Op-Ed: A love letter to student-athletes everywhere

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Photo credit: Molly Solowitz

This illustration depicts a love letter among the various aspects of the busy lives of student athletes. The love letter recognizes all the hard work and sacrifice student athletes make to do what they love.

By Vaughan Anoa'i and Thea Leimone

5:00 a.m., wake up.

5:15 a.m., drive to practice.

5:30 a.m., stretch and start practice.

7:30 a.m., finish practice and get on bus.

7:50 a.m.-3:00 p.m., school.

3:15 p.m.-4:15 p.m, transportation to practice.

4:30 p.m-7:30 p.m., second practice.

7:30 p.m.-9:00 p.m., drive home, shower, eat.

9:00 p.m-11:00 p.m., homework and studying.

11:30 p.m., lights out, sleep.

Repeat.

There’s no such thing as an off-day for a student-athlete. From school to practice to travel, the work of a student-athlete is never finished. So, to student-athletes everywhere who feel their work has gone unnoticed or unappreciated, this is a love letter to you.

As student-athletes ourselves, we understand the struggle of early morning practices. We understand the mental toll that it takes to accept defeat and consistently work hard even on days where we aren’t feeling it. We understand the physical fatigue that competing requires where it hurts to even move after a long practice or game.

So, why do we do this to ourselves every day?

It’s simple: we love the game. We love putting in the work every day, in the pool, on the court and in the classroom. We love pushing ourselves and making ourselves stronger both mentally and physically. But most of all, we love the feeling of winning.

Sometimes it gets tough. It’s not easy to get yelled at day in and day out. It’s not easy to accept defeat. It’s not always easy to balance a full academic workload with this schedule. It’s not easy to do schoolwork on a plane or on a bus. It’s not easy to feel your body aching with pain every single night.

However, sports aren’t who we are, they’re what we do.”

— Vaughan Anoa'i, Thea Leimone

Even more so, it’s hard to see others receive praise for one week of busy extracurriculars. It’s hard to feel supported when no one comes to your competitions. It’s hard when people make comments and assumptions about your future, such as suggesting you are only getting into college for your sports.

What people fail to realize is that we sacrifice our time, our sleep, our weekends, our bodies and our eating habits, all for the betterment of our play.

It takes discipline. It truly takes a special kind of person to be a student-athlete. To have the motivation and organization to plan ahead our schedules, to put forth exceptional academic and athletic work and juggle our other responsibilities.

Amidst a pandemic, COVID-19 has skyrocketed the normal stress of collegiate recruitment with the NCAA dead-period extended  and all communication with college coaches being virtual. We lost five months of training, and we’ve had to work double time during the school year to make up for the hours lost.

To reach this level, you must be competitive and hungry for success. We refuse to be mediocre players or students, constantly setting the bar higher for ourselves. Sports have built up our character and taught us mental toughness, as well as the importance of competition and striving to be the best.

It’s all about balance.

By no means are we complaining, but we want to recognize and celebrate all the work we put in. Student-athletes’ work is often overlooked and under-appreciated, but we’re here to say we respect the early morning workouts, the late-night homework sessions, the hours of bussing between school and practice. But most of all, we appreciate and respect you.

And for us personally, the love of the game overrides the rest of the outside noise, practice time, sore muscles, tired eyes and school stress. 

We wouldn’t trade this for the world.