To those looking at it from the outside of the athletic community, the lifestyle of a NCAA student-athlete may seem like a lavish one. Student-athletes seem to get whatever they want, whenever they want. Free massages, tutoring, travel to competitions, textbooks, and the list goes on and on. It would appear at least from the outside looking in that student-athletes may seem to have it easy.
As a high school athlete from Canada about to enter the NCAA as a scholarship student-athlete in track and field and cross country I too shared this perspective. I would now get to compete in the sport I love everyday and I would be given every chance to succeed for the next four years. All I had to worry about was maintaining results. Sounds easy right? What I was about to find out though was that the life of a student-athlete is far from easy. Here is an example of a day in my NCAA student-athlete life.
On a hot Oklahoman morning in mid-August it is around 5.15 am and my alarm painfully pulls me out of bed. I look outside and it is still pitch black, but my day has already started. I don’t have class until 9 am, but I do have to meet the cross country team at the park for a training session (10 mile tempo run) by 6am. I have arrived at training and after a brief 30 minute warmup, I start the session with the rest of my teammates under some lamp lit trails in the complete darkness. Fifty-five minutes later and 10 miles down in the training log, the sun has come out and the team is headed back to the campus training room for post-session treatment. The time is around 8 am and I am sitting in a ice bath to relieve the swelling in my legs from the completed training session earlier in the morning. I may get a massage and do some stretching, but I can’t be too long because I need to grab my books and get to class by 9 am.
The time is 9 am and I have arrived to class on time. The professor has dimmed the lights for a presentation and my fight to stay awake has begun. After a few brief head bobs, countless sleep attempts and two lectures later, it is 1pm and I am sitting in the cafeteria with some teammates grabbing lunch. I need to be careful what I eat though, because after a few more lectures and a quiz my second training session of the day starts at 3.45 pm at the track. It is now mid-afternoon in Oklahoma in August. It is a brisk 32 degrees celsius and the sun is cooking everything in sight. Keeping enough water in the system is essential but a difficult task under these conditions. After a brief 20-30 minute warmup and 6x200m repeats in 28-32 seconds I head over to the athletic training center for the second time today for some more treatment. I will do some stretching, maybe some core work, and maybe another ice bath and a massage.
The time is now 6 pm and I am back in the cafeteria eating dinner with my teammates. I can’t be too long though, because I have a team meeting to attend at 6.45 pm at the lecture hall. I really hope the meeting doesn’t go longer than 1 hour, as I need to be back home at 8pm to Skype my parents. The meeting only lasted 45 minutes, and my parents are doing well, but I now need to study for my upcoming exam which is scheduled for next week. There is no time on the weekend to study because we leave for a race at Oklahoma State University so I must start studying now. After studying, a few more head bobs and some quick assignments the clock strikes 11.30 pm. Finally, I can check my emails and catch up with my friends. Maybe I will do it tomorrow though, because it is too late and I need to be up in six hours for training.
This was my life during cross country season for four years. I would like to also mention that unlike soccer and basketball, as a track and cross-country athlete you compete in all three seasons of the school year (fall season, spring season, and summer season). Though it may look like student-athletes live the life of the rich and famous, the life of a student-athlete is not a vacation. It takes a dedicated and focused individual to be successful in this environment on a consistent basis. In my next blog post, I will write more about my athletic-academic journey as I continue my series – An Athletically Inspired Educational Journey.