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Published November 18, 2012, 04:14 PM

North Dakota native named Rhodes Scholar

UNDATED (AP) — A 21-year-old United States Naval Academy student from North Dakota who has an interest in the Middle East and is passionate about fitness was named a prestigious Rhode Scholar on Sunday.

By: KRISTI EATON,Associated Press, Associated Press

UNDATED (AP) — A 21-year-old United States Naval Academy student from North Dakota who has an interest in the Middle East and is passionate about fitness was named a prestigious Rhode Scholar on Sunday.

Christian Heller, of Beulah, said he was surprised to find out he was selected because the candidates — 838 applicants in all — were all highly qualified. The prestigious awards provide all expenses for up to four years of study at Oxford University in England, starting next October.

"It takes a minute to feel real, especially because the candidates are highly qualified and intelligent individuals. There's really no idea who has an advantage and what they're leaning toward, and everyone's focus is different," he said.

Heller, who is a senior studying Middle Eastern history and Arabic at the Naval Academy, will focus on Middle Eastern studies during his two years at Oxford before entering the Marine Corps. Heller was initially drawn to the subjects because of the conflicts in the Middle East, but he said it grew once the energy boom hit western North Dakota.

"That's pretty much where I'm from and it was having a big impact on the people I know," said Heller, who grew up about an hour southeast of the epicenter of the oil fields. "So I started realizing similarities between oil development in North Dakota and oil development in Middle Eastern states."

Heller's research will focus on comparing and contrasting the differences between oil development in the two parts of the world and how the Middle East's development can be applied to North Dakota.

Heller is also passionate about fitness after struggling with his weight when he was younger — he lost more than 115 pounds to attend the Naval Academy.

"When I decided to come to the Naval Academy it forced me to change my diet and exercise activities quite a bit," he said, adding that he didn't do anything special besides exercising more and cutting back on unhealthy foods like ice cream and chips.

Heller first started getting into shape by running, but has switched over to bodybuilding and enjoys weightlifting and adhering to a strict diet.

He recently completed his first marathon, the Marine Corps Marathon Washington, and was amazed at the number of people running in honor of someone or some organization.

Rhodes Scholarships were created in 1902 by the will of British philanthropist Cecil Rhodes and have a value of about $50,000 per year. Winners are selected on the basis of high academic achievement, personal integrity, leadership potential and physical vigor, among other attributes.

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