Life can take some unexpected turns. At least, that’s what University of Nebraska-Lincoln assistant professor Jenn Sheppard learned throughout her career. Studying sports journalism in college, Sheppard moved on to a public relations role at a motorcycle film production company after graduation. Despite Sheppard characterizing the position as her dream job, she discovered a love for teaching during graduate school.
For five years, she taught journalism to high school and college students before becoming an assistant professor of sports media and communication at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Throughout all that change, there was one constant for Sheppard: dirt bikes.
“At the age of four, much to my mother’s chagrin, my dad purchased a motorcycle for his daughter, and that was a match made in heaven,” Sheppard said.
Growing up in Florida, Sheppard has been able to ride year-round from an early age. Her father, Lane Sheppard, was also a competitive rider and Jenn entered her first race at the age of 13. She went on to win an enduro championship in 2001, but Sheppard was always aware that she was the lone female competitor in a male-dominated sport.
“I had diaries, I wrote a column for a magazine in high school, and I was always writing about my broken bones and the stories of being the only girl and getting picked on,” Sheppard said.
Sheppard is used to the feeling, however, as she is the only female sports professor at Nebraska’s College of Journalism and Mass Communications. She sees the role as an opportunity to inspire female students to break barriers in journalism and sports.
“I really try to emphasize to my students how my experience racing translates into their experience as a student,” Sheppard noted. “They have to prepare, they have to train and they have to do maintenance on their work. There’s such an intense focus required to succeed in sports media. You have to do things over and over again, and you can’t quit the race, even if you fall.”
Despite Sheppard’s new role and responsibilities, she still makes a point of getting out on the trails during the weekends. She’s even competed in off-road races throughout the Midwest since moving to Nebraska. Yes, life can take some unexpected turns, but Sheppard’s always lived by a guiding mantra.
“My dad always said, ‘Go fast, take chances,’ and that’s kind of been my life — just take a risk and put yourself out there,” she recalled.