5:30 a.m. wakeup for practice. The third night in the library past midnight this week. More material missed in class. One more cup of coffee to stay awake during that post-practice 9:30 class. Another hour spent in a compliance meeting. Painful rehab in the athletic training room. Second workout of the day.
These, among others, are all the downsides of the daily experience of a student-athlete at UNCG. Certainly, other groups of students are equally burdened from juggling work, school, and family, however I seek to articulate the unique experience of student-athletes. As a member of both the cross-country and track teams (indoor and outdoor), I go through these struggles and then some. I also am privileged to experience the upsides and continue doing what I love every day with the support of an amazing athletic department and university community.
The average day for a student-athlete begins early with a 6:30 practices. This require a 5:30 wake-up and an early night the evening beforehand. For my teammates and I, practice typically means running anywhere from eight to twelve miles, with many of us logging fifteen plus miles on our weekly long runs on Saturdays. After we wrap up practice, a quick breakfast is had, then it’s off to class. All student athletes at UNCG are required to be full-time students, meaning they have the same course load as everyone else. When I get out of class, I’ll typically meet up with the guys again and do a three to five-mile jog. Then, I’ll get some dinner and I’ll head to the library. Unless I’m swamped with work, I’ll be in bed before ten to get ready to do it all over again the next day.
In an average week, I’ll run 85 miles, spend twenty hours at practice, sit in class for fifteen hours, and consume over 30,000 calories.
I will also get to have all of the resources necessary to pursue my goals as an athlete. I have access to a locker room to store all of the gear (apparel, shoes, etc.) I’m given in, an equipment room staff that washes all of that gear, a full-time staff of professional coaches, an entire department of administrators behind me, a fully staffed athletic training room in case of injury, a dedicated weight room to work out in, and access to transportation across the country to get in the best races possible. I am surrounded with teammates that have the exact same objectives in mind as me: work hard and run fast. I am granted all of the opportunities necessary to achieve full self-realization.
I realize, of course, that in our post-Great Recession world of dystopian austerity politics, college athletics has come under fire from all circles. These criticisms are often rooted in facts – I do agree with many that say we shouldn’t be building palatial stadiums on the backs of already financially squeezed students – but are unfortunately often rooted in misconceptions. We student-athletes are not dumb jocks. In fact, our average GPA as a department tends to be higher than the non-student-athlete average figure. We’re not party animals – we’re actually subject to stringent random drug testing with severe consequences in the instance of a positive test. We’re not all going to school for free, many of us are here in a walk-on capacity and those scholarships that are provided are mostly from private donors. We’re not freeloaders – we seek every day to be the best possible representatives of this university that we can be.
In addition to being representatives of the school, we provide free entertainment for the student body – I encourage all reading this article to attend a home soccer, baseball, softball, or basketball game.
Despite all of the difficulties experienced on a day-to-day basis, I am willing to accept these relatively small struggles in exchange for the tools provided to me that allow me to chase my dreams. I am incredibly lucky to have been given the opportunity continue my athletic career past high school. Being a college athlete with the support of the UNCG community has made me a better person – among other things I’m now an expert in time management.
Every time I step on the track or the cross-country course I’m proud to wear UNCG across my chest at every race and to be an ambassador for all that this school represents. For this opportunity, I thank the students, faculty, and staff of UNCG for their support.