• Aja Smith

Life of a Student-Athlete at Jefferson

Wake up with the moon still very much alive, drowsily get ready for a 6 AM weight-lifting session, beat our bodies down for an hour or so, rush to the showers, head to 8 AM Calculus, and try to keep our eyes open as we get through several more classes. This is what a typical morning looks like for a student-athlete.

As we all know, this insanely life-altering pandemic changed the entire world. We are nowhere near “normal” but as someone who went from being a competitive, heavily motivated student-athlete to an unknowingly burnt-out high schooler all within the span of two weeks, I was finding it difficult to rediscover that side of me again.

Don’t get me wrong, I am extremely grateful for the opportunity Jefferson is giving us as first-year athletes to compete in our seasons. It is heart-warming to feel some sense of familiarity. A member of the men's soccer team said, "It’s much better getting back to playing normally and not having to wear a mask since we're outdoors”, men’s soccer team member. I believe this feeling of relief and gratitude is present in a lot of us but that doesn’t take away from the constant feeling of fatigue and mental instability I know, for a fact, many of us deal with.

Arriving on campus a week ahead of everyone else felt like VIP status. We were moved into our dorms and able to adjust on our own accord for the first day. The days that followed were filled with 2-3 hour practices with meals in between them. no assignments, papers, or projects to worry about. It was like a dream come true. The transition from lockdown to this wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. I assumed adding some school work wasn't going to be too hard either but boy, was I wrong.

After the first week had ended, everyone, including NARPs (Non-athletic Regular People), had moved in, it was time for school to start. Just like high school, the first week,week and a half were a breeze; two assignments in total and some reading. It was not difficult to handle, and it was honestly so nice being able to have such a balanced lifestyle during this time. School, sports, and our social lives were all receiving attention and it didn’t feel like the days were dragging on to get to the weekend. I was hoping the rest of college would be like this, even though I knew it wouldn’t be.

By the third week, I had two exams to study for, a project due, and had already submitted two papers. The transition from week two to week three was something different. It felt like each professor was just holding out and waiting to drop the “canvas assignment” bomb on all of us. That easy to juggle lifestyle went down the drain and the storm had arrived. . Assignment on top of assignment, morning lifts, afternoon practices, and games had begun to trample me. Ironically , the busyness kept me on top of everything for a little while. The schedule of a collegiate student-athlete was nothing to joke about, but being able to keep up felt like some weird accomplishment... yay! I made it without having an emotional breakdown.

That determination soon ran out and all that was left was mentally and physically beaten down kids. Mental health is something that we had touched on but it was not anything too major for my sport. I know a lot of people preach about how important it is, but having only one zoom meeting does not necessarily give the idea that it is a high priority.

Being able to look around and see other student-athletes in the same boat and feel that sense of community was something that I had never felt before. Going to breakfast each morning and being able to look at one another and think, “wow, you made it too huh?” was like comedic relief in a horror movie of teenagers who for some reason keep going into the creepy basement.

By now, we're all used to the heavy schedule, and are able to keep up with our work, as well as our sport. It is something that becomes routine, it’s almost second nature--heavy on the “almost.” To be completely honest, I am surprised I made it this long without having a mental breakdown. I do not know if it is the insane amount of coffee I drink or being too busy to have time to cry, even if it is just a tear, but I do know that I am not the only student-athlete dealing with these things.

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