The Secret Life of Student-Athletes, Part 4

This, my friends, is the final installment! If you missed Parts 1-3, click here and here.  Oh, and here.

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Anyone who has watched March Madness on TV has seen the super-slick clips they put together with players from top-seeded teams staring at the camera with a steely gaze, spinning basketballs on their fingers without even looking at them, dribbling the ball between their legs in slow-motion and then at normal speed, etcetera.  To make the clips even more awesome, they are always set to ultra-dramatic orchestral scores like Lux Aeterna or “Dawn” from Thus Spake Zarathustra.  Polished film segments of high-caliber athletes set to epic soundtracks always make for an enjoyable viewing experience, but how often do viewers actually consider how incredibly awkward it is to film these segments?

Lucky for the student-athletes at our school, our PR/media department was inspired by videos made by the Louisville men’s basketball team, and they decided that our sports teams were going to film similar clips to show before every home game.  So, one day last spring I found myself standing in front of a green screen with three of my teammates, all of us trying to stare unblinkingly and unsmilingly at a camera lens while the videographer adjusted the focus and the lighting guy adjusted his equipment to make us look super shiny and the PR woman hit us with a barrage of directions:

“Show me some swagger, girls! Don’t be afraid to show some attitude. Stare at the camera…hold it… Ok now maybe spin the ball around in your hands, just play with it, you know, toss it from hand to hand.  Maybe bounce it a few times?  Good, good, perfect! Hold it just a little longer… Ok we’ve almost got it, maybe let’s just try one more… Do you need some more time? To stop laughing? Just pretend we’re not here.  Ok maybe just a few more takes…”

It was strikingly similar to America’s Next Top Model, just without Tyra Banks and the aspiring models.  And the direction we heard most frequently was “Are you girls ready now?” because we physically could not stop laughing long enough for them to begin recording.  So much for being consummate professionals… But seriously, try staring at a camera and holding an intimidating facial expression in complete silence for 30 seconds when you’re not even sure what expression your face is actually producing (what if it’s less like a stare-down and more like a constipated grimace?) and you are standing between three of your closest friends and can feel them all trembling violently from suppressed laughter.  I would argue that if anyone in such a situation is able to refrain from even chuckling, it is because that person is an undercover robot, who also probably aspires to be America’s Next Top Model.

SA 9

Our best game face attempts…

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These scenes are just a glimpse of the escapades that have taken place on my team and within our athletic department.  Some days our locker room was filled with a cacophony of exclamations like “Why have we played country music in here EVERY DAY this week??” and (from the bathroom) “Guys, I finally pooped!”  (This one was usually followed by whoops and cheers and congratulatory handshakes.) Other days would find me in the training room ice bath with a teammate discussing such topics as whether true altruism can and/or does exist.  There were moments of unbelievable heartache, like when we found out a teammate had sustained too many injuries to continue playing the sport she loves.  And there were moments of hysterical laughter, such as when the entire men’s basketball team showed up to one of our matches wearing Depends.  These behind-the-scenes stories tell so much about the athletes, more than any highlights reel or post-game-write-up ever can.  So while the price of being a student-athlete has undoubtedly been more than I bargained for, I have a wealth of memories to show for it.

Thanks for reading!  Comment below with your favorite moments from this four-part series – I’d love to hear your thoughts.

-Cassie

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The Secret Life of Student-Athletes, Part 3

For Parts 1 and 2, click here and here.

Fall of my junior year turned out to be a terribly chaotic period, because our institution had been chosen to host one of the Presidential Debates.  At the crux of the chaos was the fact that our athletics and recreation building had been pegged as the site of the televised debate.  So while the university administration worked on problems like designing logos to advertise the event and implementing unbelievably complex security measures, all of the varsity teams housed in the building worked on completely emptying the locker rooms so that they could be occupied by the Secret Service.

For my team, the process took days: we lugged out picture frames, dry erase markers, trophies, plaques, plastic utensils, an electric guitar, clothes, shoes, kneepads, furniture, the TV, shampoo, razors, Post-It Big Pads, magnets, glittery scrunchies and leotards, craft supplies, a fake potted tree, laundry bags, magazines, foam rollers, powdered Gatorade mix, and food, all the time wondering how the HECK did some of this stuff get in here in the first place??  All of my volleyball clothes and equipment ended up in a pile on the middle of my bedroom floor for the month of October, and I would dive into it every morning hoping to emerge with the correct combination of shirt, spandex, socks, kneepads, and shoes I would need for practice that day.

But the inconvenience of losing locker room access paled in comparison to the loss of our gym space for those 2-3 weeks leading up to the debate while we were in the middle of our season and practicing 2-3 hours every day.  Our coaching staff worked tirelessly to find us adequate gym space off-campus (which happened to be about 30 minutes away) and also to obtain bus transportation for the 15 players.  On the rides to and from the off-campus facility we would entertain ourselves by watching Family Guy clips on YouTube and by telling each other horrific anti-jokes (i.e. “How do you get a clown to stop smiling? … You throw an axe at his face.”)

Playing a varsity sport often entails missing out on the big events on campus, and the Presidential Debate was no exception.  When the much-anticipated day finally came, my team was on a charter bus driving from San Francisco International Airport to San Jose State University for a pre-game-day practice.  Thus, we were unable to take part in the rollicking celebration dubbed “DebateFest” that was created for the 10,850 out of 11,000 students who did not win lottery tickets to attend the actual debate – although, after seeing the Facebook pictures of the Lumineers’ performance and the pop art paintings of the candidates and the feminist activist wandering through the crowd wearing a vagina costume, I almost feel like I was there.

We did, however, manage to participate in at least one of the university-sponsored events: the Moment in Time photo collection.  Someone in administration or perhaps the marketing department had the brilliant idea to ask students, alums, and employees to submit pictures of themselves at the moment the debate began; pictures deemed worthy for display would be included in a slideshow on the official university website dedicated to all things debate.

I was determined to secure our team’s involvement with the historic occasion in some capacity, so I factored in the time difference between the two states and whipped out my phone when the hour of the debate arrived.  Everyone on the team leaned out into the bus aisle, all sporting stylish grey practice t-shirts and grey sweats, and we snapped a few horrible quality pics as the late afternoon sun poured through the windows and the swaying of the bus made it difficult to hold my phone still.  I sent them off to the designated Moment in Time email address, and lo and behold a week later I found the final slideshow and was thrilled to discover that one of our glared and blurry photos had made the cut.

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The selected photograph

This was to be the only successful debate experience our team had.  On our last pre-debate trip out of the locker room, one of my teammates had lagged behind to leave a heartfelt message on our whiteboard for whoever would be occupying the room in our absence.  It read: “Romney and/or Obama: please leave us autographs!! Love, The Volleyball Team.”  When we finally returned from our month-long exile, we looked at the board with high hopes.  There, underneath our request, a single word had been scrawled: “HAHA.”

Tune in next week for the fourth and final installment!

Cheers,

Cassie

The Secret Life of Student-Athletes, Part 2

(If you missed Part I, click here)

When committing to play college athletics, students are fueled by the promise of intense competition, sponsored gear, extensive travel, and (if the student is a nerdy jock like me) free education.  But while they may not realize it, student-athletes are signing up for a package deal that includes one other key yet poorly-advertised element: injury.

The injuries come in all shapes and sizes, striking when they are least expected.  Some are chronic, some heal after a few weeks, and some prove to be season- or even career-ending.  But the main thing I’ve learned after both experiencing and witnessing countless injuries every year is that each one has a story that is far more involved than what can be expressed on, say, an NFL injury ticker: “Roddy White (ankle, hamstring), probable…Richie Incognito (neck), ‘fine’…”   And while our athletic trainers were not allowed to share information on injuries or how they occurred, the stories behind them were often so strange that they spread among the athletes like wildfire.

During my sophomore year, the athletic department was struck by an epidemic of one mysterious (but noncontagious) malady: the concussion.  A silently sinister form of head trauma brought into the limelight by a series of high-profile NFL cases, concussions became a huge focus of the NCAA’s injury prevention programs, and student-athletes were bombarded with new videos, brochures, and paperwork intended to inform us about concussion symptoms and the dangers of ignoring them.  With the increased awareness there also came an increase in reports of concussions, as cases were diagnosed that could have previously been overlooked.

The swimmers were especially hard hit, which seems to make no sense since water can’t exactly cause blunt force trauma.  However the swimmers met their doom on dry land, a place where they are admittedly uncomfortable.  Two were concussed while doing a workout outside on the turf field after a rain storm.  While working on arm strength by tossing large, heavy medicine balls back and forth between partners, the medicine balls became wet and slipped through their hands when the athletes tried to catch them, resulting in two medicine-ball-to-face encounters.  A third swimmer became concussed after tripping and falling on the pool deck.

Another individual, this time a lacrosse player, became concussed just by sitting down in his locker: the motion somehow upset the balance of his helmet, which was perched precariously on top of his locker, and it proceeded to fall down and strike him squarely in the head.  Then there was the soccer goalie who was kicked in the face – with great force – by one of his own teammates.  And my team wasn’t immune either.  One girl had her head stepped on during a chaotic play, and another took a ball to the face – our male manager hit it at her so hard that she was knocked backwards off her feet.

As for me, I could probably write a book detailing my own frequent (and often freak) injuries, such as blowing out my knee in the first game of my career, and being whacked in the head by one of the metal poles that holds up the net after a chain snapped when I was cranking the net into place.  One of the most “freaky” would have to be an open finger dislocation that occurred during a match my junior year.  “Open dislocation” was the doctor’s term, not mine. In reality, my finger exploded, and everyone who witnessed the event agrees that my word choice is totally accurate.  (For the full story, click here.) Clearly, each of these injuries is far too bizarre to be summarized ticker-style, and this is why I now wonder what really happened to “Roddy White (ankle, hamstring)…”

Check back next week for Part 3!

-Cassie

The Secret Life of Student-Athletes, Part I

SA 6

When I first committed to play Division I volleyball, I remember having a premonition that I didn’t really know what I was getting into – it wasn’t long before I found out I was right.  But, I’m not just talking about the usual culture shocks that high school athletes encounter when they find themselves competing at the collegiate level: the two- and three-a-day preseason practices, the long travel days, the exponentially increased appetite that leaves one hungry even after 4-5 meals a day, and the feeling that one’s 18-year-old body has been stolen and replaced with that of a 50-year-old man with double knee replacements.  No, nothing could have prepared me for behind-the-scenes shenanigans ranging from strip-teasing supporters to dealing with a presidential debate, from legendary injuries to painfully awkward photo shoots, all of which occurred in just one of the nation’s athletic departments.

(Part I)

During my first two years with the program, our fan base was pathetically small, consisting of local girl-scout troops, elementary school volleyball teams, family members, and the four faithful season ticketholders who had been coming to every game for more than a decade.  We tried to guilt-trip our on-campus friends into coming, but most regular students come to the school to ski, so the campus would empty on the weekends as our potential fans hit the slopes.  Then, a tongue-in-cheek conversation between one of the volleyball juniors and a member of the men’s swim team changed everything.

Alyssa and Andy were talking at a student-athlete leadership conference when Andy mentioned he’d always thought it would be fun for his swim team to show up to Alyssa’s volleyball games in Speedos.  After the two laughed at the picture, Alyssa got serious: “Do it, Andy.  I’m ordering you.”  Spurred into action, Andy rallied the swimmers and then proceeded to take his initial idea to a whole new level.  At our next home game, he and his teammates showed up wearing their team-issued sweatsuits and filed into the stands grinning obviously.  Alyssa glowered at the absence of Speedos.  But then, after we won our first point, Andy unzipped his jacket and tossed it into the air.  And so it continued: every time we earned a point, one of the guys would lose a jacket, a shirt, a pair of pants, and so on until all of them stood in the bleachers sporting nothing but Speedos and giant smiles.

SA 2

From that point on, the swimmers became legends.  They would show up to our games wearing winter hats and mittens and scarves so they could have more items to strip off.  During time-outs they would perform cheers and hold push-up contests, and their striptease routine would reveal Speedos of every color and design as our points racked up.  The shocked reactions of visiting teams were priceless, and my team began to brag that we could easily pick any swimmer out of a butt line-up.

One night our match was a particularly close one, and the crowd began to notice that the swimmers were running out of clothing to remove.  On one of the final points, the guys looked up the line and realized that everyone was already down to their Speedos.  Andy, the fearless leader, felt all eyes on him and understood the sacrifice would have to be his.  He shrugged, reached down, and whipped off the tiny spandex uniform.  I heard gasps and stifled screams, and several parents covered their children’s eyes.  But Andy just laughed – he had been wearing a nude Speedo under the first the entire time.

Tune in next week for Part II…

-Cassie