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The Painful Reality of Going from Student Athlete to Student

By: Megan DeGrand

TW: brief mention of restricted eating


I began my athletic career reluctantly, and was forced by my parents to do so. Every time I had to get to the field for cross country, I would think, “I’m gonna quit. Today’s the day I quit. I’m gonna go up to Coach and just quit. I will quit.” But I wouldn’t. I would instead complain to my mom about how much my feet and knees hurt and how exhausting every practice was. She would validate me, but then say, “just go to one more practice, and then you can decide.” And then every practice turned into “just one more practice,” and eventually I started to like it.


In high school, I was a multi-sport student athlete. I played volleyball for a year before switching to cross country in the Fall, then played basketball in the Winter, and then went right into track during the Spring. Most of the time, these sports would flow right into each other. Just as basketball was ending, conditioning for track would start up, or there would be specialty practices for field events. Before school would even start in August, I would get emails about pre-season cross country practices.


Managing sports and homework made me feel far more hardworking than the average student. Even though it absolutely drained me, doing homework on bumpy bus rides home from rival schools and staying up late after a practice ran long to do homework, I would feel so much more productive than I, in all honesty, probably was.


There’s something satisfying in seeing your mile times improve or realizing you’re getting increasingly more playing time during games. Sports made me feel accomplished and like I was actually doing something successfully. It was a different form of validation in my abilities that was more tangible than just academic validation.


Then I came to college and had to adjust to a different schedule than I was used to. I no longer had structured exercise and activities built into my daily routine. At first, the extra time to relax after classes and take naps after working was very welcomed. I could push off work even more, knowing I didn’t have limited time due to practices or games. I could hang out with friends whenever I wanted and didn’t have to worry about getting a good night’s rest.


However, after the initial bliss of these new freedoms, I started feeling listless and unmotivated. I had so much more time now, but for what? Sure, I could try new hobbies or join more clubs, but doing nothing was just so much easier and had much less pressure. Plus, pushing off my work made me feel like I couldn’t do anything new because I had my work waiting for me later.


While I loved my sports and they helped me better self discipline, they also snuck in some harmful habits and toxic mentalities in the seams. I was used to being muscular and in great shape from my constant jumping from sport to sport, so once I started noticing I wasn’t as thin or strong as I once was, I started taking shortcuts to look the way I always did. I would try not eating as much or aimlessly walk after classes to fill my time and replace my days of cardio.


I would look at the college student athletes who still went to their advanced courses and had time for their even more rigorous training sessions than I ever had and feel so inferior. I used to feel so confident and special for my athletic abilities, and this reality check hit me harder than expected.


One day I just looked in the mirror and realized all this stress about my image and abilities was all self-inflicted. I was actively choosing not to exercise and instead smuggling Mojo cookies to make me feel better about procrastinating as a way to pass time. I also had to realize I was not a high schooler anymore, and that I was going through a life adjustment and huge changes. I had to rebuild my work habits and actually try to engage my mind and body in other activities.


High school sports were the best of times and the worst of times. They were a constant shift between feeling adept and gifted and feeling worthless and inadequate. Come to find out, college is not much different! What’s different is me and how I choose to handle change and relearn ways to enhance confidence within myself.


While I love doing nothing, nothing is not the best thing for me. I’ve forced myself into doing recreational sports, just as my mom had pushed me to do in high school. In the transition to becoming just a college student, I forgot the original reasons I ended up liking sports in the first place; in joining a sport again, I connected with new people, worked together and became friends, and realized sports could be fun again. I was lost in the vanity of sports and the appearance of seeming “healthy”, that I didn’t realize the social aspect was probably the most healthy thing for me. I learned to treat sports not as “just one more practice”, but now as “just another practice”.

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