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HUNTINGTON — Mary Roush was raised in Mason, West Virginia, with pride for her state and the Mountaineer core values: service, respect, appreciation, accountability and curiosity.

Several of her friends and family attended West Virginia University, and she believed the culture of WVU translated to the culture of West Virginia that she had grown to love.

Becoming the Mountaineer was Roush’s dream as a way to give back to her community and state — a dream that came true April 22 when she was officially passed the rifle.

“That passion for my state is what ultimately drew me to want to become the mascot,” Roush said.

The idea came to her during “Sunday Night Lights” on Welcome Week at WVU when the entire freshman class gathered at the football stadium to listen to speakers and get excited for the coming semester.

“Throughout the whole moment and the Pride of West Virginia play, and seeing the Mountaineer there in person, like up close, listening to him speak, I was really like, ‘OK, this could be me,’” she said.

Roush said she and her friends are die-hard Mountaineer fans who bond over attending as many WVU sporting events as they can, including those that typically have low attendance, such as women’s basketball. They joined the Mountaineer Maniacs student pep squad as a way to become more involved in the games and “be the difference” that leads Mountaineer teams to victory.

The group had always joked about Roush becoming the next Mountaineer, even nicknaming her “Mary the Mountaineer,” but she knew that he had a less likely chance as a first-year college student and a female.

The dream was realized for her when her friends caught the attention of former Mountaineer, Colson Glover.

“He looked at me, he goes ‘You need to apply; it’s the best job in the world. Don’t let anything stop you. Of course, be the Mountaineer,’” Roush said. “To be hearing the words ‘You can be the Mountaineer’ from the literal Mountaineer, I immediately was like, this dream that I have … it can actually be real.”

Today, buckskin-clad and rifle-wielding Roush is the youngest and only the third female, behind former Secretary of State Natalie Tennant and Rebecca Durst, since the Mountaineer tradition began in 1934.

“A lot of people are excited for me and are supporting me, and that’s all that matters is that I have this support from Mountaineer Nation, and that a lot of people want to see me in this role,” she said.

Now that she is the Mountaineer, she said she already inspires others. On a visit to an elementary school, a fifth-grade girl, Roush’s “biggest fan,” told Roush she wanted to become the Mountaineer so she could be just like her.

“When I was first named the Mountaineer, I was like ‘I want to inspire a new generation,’” Roush said. “I’m doing the right thing. My goals are coming true.”

Roush said that she is meant to make up to 500 to 700 appearances this year, covering not only sporting events, but also fairs and festivals, parades and school visits. She said she likes going out to places that are not visited as much, like her home of Mason.

Her favorite part of the job now, before the Mountaineer sporting season has started, is being about to travel across the state and visit students.

“I understand the situation that the kids have, the young children of West Virginia are in. A lot of them are in very rural areas, and I know how much it means to them that the Mountaineer gets to come to their school,” she said. “It makes their day, their week, their year, and being able to give back and to see the light on these kids’ faces when I walk in the room — there’s no better feeling than that.”

She said having a full-time job on top of being a full-time student will be challenging, but becoming the Mountaineer is an experience that teaches character building, life lessons and public speaking. Roush said this will especially help with her future career in public relations.

Erin Krawsczyn, Roush’s mother, said she has already seen the difference the position has made in her daughter: boosting her confidence, traveling, meeting new people and gaining new experiences.

“I just think that will all build into who she is as an adult when she’s ready to take on the world and leave West Virginia University,” Krawsczyn said.

Krawsczyn said that at the end of the competition, there were about 100 people who came from their small town to cheer for her, including family and friends who supported her along the way. She said when Roush was named the Mountaineer, there was not a dry eye in their section.

“It wasn’t just something that happened to her; it was something that happened to our family and our town and our community,” she said.

Krawsczyn said that Roush grew up with a passion for sports that started with her family’s own golf course and took to all sports. Even so, becoming the Mountaineer was never just about the sports for Roush.

Krawsczyn said Roush is passionate about inclusivity, loving without limitations and impacting others.

“As a mom, you believe all the wonderful things about your child and you see all these beautiful things, and now, West Virginia is getting to see them, too.”

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