Grad remembered for her academics, athletics

Gennedy Zhidokova, civil engineering professor Warren Campbell, and wife Marnia Zhidokova pray during a memorial service for the Zhidokova’s daughter, Anna Zhidokova. 

Christian Marnon

Anna Zhidkova had a dream to become the world’s best engineer. She wanted to move to New Zealand, build a house and start a family of five kids.

However, that dream was cut short on Oct. 14, when Zhidkova, a Russian-born civil engineering graduate, died from an aggressive form of cancer.

Zhidkova, also a record-holding pole vaulter at WKU, was diagnosed just five months after graduating magna cum laude. She was enrolled in graduate school at the University of Kentucky.

Zhidkova’s parents, Marnia and Gennedy, crossed the globe to reach Bowling Green on Wednesday, flying from Moscow to hang a plaque in honor of their daughter. Friends, instructors and advisors to Zhidkova gathered in the Civil Engineering Student Resource Room at WKU to unveil the plaque and celebrate her memory.

It was in this room that Zhidkova pursued her dreams of greatness, spending hours at her designated computer workstation. The plaque was hung above Zhidkova’s computer, memorializing her drive as a student and an athlete. It reads: “Rest in peace classmate, teammate, friend, and student with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. You will be a part of us forever.”

“This is where she sat,” said engineering instructor Warren Campbell about the plaque location. “She was always here any time of the day or night.”

Emily Mesker, who also graduated from WKU in 2013, reflected on Zhidkova’s ambition.

“She studied harder than anybody that I know,” Mesker said. “I would come to this room to pick up something late at night and she was there, very quietly doing her work.”

Mesker said Zhidkova was friendly and personable despite her intense study habits.

“She seemed like a quiet person, so her sense of humor would always surprise you,” Mesker said. “When you came up to her to talk, she would either have a very sweet reply or she would say something that was hilarious or unexpected.”

Zhidkova’s impetus for academic success was rivaled by her achievement in student athletics.

After coming to Bowling Green on a NCAA track scholarship as a pole vaulter, Zhidkova eventually earned the record for both the indoor and outdoor pole vault at WKU. Additionally, she placed fifth in the pole vault at the 2010 Sun Belt Conference Outdoor Championships and tied for fourth at the 2010 Sun Belt Conference Outdoor Championships.

Campbell said Zhidkova also had a passion for one particular sweet snack.

“She loved peaches,” Campbell said. “One day near the University of Kentucky, she rode her bicycle to the grocery store only four blocks from her apartment. Riding on her bike with two bags of groceries, she couldn’t wait four blocks to get home to start eating a peach. She was holding two grocery bags and eating a peach, when she hit a rut, has a crash and ends up with nineteen stitches in her leg.”

Zhidkova’s mother Marnia, said her daughter neglected to ask permission before deciding to leave Russia and study in the United States.

“Anna was so free, independent that she didn’t consult us when she made the decision to move to WKU,” she said. “Basically, she went to the U.S. Consulate in Moscow, got a visa and all her papers. It wasn’t till then that she told us. This was a shock, but after a while we started to respect her decision and liked it a lot.”

Zhidkova’s interest in civil engineering and her dream for New Zealand was realized after arriving in the United States, Anna’s mother said.

“She had a great dream — to become the best engineer in the world,” she said. “She wanted to move to New Zealand, build a house, start a family of five kids and have the parents nearby. Anna was a very strong character always going towards her goal. Not everybody was always comfortable with this, including us. But this is the kind of person she was and we all loved and respected her very much.”