There is a big difference between playing sports and being an athlete. People play sports to pass the time, stay in shape and be a part of something, being an athlete is creating an identity beyond these ideals.
I can’t remember a time in my life where I wasn’t playing sports. Even recalling my earliest childhood memories brings forth images of me chasing a tiny soccer ball and standing on first base talking to my friend as my teammate knocked a whiffle ball off a tee.
In high school I was a starting captain on three varsity sports teams: soccer, basketball and lacrosse. I was constantly running between varsity practice, open gym and offseason league games at local indoor facilities, not to mention worrying about school and the other extracurriculars I was a part of.
Upon my matriculation to SUNY New Paltz I became what few can claim, a two sport collegiate athlete. However, a lot of people respond with, “well, it’s ‘just’ Division III” but I don’t think they really know what that means.
As a Division III college athlete I have been given absolutely no incentive to play. I was not offered a scholarship, there are very few tangible “perks” and I have been exposed to a whole new definition of the word overscheduled.
Unlike Division I or II athletes, it actually costs me more money to play sports in college. I have to pay for my lacrosse team’s spring break trip and any apparel I will receive from the athletic department I have either paid for or must return at the end of each season.
Yes, we are excused from class for games. However, we are expected to notify our professors and stay on top of our work and grades and now we have coaches and teammates and a whole other network of people monitoring our academics and adding pressure to be successful in the classroom.
Even with a car on campus, it is nearly impossible to find the time to schedule something as simple as a haircut between a tight schedule of classes, practices, games, lift, team bonding exercises and whatever else we choose to be involved in. Also, the mental exhaustion and physical fatigue can be crippling, particularly during preseason training.
So why do we do it? The answer is simple: I love it. The beauty of Division III athletics is that I am able to play both soccer and lacrosse for another four years and if it were possible for me to pick up a basketball again, I would do it in a heartbeat.
Sometimes I play in front of an audience of hundreds, sometimes I play for an audience of 25. My supporters are not there because of my talent, they are there because they know who I am.
No, I won’t be signing autographs, but I will be signing letters to my graduating teammates and then grad school applications down the road. I am part of two families of extraordinary women. I am not sweating with any future professional athletes, but I am sweating with future CEOs, doctors, teachers, scientists and people that I am confident will make as much a difference in the world as they have in my own life.
Although I am early in my career as a college athlete, I am very aware of the sand slipping through the glass. There will come a day where I will no longer be an athlete and I will throw my uniform down the laundry shoot for the last time. I have no idea what emotions I will be filled with, but I know that regret will not be one of them.
In my remaining hours of sweat, blood and tears, I will play my heart out and I will always strive to be the hardest working player on the field. I am proud to be a two-sport collegiate athlete and I am even prouder to be a Hawk.