Lizzy Crist: The Saver

During one soccer practice as a fifth-grader, Lizzy Crist told her coach she was bored with all the running. Could she play goalie?

She took to it right away. As the last line of defense, the goalkeeper is a de facto leader, verbally organizing and commanding teammates, then risking her limbs when she’s called into action. Crist also liked the view.

“You can see the whole field from back there.”

Crist would spend the next dozen years playing the position, which instills a short, selective memory in its practitioners. Mistakes will be made, goals surrendered, but dwelling on them would not help.

After graduating from Minnetonka High School, Crist followed in her sister’s footsteps to Washington University in St. Louis. She majored in biomedical engineering, a field that combined her interests in math, science, and real-life application for patients in need. She loved the coursework, but her schedule—and stress level—left her overwhelmed. She told her coach she might have to quit the game.

Don’t make the decision yet, her coach counseled. Instead, she should take the summer and worry about neither school nor soccer.

“It was the first time someone told me I didn’t have to think,” says Crist. “I ended up re-finding my passion for soccer, and re-finding my passion for engineering.”

Crist began assisting in cancer research, while keeping a 3.9 GPA. During her free time, she volunteered with a group that performed science experiments for patients at a children’s hospital.

In 2016, Crist’s team lost 1-0 to Williams College in the Division III National Championship game. The Bears made it back the next year, thanks in part to 13 shutouts by Crist. In that year’s final, the Bears were tied 0-0 with Messiah after two overtimes. Washington University won on penalty kicks, and Crist was named Division III’s female athlete of the year.

Crist returned home to work toward a Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota, where she’s landed on a research team that uses 3D modeling. Crist has designed an experiment to observe how cells move within a tumor—and why some leave for other parts of the body, that moment called “metastasis,” which many families now know as a virtual death sentence.

“There’s no reason [cancer] goes after certain people,” Crist says. “There’s so much unknown. It’s an intelligent disease, in the worst way.”

Someday, Crist would like to run a research team of her own, either as a college professor or for a private company.

“I think of the people in the lab as my team,” Crist says. “Playing soccer taught me you don’t have to be competing against people. You can be pushing them and competing with them in a way that raises the level of everyone around you.”

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