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Confessions of a College Athlete

By Nicole Pierick
On April 5, 2019

Photo by Sabrina Anguiano

Recently, the NCAA posted a video on Twitter captioned “Student and Athlete -- A day in the life.” This got quite a rise out of athletes across the nation.

The video showed a smiling athlete, calmly waking up and suddenly appearing in class with his hand raised. It then showed him hanging out with a friend; again, smiling. Next, it showed him on a run, then later at his game. It finished with him hanging out with his friends, checking his phone and finally going to sleep. Why did this seemingly harmless video earn such a reaction?

Because it is not at all accurate. People in the comments were saying “the lies,” “not even close,” “this was kind of accurate because he never ate” or “Alex, I’ll take things that will never happen for 500” (from “Wheel of Fortune”).

This video gives non athletes and aspiring college athletes the idea that being a college athlete is easy and that everyone can do it. However, the harsh reality is that it’s not a life that everyone can live.

We see athletes on social media getting jackets, shirts, shorts, pants, shoes and other gear and think, “Wow that’s so cool.” We see videos of them maxing out like it’s a piece of cake. We see them doing a couple sprints without breaking a sweat.

They tweet inspirational things that pump other athletes up. They’re out of the classroom three out of five days a week because of traveling or playing games. It seems as if they’re living the dream. But there is a lot we don’t get to see.

That gear they got? They had to fundraise for that. Those athletes worked security at professional football games or other college basketball games. They stood there for five or six hours in that security shirt, checking bags for fans trying to enter the building. They were cussed at by mad fans who weren't following the rules. These athletes were just doing their job.

These athletes stood out in the heat or the cold and did what their coaches asked of them, just so they could afford their gear and have money in order for their team to travel.

Those maxes? We don’t get to see the athletes waking up at 5:30 a.m. to start weights at 6 or 7 a.m., when they just went to bed a few hours before because of homework.

That squat max looked easy? It wasn’t and it wasn’t given to them either. They had to MURDER their legs three times a week with squats, lunges, RDL’s, deadlifts and hip thrusts just to spike their numbers. They practically crawled out of the weight room once their time was up for the day. They worked hard every single day to make that max video look easy.

Those sprints that look easy? They should, because that athlete has been running distance every day for the past two months. Forty 100 yard sprints, three miles of sprints around the track and other workouts that sound impossible, they’ve completed.

They tweet inspirational things to keep themselves motivated; college athletics is not easy. It is a job that tests physical and mental strength every day. Being out of the classroom three out of five days seems cool, but college isn’t easy. Missing class isn’t fun. These athletes have to make up tests and quizzes before they leave for their trips. They stay up late to finish those assignments, knowing they have to be up early for practice.

Not only that, but they have to stay in shape. While traveling, coaches try to give players quick meals so they can get them home at a decent time for class in the morning. That doesn’t always happen though. Sometimes students are getting home at one, two or three in the morning and have to be in class at eight or nine in the morning.

No fault of the coaches or athletes. It’s just the way things happened because the game went long or the field was far away from their school.

Back to the meals. A quick meal usually mean fast food. Chick-fil-A is good, but twice in one week? No thank you. French fries start to taste like cardboard, and the thought of a cheeseburger makes your stomach hurt. All this fast food makes you sick and eventually, you’re gaining weight. The thought of weighing in every week for weights makes you feel like a POS and makes you not want to eat. Sure, you could pack yourself something to eat, but what if your forget it? You’re out of luck and hungry.

I realize that this is a rant so far and makes me seem as if I hate my sport and being a college athlete. If that is the case, you may be asking, “Why don’t you just quit?” or “I don’t feel bad for you, you signed up for this” or maybe even, “Wow you’re ungrateful. A lot of people would love to be in your position.”

I don’t hate my sport, and I don’t hate being a college athlete.

I love it. I did sign up for this, and yes I am complaining a little bit, but I want people who would like to be in my shoes one day know what they’re signing up for and getting, too. To say that there have not been days when I wanted to quit would be a lie. But I am not a quitter and know that I have too many people in my corner that I do not want to disappoint.

Playing on the team is also a way to pay for my school, and I need that scholarship to afford school. Quitting is not an option.

I am not the only one who thinks this; I talked with other athletes to get their thoughts on being a college athlete.

The first question I asked: College athlete. What you expected? Why or why not?

“Yes and no. I expected it to be extremely time consuming and absolutely amazing,” wrestler Tiffany Juarez says. “But I also didn’t realize it would come with so much emotional drainage.”

“Being a college athlete was and wasn’t what I was expecting,” Hunter Orbaker, an OU runner, says. “I knew my training would increase. I was prepared as possible for that. What I wasn't prepared for was the effect it would have on my mental health. My mental health plummeted my first semester, so I did not like it then. But since getting that back up, I love it.”

We can gather that college sports are draining on an athlete’s mental health because of the constant pressure from coaches, teammates, families and professors to always be on their A game.

Athletes hate then fall back in love with their sports throughout their time playing; it can be one of the most rewarding and challenging time of their careers and lives. As much as we complain about our sports, the training, being tired, whatever we may be complaining about, unanimously, we said we love being a college athlete. And if we were given the chance to go back and change our decisions of playing, we would 100 percent make the same decision. Being an athlete is who we are, and we wouldn't change that for the world.

I asked Shannon Greene, a softball player from Lincoln University, what her least favorite part about being an athlete was and she says, “The early morning practices in the gym when the weather is bad. Practicing softball in the gym just all around sucks, and having to go early makes it even worse.”

Juarez says her biggest complaint would be “our long season.”

“We start right at the beginning of school and don't end until we have a month and a half left. It’s exhausting,” she says.

That is one of the other things about being a college athlete. You’re almost always training. There is no more “off season.” You’re constantly making yourself better to beat the competition. Any day that you take off is putting you behind the other teams and taking away the chance of getting a ring. There is no time to relax anymore.

I asked these athletes what their advice for someone who wants to be a college athlete would be. Juarez says, “Keep learning every day and push towards your goals even if you don’t accomplish them. It is better to try and not succeed than to not try at all.”

Orbaker says, “Listen to your body and pay attention to your mental health, and make sure you’re in a good spot physically and mentally.”

Greene says, “Just play your heart out every time you compete in your sport. Go all out, finish strong and regret nothing.”

She writes “all out and finish strong” on her arm before games to remind herself that there is a possibility it could be her last game ever.

As college athletes, we don’t want people to feel bad for us, we want them to understand that what we do is not meant for everyone. It takes a certain type of person to succeed at our jobs. There is never an easy day, but every day, we get to wake up and be great. We get to spend time around our teammates and struggle together. We become a family with athletes from all over the country because we are all going through the same thing. This is just a little bit of what we do. No one will ever truly understand what it is like to a be a college athlete, unless you are one.

 
 

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