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A Friendly Word of Advice to Fellow Student-Athletes

by Alex Cyr

This one is for the compelled cross-country runner who wears nothing but “Just Do It” shirts and compression socks to class. For the basketball player who lives and dies with his team’s ebbs and flows – for the hockey player who would rather watch Wickenheiser highlights on a Friday night than party with her classmates.

This one is for the student-athlete consumed with their craft. Listen to my warning: learn to find joy in the world away from your sport, because a new passion will eventually come in handy.

One day, despite your kicking and screaming, your sport will no longer comfortably govern your life. Injury, graduation, or other commitments will yank you away from your first love.  Life will be different. If you do not prepare for it by cultivating your identity away from sport, life will be worse.

I am not trying to replicate your parents’ long-winded speech about how it’s time for you, a 21-year-old pseudo-adult still obsessed with playing games, to move on from your exhausting pastime and get a “real job.” I am telling you that one day unless you make it to the pros, you will have to present yourself as something other than “The Athlete.” It will feel weird at best, painful at worst. Kind of like a colonoscopy. When that figurative rectal exam comes, I want you to be more ready for it than I was.

I am a second year Master’s student who came to Windsor in 2017 to immerse myself in its deep running culture and join its successful cross-country and track and field programs. I committed to the Lancers knowing little about the people of Windsor, and less about the city. Who cared? My goal was to run fast and win championships.

Fate had other plans. I have spent the better part of my time here in Windsor injured. Not sore, injured. My walks to school are riddled with facial winces, if not laced with Ibuprofen, and I have yet to compete as a varsity athlete. I am looking for the answer to the question that tortures me daily: how can I live happily away from my sport? So far, I have three recommendations.

1) Find a second hobby that makes you feel happy, fulfilled, and competent. Do not force yourself to like something else – it will come to you. I tried to enjoy horse racing, but I had trouble differentiating one horse to the next, and I am allergic to horses. A pastime that fulfils you (and doesn’t give you rashes in your armpits) can go a long way.

2) Make a friend who has no idea how fast you can run 1500 metres and doesn’t care. That way, you know someone is interested in you for you. Bonus points if they don’t even know which sport you play. I made a friend who told me he hated running shorts… things may get awkward.

3) Find new ways to contribute to your sport. By now, you have probably developed great connections in your sport’s community, and you would probably make a knowledgeable coach, statistician, fan, advisor, or driver. My Honda Civic has served many teammates travelling to far away meets, and has annoyingly collected a mound of coffee cups in its backseat (looking at you, messy sophomores).

I am not telling you to prematurely walk away from your sexy varsity athlete gig. We are privileged to get to play in front of our peers, be the athletes of the week, get interviewed by Brett Hedges on That Sports Show and learn how to pronounce Bob Bellacicco. We are lucky to win scholarships for being fast, strong and springy. And how great is it when we see our own faces on media guides circulating around main campus and when our professors become fans and tell us “good game?” It feels good, dang it.

I am, however, encouraging you to expand your horizons and prepare for a life where your athletics will take a backseat, much like the mound of coffee cups in my Civic. I am telling you to avoid becoming the little grey man living in the glory days while spiting the current ones. I am telling you to invest in your happiness down the road by exploring your interests away from sport right now.

If I, a cross-country runner too obsessed to care what any new friend thinks of his shorts can find fulfilment away from the track, you can too.

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