step on the court and then accepting the result.

“Roy’s wife (Dani) became a close friend, too,” Weatherholt said. “It’s so cool when athletes can help other athletes with their faith and how to live it. Roy’s an amazing man; Dani’s an amazing woman; and the support here for Christian athletes is the most amazing thing of all. Bible study became the answer for what I was missing, even though I was succeeding in ways that everyone seemed to recognize.” At this juncture in a sparkling career, Weatherholt is not taking her foot off the accelerator. She’s just processing and analyzing whether to rethink grad school, become a professional tennis player or follow her precious family time with a job.

Weatherholt Loves Lincoln, Her First Choice

“I love Lincoln,” she said. “Honestly, Lincoln is my first choice to live. I really want to go back to Kansas City and see my family, but if there’s a chance to stay in Lincoln, I’d probably take it. I’m not worrying about anything. I’m just praying for God to lead me after this season ends. I just don’t see tennis as my ultimate goal. It’s a tough sport to get into and a tough lifestyle once you make it. I’ve thought about coaching and haven’t ruled that out. Maybe that’s a possibility and maybe it isn’t.”

Whatever Weatherholt chooses to do, she will be successful, according to two associate athletic directors who worked closely with her at Nebraska – Dennis Leblanc in Academics and Keith Zimmer in Life Skills. “In the month before the faculty voted on the Student-Athlete of the Year, we all wondered who it might be,” Leblanc said. “Then, when you go through the process, you hear people say, ‘Why Mary Weatherholt, of course. Who else would it be?’ Tucked away underneath all of our finalists like Mary and Gina Mancuso and others are shining stars who don’t get all the headlines, but have had unbelievable careers, academically and athletically, and some you just don’t know until it gets to the very end.”

Zimmer mentioned how countless college graduates can’t wait to start climbing the corporate ladder “to get what they think is true success and a career with a big income that can bring all the material things that go with it,” he said. “Mary Weatherholt is none of that. She’s made a difference in her life and can’t wait to make a difference in other people’s lives. It doesn’t surprise me that her ultimate goal is to be the best mother she can be and to stay at home doing it. That really is the toughest job in the world. Some people might be disappointed to hear that’s her loftiest goal, but what could be a better goal? It just shows me that she gets what life is all about.”

Coach's Kid Gave Mary Important Training Time

Hayden Perez is coaching Mary this week at the NCAA Championships in Urbana, Illinois, where the Husker senior will play the same UNLV player she defeated in Lincoln's NCAA Regional final. The match begins at 10:30 a.m. CT Wednesday. Perez, Nebraska's assistant tennis coach, is not surprised when he learns about Mary's ultimate goal. "She got a little practice for Liam when she would come over and babysit for our oldest son, Tristen, who’s 4½ now," Perez said. "Because Mary's been around five years, those two have a special relationship. He loves Mary and wants to call and Skype with her as often as possible. Mary's great with kids of all ages, and she's going to be a great mom one day when the time's right. I have no doubt about that."

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