Even though she hasn’t yet graduated from high school, Mary Ruth Nagel already has made her mark as an entrepreneur, an altruist and a nationally competitive equestrian athlete.
Mary Ruth, who attends Holy Spirit Preparatory School, began riding horses at Chastain Horse Park at the age of 4. She picked up the sport alongside her younger brother, who joined as part of a therapy program to combat his mild cerebral palsy.
Ever since, Mary Ruth has been an equestrian athlete. In eighth grade, she was invited to participate in the Devon Horse Show in Pennsylvania. The premier competition includes only the top 30 athletes nationally in each age group.
“I have always liked that it [riding horses] is a rare sport,” she said. “Once you get in there, it is just you and the horse, and you cannot blame anyone else for your mistakes, which is sometimes hard, but when you do well, it is really rewarding.”
Before starting high school, Mary Ruth often traveled for riding competitions. To avoid missing too much school work, she stopped traveling and started Holy Spirit’s first equestrian team with the help of her mom.
The team, which practices at Chastain, accepts students from other schools that may not have their own programs.
Mary Ruth, who was too shy to talk in school until first grade, considers herself outgoing and talkative today, and credits the change to riding horses competitively. “Riding has been very confidence-boosting because you go in [to a competition] and everybody is watching, and it is just you out there,” she said. “The fact that your actions are controlling what something as big as a horse is doing is empowering.”
Founding an equestrian team isn’t the only venture Mary Ruth has started. In 2010, she and her three best friends and each of their moms created the jewelry company Catholic Bling. What began as a project in the Nagel basement to create Christian-themed jewelry is now a company with a storefront on Roswell Road.
“You don’t just wake up and own a company,” said Mary Ruth. “It is hard, and you don’t make money at first, you lose money. It is not fun at the beginning and you go days you don’t want to work, but if you get through that portion of it, then you can get way further than you thought you would in the beginning.”
Today, the four friends are junior partners in the business and work there during the summer.
At school, Mary Ruth is part of the One Apostolate service club and is also a Big Sister in the school’s house program through which she helps seventh and eighth graders.
“She is seen as a big sister to all of our younger girls, and she walks and talks like we would want every teenage girl to,” said David Rosenzweig, who taught Mary Ruth, and now serves as an assistant principal at Holy Spirit.
Last summer, Mary Ruth traveled on a school mission trip to an orphanage in Jamaica through Mustard Seed Communities. During the weeklong trip, the students helped with physical labor, such as painting fences, and spent time playing with the kids.
Since her junior year, Mary Ruth has been a cheerleader and particularly enjoys football games. “I prefer football to basketball [cheerleading] because my little brother is the football captain, so it is always nice because my whole family comes to all the games,” she said.
Mary Ruth will be attending Trinity College in the fall. She hopes to pursue a career in medicine.
This article was reported and written by Mollie Simon, a senior at Chamblee Charter High School.