By John Frierson
Isabelle Heckler joined the Georgia equestrian team as a walk-on, earning a spot on the powerhouse program’s roster. The fifth-year senior leaves as a team captain, the 2021 SEC Equestrian Scholar-Athlete of the Year, and key rider in the Bulldogs’ run to the 2021 NCEA national championship.
At the team’s postseason banquet, when there was much to celebrate, Heckler was recognized as one of the Bulldogs’ Philanthropic Achievers, awarded to those that did the most volunteer work in the community. She worked with the Special Olympics, the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia’s Food2Kids drive and the Hunger Bowl food drive.
Heckler and fellow fifth-year rider Ali Tritschler also received a new honor, the Visionary Award, which was presented to “team members investing in a better tomorrow for the program.” Heckler also received the “Iron Dawg” award for her performance — she didn’t lose a competition all season — and for her dedication to the strength and conditioning program.
Along with all of that, Heckler, from Colts Neck, N.J., has been active in the past year-plus with making sure the program learns, listens and understands what has been going on amid the Black Lives Matter and social justice movements.
“I think the team was very motivated this summer after what had happened to really step up in a different way,” Heckler said. “It evoked a feeling of pride and a feeling of responsibility and a feeling of urgency amongst us all. That was something that was on the forefront of my mind when I was at the barn, when I was in Zoom class, wherever I was, just to continue to use that platform while I had it.
“It was not something that I took lightly. I’m happy that the girls are stepping up outside of their daily obligations and really doing things for people who don’t have the same privileges as us.”
Heckler leaves Georgia having had about as full a collegiate experience as anyone could have. She’s been a stellar student, she went from a walk-on who would have been happy just being a barn manager to being a centerpiece on a national championship team, and she donated her time to helping others and to trying to make the world a better place.
“To look back now, to be in the leadership position that I’m in, and to have gotten to hold a national championship trophy, it’s just such a privilege and it’s such a testament to the program that we have and the legacy that we wanted to leave,” she said. “There are no words to really express how grateful I am to have gotten to be a part of this.”