Track and Field Star Now in Race to Help Combat Livestock Diseases at ISU

June 10th, 2014

AMES, Iowa – Fewer than 100 athletes have been inducted into the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union Track & Field Hall of Fame since it began in 1976.

One of the new 2014 inductees has traded in her track spikes for a lab coat and safety glasses as a graduate student in animal science in Iowa State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

“I’m honored to have been selected,” said Sara Stoakes, a Traer, Iowa, native who received the Hall of Fame award at the Iowa Co-ed State Track and Field Championships in May.

A 2009 North Tama High School graduate, Stoakes won every individual event on the track except for the 3,000-meter run and 100-meter hurdles. She also contributed to three relay state titles and claimed a Class 1A state cross-country win her senior year.

Stoakes was valedictorian of her high school class and attended Kansas State University to earn her bachelor’s degree in animal science. She also was a member of the Wildcat track and field team. As a freshman, Stoakes won the 800-meter run at both the Drake Relays and the Big 12 Conference Outdoor Track and Field Championships. During her sophomore season, Stoakes was part of the Kansas State’s winning 4x800-meter relay team at the Drake Relays.

After two successful years of running for the Wildcats, Stoakes started to focus more on research and her studies. She graduated from Kansas State in 2012 and came to Iowa State as a graduate student in nutritional physiology and ruminant nutrition. Stoakes will graduate with a doctorate in nutritional sciences with a specialization in animal nutrition.

Stoakes grew up on a calving-to-finish Angus beef and row-crop farm in Tama County.  “My family is very agriculturally oriented and we all love it, so that’s why I decided to pursue a career in agriculture,” said Stoakes.

She holds a research assistantship with Lance Baumgard, an associate professor of animal science and the Norman Jacobson Endowed Professor in Dairy Science. Sara is researching ketosis, which is a disease in dairy cattle that have recently calved. Stoakes said that it is characterized by a metabolic imbalance that causes cows to go off feed and decrease milk production.

“The cause of ketosis is very vague, and that is what I'm interested in investigating,” said the second-year student. “We believe a potential contributing factor could be what we call ‘leaky gut’ which is when the cells lining the intestinal tract come apart and allow bacteria and other toxins from the gut to enter the bloodstream. The bacteria go to the liver to be detoxified and potentially interfere with normal function, potentially causing fat accumulation.”

She also is interested in exploring how "leaky gut" affects pigs, by pulling energy away from production processes, such as depositing lean tissue and fat, and making them less efficient.

She hopes to better understand these phenomena and then work to develop strategies that combat leaky gut.

“I am hoping my research will better define the effect of an immune challenge on the energy and nutritional needs of livestock as well as its correlation with metabolic transition diseases in dairy cattle,” said Stoakes.

Stoakes hopes to someday work in the industry to conduct research and develop new mitigation strategies for animal health problems related to metabolism.


Sara Stoakes, Animal Science, (515) 294-2160,
Molly Foley, Agriculture and Life Sciences Communication Services, (515) 294-4319,