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From Lifting to Lab: How Sasha Korolenko Excels on the Field and Classroom

Jun 22, 2022

Washington State University hammer thrower Sasha Korolenko's origin story starts like many track and field athletes, with running. Because of her long legs, Korolenko's middle school coaches wanted her to try hurdles and sprints. However, she shone in the throwing events.

Now a sixth-year senior on the WSU track and field team, Korolenko etched her name in the hammer throw record book during a meet in Spokane last season. In her first season with the team, as a junior in 2021, she reached the Pac-12 Track & Field Championships.

Korolenko is one of the few Ph.D. candidates on the track and field team. She is studying molecular biology and genetics at WSU. Since she was a little kid, natural sciences have called her name. Korolenko loved spending time at the beach watching sea cucumbers as a kid.                 

While she has always excelled academically, Korolenko comes from an athletically gifted family. That is why her middle school coaches kept searching for an event that allowed her to showcase her inherent strength. Once she moved out of running and hurdles, she turned to shot put.                     

"I'll throw this rock for you," Korolenko said with a laugh, as she described her initial reaction to her coaches asking her to throw the shot put in middle school.

A first-generation American, Korolenko comes from an immigrant family from Russia. Her mother, Lana Korolenko, played basketball for the Russian Olympic team. Korolenko's sister, Irena Korolenko, is succeeding on the West Side of Washington, playing for the Seattle University Red Hawks basketball team.

Sasha Korolenko's interest in track and field is off the beaten path in her family, but Korolenko has always been good at finding her own way and sticking to it, as she did with her career.

Korolenko is studying transgenerational inheritance of germline epigenetics. Her research is on Vinclozolin, a fungicide used on fruits, vegetables and other crops. Since Vinclozolin is found in produce and drinking water, Korolenko is studying the effects of it on fertility in subsequent generations of rats to analyze the potential impact on people.

Being a woman in STEM is not the easiest feat. According to Korolenko, she receives some backlash from her male science, technology, engineering and mathematics classmates because she is working on her doctorate in a male-dominated field. But she has never been one to let negativity slow her down.

Korolenko had an immediate impact for the Cougars during the 2021 season. During a meet in Spokane, she launched the hammer 55.95 meters, good enough for eighth place all-time in school history. Now Korolenko is in her last season with the Cougars and had a top-five finish in the early part of the outdoor season.      

Before coming to WSU, Korolenko flourished on the field during her junior year of high school. After she recovered from a torn ACL suffered during her sophomore year, she returned to the field and broke her school's long-standing record in the shot put.

She then earned an offer to Northwest Nazarene and spent two years in Idaho before transferring to Concordia College for two years. Korolenko transferred to WSU in 2020 after her redshirt sophomore year in college. When Korolenko enrolled at WSU, she jumped up to Division I from Division II. 

"The journey was wild, but I honestly tell people all the time that I wouldn't change it because I've learned a lot and met a lot of awesome people," Korolenko said.

Korolenko has plans to earn her Ph.D. in three years, less than half the average time. One of the requirements for a Ph.D. is to publish three scientific papers, and Korolenko is on track to publish two papers, one in a tandem with a researcher at Yale University.

Mental health days have been beneficial for the senior. With every day being busy, she reserves Sunday for unwinding with her cat, Leo, who resembles an accordion when he stretches out, Korolenko said.

After her time at WSU, she plans to work in the women's reproductive health field. Right now she is ​Sasha Korolenko, but in a few years, she will be Dr. Sasha Korolenko.