Rhodes Scholar Tung builds off her wrestling drive

Updated: May 28, 2019

Photo: Madison Tung, who will study as a Rhodes Scholar in Oxford, England, attended the Air Force Academy.

Note: This column appeared in the April 11, 2019 issue (V25, I6) of WIN Magazine. Click here to subscribe to WIN Magazine or call 888-305-0606.

By Sandy Stevens

Madison “Maddy” Tung joined the middle-school wrestling program after longtime Santa Monica (Calif.) High School Coach Mark Black demonstrated wrestling to her sixth-grade physical education class. He didn’t know Tung had started martial arts at age 5, but he knew he saw special potential.

  “She liked one-on-one contact,” Black recalled, “and she picked up things very quickly, even in that initial presentation.”

That potential led Tung to a national wrestling championship and six All-American honors, but now it has led this Air Force Academy senior to being named one of 32 recipients of a Rhodes Scholarship, granting a full-ride to Oxford University for graduate school.

Rhodes Scholars are chosen for their academics, leadership in the field, exceptional commitment and character, and Black also saw that potential early on at “Samo” High, a school of about 3,400. In addition to the wrestling team, Tung participated in academic decathlon and a student-body organization and maintained a 4.0 GPA while concurrently enrolled in Santa Monica College.

“She’s driven to do things at the best level of anybody, and she puts in the effort and discipline to get things done,” Black said. “She went from not making state as a sophomore to USA Wrestling national folkstyle champion at the end of her junior year.

  “She’s extremely bright academically, very disciplined in terms of commitment. True champs have a specific approach from an early age that allows them to rise above other athletes. She worked out very hard but also very smart. 

“We didn’t spend a lot of time getting her into shape because of what she did outside the room,” he said. “Her work ethic was superb.” 

During her freshman year at the academy, Tung, a 2014 Women’s Freestyle Team member, received special permission to go to the Olympic Training Center for practices, a one-hour drive each time.

“The academy is a tough place and designed to be that way, but without the support system of the wrestling world, the men’s team and Coach (Sam) Barber, I wouldn’t have been able to wrestle during my freshman year,” she said.

Because the academy has no women’s wrestling program, Tung said, she felt like she had to choose between wrestling and serving her country. “I hope in the future, girls don’t have to make that choice,” she said.

Tung is majoring in mathematics and humanities with a minor in Mandarin Chinese, and her honors, awards, presentations and research literally fill pages. In the last year, for example, her work included on-site research in Kosovo/Albania, China and Guyana.

  At Oxford, she will study computer science the first year and then either global governance and diplomacy or social science of the internet.

  “Long term, I am interested in the ethical use of computational technologies in information operations,” Tung said. “Specifically, I believe there is a use for algorithms in defending against foreign influence by detecting fake and automated information as well as for assessing the state of opinion of an audience; however, there could be ethical issues with using machine learning and other computational algorithms in operations conducted against a population. 

  “This can be very dangerous for global cooperation and security; therefore, I am interested in studying computer science to gain foundational expertise in a variety of important, developing areas of computer science in order to use these technologies effectively and ethically to promote democracy, security and peaceful human progress.

“Understanding the way technology truly affects people is important to investigating international norms and acceptable uses.”

  Tung also plans to continue support for the Wrestle Like a Girl Foundation. “I hope to be involved throughout my whole life to give back to the sport, so that girls all over the world can work toward their dreams, whether or not it’s in wrestling,” she said.

“Wrestling played an integral role in developing my character and value system. There is a concept in martial arts called ‘mushin,’ which means ‘no mind,’ and I conceptualize it is as like a reflex. There is no need to think.

“Mushin is developed by practicing so much that habit is developed. We can reflect on actions taken as a result of mushin, and continue to learn and develop,” she said. 

 “Mushin does not just refer to physical actions; it also refers to developing character. Wrestling was important, because it provided the repetition I needed to make instinctual these foundations of character I was learning in martial arts.” 

Tung cites wrestling, her family, friends, martial arts and many coaches and mentors for helping instill the certain critical values and perspectives that shape the way she sees the world: humility, the ability to see all people as teammates (even when they are also competitors), furthering a belief that every experience is a learning opportunity, an ability to embrace process over ends and a philosophy that everyone can bring unique advantages and opportunities to a situation, even when someone else may see such traits as weaknesses. 

  “Of course, these are in addition to furthering embracing the grind, hard work and discipline which have also been critical to the successes I have had,” she said.    

  “Even though wrestling didn’t become my career,” Tung stressed, “my career wouldn’t be what it is without wrestling.”