On the night before he was to compete at the Atlantic Coast Conference Outdoor Track and Field Championships in May 2016, Jeff Jernigan sat down at a table in a Tallahassee, Florida, hotel and took a final exam in astronautics.

It occurred to Jernigan, then a third-year student at the University of Virginia, that he was probably the only pole vaulter in the ACC taking on such an intellectual challenge that evening.

Not that he was complaining. Jernigan chose to follow an arduous path at UVA, one he completed with distinction. He became an All-ACC performer in the pole vault while attending the University on a Naval ROTC scholarship. On the same May weekend he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering, Jernigan was commissioned as an ensign in the U.S. Navy.

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