Photo courtesy of Danny Karnik

Plenty of high school valedictorians find themselves at Georgia Tech. Few are also student-athletes. One is a Gates Millenium Scholar, a Student Ambassador and a driving force on the future of Tech student-athletes.

Meet Alex Grady, a senior mechanical engineering major whose athletic successes are matched only by his involvement on campus. Grady defies virtually every stereotype that plagues student-athletes. His decision to attend Tech was a largely academic one, but his impact has transcended the classroom.

Grady’s story begins as a high schooler, when he tried track and field for the first time. Immediately, he realized that he had a knack for distance running.

“I’ve always been pretty good at it,” he says, “and that ‘pretty good’ has turned into a passion, and that passion has led me to where I am today.”

Although he was inexperienced, Grady soon found that he was outrunning his classmates at Newton High School, not to mention those at schools around him.

“The breakthrough was around tenth grade or so. The competition in my area just wasn’t really competition, so the track was like my playground, in a sense.”

Tech coach Grover Hinsdale noticed Grady, and he made him an offer. If Grady came to Tech, there was a spot on the team for him. But the opportunity to run collegiately was hardly the strongest factor in Grady’s decision. It had much to do with Tech’s academic reputation.

In high school, Grady’s parents gifted him a Tech sweatshirt for Christmas. Previously set on attending MIT to study aerospace engineering, Grady initially shook the gesture off.

But his interest was piqued. And the more Grady learned about Tech, the more he liked it. When head coach Grover Hinsdale told Grady he had a spot on the track and field team if he chose attend Tech, he was sold.

Also propelling Grady’s decision was his recognition as a Gates Millennium Scholar. The honor connected Grady with a community of scholars across Tech campus and beyond.

His college track career began inauspiciously. In his first practice, he developed plantar fascitis. In layman’s terms, his arch collapsed. He spent the rest of the semester undergoing rehabilitation.

But not all was negative. He thrived in the classroom. He used the performances of team veterans to motivate him in his rehabilitation efforts. And he became involved in the Student-Athlete Advisory Board (SAAB). Per  the Athletic Association’s website, SAAB “meets monthly to discuss issues relating to Georgia Tech student-athletes, to bring forth concerns or suggestions for programming for student-athletes, and to plan community service projects.” Along with such standout athletics as football’s KeShun Freeman and women’s tennis’ Alexa Anton-Ohmeyer, Grady became a key member of the Athletic Association’s fabric, working with decision makers to enhance the student-athlete experience.

For Grady, being part of SAAB was about much more than socializing with fellow student-athletes or enhancing his resume. It was a chance to increase his involvement in community service, for which he has spent hundreds of hours toiling.

“My freshman and sophomore year, I focused on my hometown community of Covington, Ga. I tried to help people the best way I could by reading and critiquing [college applications] to ensure that they were successful and had the same opportunities I did. And then it moved to Student Ambassadors, being able to serve this community. It’s really doing a lot of good … it feels like my family keeps growing.”

Grady’s work has not gone unnoticed. He was the first recipient of the Haier Ultimate Achievement Award in 2015 and was named a Peach of an Athlete a few weeks ago by the Boy Scouts of America’s Atlanta Area Council.

But as much as Grady has taken from his time as a student-athlete at Tech, he refuses to surrender to complacency. Throughout the Student Government Association’s election process, Grady has been vocal regarding the needs of student-athletes. From improved communication with student organizations to increasing chances to overcome scheduling barriers, Grady sees the potential for the student-athlete and non-athlete communities to grow closer at the Institute moving forward.

“Until the opportunity showed itself, I didn’t know how I wanted to get involved on campus,” said Grady of his time at Tech.

That has certainly changed.