After participating in the #sachat last week it made me think about my own personal experience as a D3 student-athlete. My experience is similar, yet hopefully different to many fellow student-athletes, and for a majority of my career I still had the “D1” mentality. As an 18 year old first generation, first-year student-athlete, I knew the reason I was in college was because of athletics. Higher Education was not something that was talked about in my family. However, soccer and strong grades could be the ticket there. Therefore, when I got to college, I assumed my role and responsibility was to play soccer. Oh how I couldn’t be more wrong.
Starting at 15, I started being recruited by college coaches. Of course like any other 15 year old, I was thrilled that a college coach was interested in me. Over my high school career I began spending 25-35 hours of week traveling/playing in soccer tournaments throughout NYS. For a majority of my high school career, I enjoyed the sport. It was an outlet for me from my home life that was often “dysfunctional.” The constant chatter from coaches provided me with a sense of belonging and security that I lacked. However, with the numerous emails and letters from coaches came a mile long list of decisions. I needed to decide go to a dance, or go to a soccer tournament. Have friends or have teammates. Just like in the professional world, staying connected with “potential coaches” was key. I spent hours and hours emailing coaches. I needed to learn to edit my own videos to send to coaches. Soccer was my ticket out of my hometown.
However, as one can imagine I was stressed, depressed, and constantly in overload mode. I was beginning to forget the reasons why I played the game and I was only 18. I still needed to get 4 more years of soccer out of my body. When I walked, I heard the constant cracks in my body. Often, I felt as I was a 90 year old woman rather than an 18 year old young adult. Senior year came around, and it was time to make a decision on where to attend. I was accepted to 20 institutions throughout the United States. A majority of those institutions I applied to strictly because the soccer coach encouraged me too. They waived the application fee, so who cared. I had it narrowed down to 5 schools: University @ Albany( D2), St. John Fisher College (D3), Roanoke College (D3), Alfred University(D3), and Hobart and William Smith(D3). My top choice was St. John Fisher College hands-down. I had already got my personalized cleats “maroon and gold” for my birthday. My last choice was Alfred University. I wasn’t quite sure I could handle the D2 mentality at Albany. I was already burned out at such a young age. But when the financial aid packages came….Alfred was my future destination. I cried for a week straight—literally. I was so set on St. John Fisher, in my 18 year old mindset it was where I was supposed to be.
When I arrived to college, I had my plans to transfer. The first week of my existence at Alfred University, during soccer practice, I went down for a routine save. I’d made this save a thousand times before—but this one was different. This one hurt- a lot. I found myself in a back brace for the next year and half. For my entire life, soccer was my outlet. I was a week into my first year of college and as one could imagine everything started dropping. My GPA was 2.58. I was emotionally and physically in pain, every day. I was depressed. I had lost myself, and had no idea where to look for help. My life had been full of inconsistencies and playing soccer was the only thing that ever stayed consistent. I no longer had that.
By the spring semester of my sophomore year I started making some progression. I had been accepted into a Women’s Leadership Academy that, little did I know, would change my life. I had always considered myself a leader, but only on the field. Any definition of leadership for me existed only in the athletic culture. The academy changed my life. The academy provided me with the opportunity to see myself as more than just a fellow athlete. It allowed me to engage with the top student leaders on our campus. It also provided me with the opportunity to figure out what I wanted and who I wanted to be.
The reason why I am telling you snippets of my college athletic experience is because every student-athletes experience differs. For me, my injury was the moment that changed my life. I am forever thankful for the Women’s Leadership Academy that helped me discover my strong leadership qualities that were shaped in athletics, and how to use them in my own personal and professional life. I can attest firsthand for how important collaboration between athletics and student affairs is. The lives of student-athletes are constantly misunderstood. The amount of requirements to get to the intercollegiate athletics is changing at a fast pace. Many of us are getting burned out by the time that we get to college. We become instantly marginalized on our campuses. We don’t all come from the same background, and we are not all at our institutions for the same reason. However, we all do need the same guidance and advising as every student on our individual campuses.