By: Lauren Breadner
BEEP BEEP BEEP. Your alarm clock rings. You open your eyes and see that the sun is just starting to rise and peak through your bedroom window. It’s 6 AM on Monday morning. Too early for most people. Way too early for a university student. You desperately wish that you could turn over and go back to sleep, but you know you need to start your busy day as a Windsor Lancer student-athlete.
You turn off your alarm, get out of bed, get dressed, and head to the kitchen. You grab a protein bar and an orange to provide you with some energy for your 7 AM workout.
You throw on your blue and gold Lancer jacket and head out the door. You make it halfway down the driveway before you realize you forgot your laptop and textbook. You double-back and grab them, being careful not to wake your sleeping roommates in the process.
How jealous you are of your roommates’ light schedules. What you would give for just one more hour of sleep after a weekend of back-to-back away games.
You make it to school and meet your team at the Forge for your morning workout. As you bench press, squat, and sprint with your teammates, all you can think about is your in-class presentation at the end of the week. When will you meet with your group mates and prepare for your presentation?
It’s 8:30 AM and you are late to your first class. Not a great way to start the day. Your muscles ache as you sit down in the lecture hall and flip open your laptop. You take a peek at the detailed game plan your coach emailed you for the upcoming weekend matches. You hear your professor discussing important points from Chapter 2, so you quickly scribble down notes then return your attention to the game plan. You know that if you don’t have the game plan memorized before practice, Coach will have you run lines.
You spend the next four hours barely paying attention in your lectures before you head to your coach’s office for your weekly meeting. You discuss how you thought you played last weekend, what your goals are for the next games and your schedule for the rest of the week. Coach tells you they want to add an additional one-on-one practice this week to prepare you for the games this weekend, on top of your regularly scheduled practices. Great… NOT! you think to yourself as you leave their office. You open your agenda and flip to this week’s schedule. It will be difficult to fit in another practice on top of all your other commitments.
Lunchtime. You head to the cafeteria and meet up with your teammates to grab a bite. You all wait in line and discuss the aches and pains you feel from that morning’s workout. Your eyes directly go to the mouthwatering pizza that you so desperately want but you decide to settle with a salad with grilled chicken instead. You chose the large size so you can save half of it for dinner, knowing that it will be late before you get to go home.
You finish half of your salad and head back to the gym with your teammates for practice. You joke about the fun times you had on the bus during your away games this past weekend as well as your looming assignment deadlines.
You enter your team locker room and start to get prepared for practice. You notice that the locker room has recently been cleaned and you find all of your Lancer gear washed, dried and folded in your stall. You change into your practice uniform while one of your teammates turns on the stereo. ‘Til I Collapse by Eminem blasts through the speakers and all of a sudden you and your teammates get up and start singing along with the lyrics. For a couple of minutes, you forget about all of your school assignments and realize how lucky you are to be on a varsity team and have amazing teammates who you consider family.
Now for the best part of the day – practice. Practice lasts for two hours, which only feels like 15 minutes. The time flies when you are in the zone. You love your sport. You cherish every moment you can when you are playing. You push yourself to your limits as you try to prove every single day that you deserve to be a Lancer athlete.
Following practice, you head back to the locker room where Coach has a game film set up to review your team’s performance this past weekend. Exhausted and sweaty, you sit through an hour of film with your team, making detailed notes on how to improve for next time.
Around 6 PM, you sit down on the couches outside the St. Denis Centre gymnasium and pull out your textbook. You kill some time by sifting through Chapters 2 and 3 as you finish your salad leftover from lunch.
One of your teammates picks you up from the couches an hour later and drives you to one of the local schools to run a practice for the club team your coach is associated with. You enter the building and all of the young athletes look so excited to see you. As you lead some drills, you are overcome with a sense of pride to represent your school. You love the community outreach you get to be a part of as a Lancer.
You are dropped off at home around 9 PM. “Great job today,” your teammate says as you close the door to their car. You smile as you head up your driveway to your house feeling a sense of warmth and accomplishment.
After you open the door, you notice your roommates laughing together on the couch with a cold beer in their hands. They ask if you want to join them for a drink. You politely say, “No, thank you,” and head upstairs to your room.
You immediately head to the shower. I must smell horrible you think to yourself. In the shower, you hear your roommates erupt with laughter and wonder what is so funny that you are missing out on.
You open your laptop and Skype your groupmates to work on your presentation. You let them know the next time you are available to meet in person and give them the option of either Wednesday morning at 7 AM or Thursday night at 10 PM – neither are appealing options.
It’s midnight before you crawl into bed. You hear your roommates continue to joke in the distance as you wrap your comforter tightly around you. You close your eyes and reflect on the busy day you had. You fall asleep knowing that it will all happen again tomorrow and that you wouldn’t have it any other way. This is your choice.
What a life student-athletes live. To some, it might seem busy, and it might even seem crazy. Whoever says that student-athletes have it easy, can think again.
At the University of Windsor, student-athletes are expected to hold a 60 percent average in order to remain varsity eligible. Some students struggle to maintain a 60 percent average without adding a varsity athlete’s schedule to their semester. Juggling classes, practice schedules, travel schedules, and other commitments is not an easy task by any means.
“Time management is probably the hardest thing that student-athletes have to deal with,” Lucas Hodgson, head coach of the Windsor Lancers women’s varsity volleyball team, stated. “We are expecting they give 100 percent at everything they do. Practices, games, academics, community outreach – they can do it all.”
Last year, there were 86 University of Windsor athletes awarded the title of Academic All-Canadian. This recognition is the highest award given by U Sports, the national governing body of university sports in Canada. It is given to students that achieve a minimum of 80 percent over full-time studies while also competing as a varsity athlete. With nearly one-quarter of Windsor student-athletes achieving Academic All-Canadian status, it is clear that Lancers are taking the “student” in student-athlete seriously. Paiten Stephens, fourth-year women’s soccer player, has had to learn how to balance her schedule.
“My schedule as a student-athlete is pretty hectic,” Stephens confessed. “During the season, it can be hard to focus on school when you have a big game coming up. I have to remind myself that I am in university to get an education and playing soccer is just an added bonus.”
Alex Cyr, graduate student and cross-country runner, has mastered the art of time management and actually appreciates the busy schedule as a cross-country runner.
“There is not much struggle in the lifestyle for me, perhaps because it is all that I know,” Cyr said. “The rigidity and the routine of a practice schedule helps me structure the rest of my life, and makes me a better student.”
With some Lancer varsity teams averaging 24 regular season games a year, plus exhibition and playoff games, it is clear that being a student-athlete is a full-time job. Even on top of game commitments, student-athletes go through over 20 hours a week of training and practices. Due to long hours of games and practices, athletes can sometimes face burnout in the form of injuries that can be detrimental to their season.
“As a student-athlete, I think the biggest struggle comes from injuries,” Cyr stated. “I have been injured since the beginning of September, and it takes away from your experience.”
The University of Windsor offers excellent services to their student-athletes to assist in their journey back to health, including Athletic Therapists, who are available to all Lancer student-athletes. Along with the access to therapy, there are a number of other benefits that student-athletes can take advantage of.
“We give our athletes free travel, accommodations, and food when we travel for away games,” Coach Hodgson stated. “Student-athletes also get to learn so many extra pieces that other students don’t. My athletes learn leadership, reliability, teamwork, and accountability skills that they can use later in life. Other students do not get the chance to grasp those skills in university.”
If you surveyed all of the student-athletes at the University of Windsor, they likely would say that the many perks of being a student-athlete outweigh the challenges. For Cyr, his biggest take away is the friendships he has made that top any race victory.
“The people you meet along the way are by far the biggest benefit,” Cyr said. “The majority of my best friends have taken part in varsity athletics in some faculty. I would not trade those years for anything.”
If you were to ask any student-athlete what the best part of their experience is, they would probably say it is the weekends. It’s the home and away games when they are able to put on their blue and gold jersey and walk onto the field, court, rink, track, or diamond representing the University of Windsor.
“When I walk out on the field every game representing the University of Windsor, I feel a sense of pride and privilege,” Stephens reflects. “Being able to represent the University of Windsor by doing what I love makes me feel accomplished.”
Even just if it’s for a couple of hours on Saturday and Sunday, student-athletes forget about all of their assignments and other commitments and play the sport they love for the school they love.
“Playing soccer as well as getting an education is something that people dream of,” Stephens ends. “I am very lucky to do what I do.”
As dreadful as it is for student-athletes to hear their 6 AM alarm clock it is clear that they wouldn’t have it any other way. They live, breath and sweat Blue and Gold.
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