Editor's note: Spider Stories is a sports series that is designed as a platform to give student-athletes a voice through the sharing of first-person stories.
Running Division I cross country and track and field at the University of Richmond is a privilege, and it is one that I am grateful for every day.
There is a lot to be grateful for: the opportunity to train alongside dedicated teammates, the guidance of coaches as I work toward goals that were never even on my radar before I came to UR and the flashier things — the gear, the travel and the priority registration. And I am humbled by the fact that I am in the minority — of the 488,592 female high school track and field participants, only 2.7% of them are able to continue competing at the Division I level.
But my first two years in college have heavily emphasized academics and athletics, with social experiences falling through the cracks.
When I was still in high school being recruited by different coaches, one of them told me that the reality of being a student-athlete would be that there would be three areas of your life constantly demanding your attention — athletics, academics, and social experiences — and you could only choose two of them at one time.
At the time, I laughed awkwardly, not quite sure what to make of that. But a year later, after trying unsuccessfully to stretch myself in three very different directions, I admitted defeat.
I came to UR to learn and run fast, so it makes sense to prioritize these things. But something that I constantly have to remind myself of is that a valuable part of going to college is meeting new people, trying new things and growing through these experiences.
We only have four years to do it, though, and too often athletes get stuck in the loop of practice, class and homework. We’re constantly just trying to get through the week, surviving a difficult training block, preparing for an intense competition or studying for an important test.
And on weekends, the time when most people are able to take a breath and have some fun, athletes are often away at competitions, sometimes not returning until late Sunday night, just in time to start the process over again. But when there is a rare free moment to do something fun, a lot of the time it’s teammates hanging out together, instead of athletes building connections with the rest of the UR community.
Although my athletic experience is unique because I am in-season all year and compete in three Atlantic 10 Conference Championships, this is something that many athletes struggle with, and it’s something that we as a community should work on.
At the end of our four years at Richmond, we will look back and appreciate our athletic accomplishments and the things that we have learned. But we are not just athletes and students. We are also people, and it’s important to make memories doing fun things with friends when we aren’t studying or training.
This time of the year in particular is a challenge. With finals and conference tournaments fast approaching for spring athletes, it’s easy to throw yourself completely into that and let everything else slide.
Be grateful for the opportunities that your sport has given you. Take pride in what you do and work hard to be your best. But also take a moment to step back from everything that must be done and enjoy these years before they’re gone.
Caroline Robelen is a sophomore on the women's track and field and women's cross country teams. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Spider Stories is a forum that can be used to write about anything related to the student-athlete experience, such as an issue you're passionate about, obstacles you've overcome, or different aspects of life as a student-athlete. Contact sports editor C.J. Slavin at email@example.com if you are a student-athlete who is interested in writing a piece.