By Brittany Minder
The story starts years before freshman year. I started playing young, played for both my high school and a competitive club team, went through an extensive (read: stressful) recruiting process, and then finally decided on Stanford at the beginning of senior year. Then things went over the top…
Freshman year was painful. I can’t remember ever feeling so relieved to fly home to see my family as I did that first Thanksgiving. During fall quarter, I practiced more than I had class every day, woke at ungodly hours to study, went from morning weights to class then from class to practice, and often, back to class again. I don’t know how any of us did it. Most slept about half as much as we should have, and a few, even less. The coaches did not seem to understand our plight, nor care. It was always the same, “Man, you guys need to manage your time better!” Wait, from 7am-8pm my day was planned for me…what is there to manage?!
Drained from the long fall practices (apparently in-season practices were shorter), my freshman roommates still tell me that they only ever remember seeing me passed out on my bed or working at odd hours of the night. Man, I was living the dream. Becoming a collegiate athlete at Stanford was like learning how to breathe without ever having to have known how to do it before: all consuming, all-important, the focal point. What did I sign up for? Did I mean for my college experience (and academics) to be eclipsed by weight rooms, locker rooms, the dugout, ice bath, training room, and mentally and emotionally debilitating injuries? How much did I really care about athletic politics…remembering the time at a home town tournament, after getting a pinch hit base hit, when my coach told me that, “[so and so] is a senior, and you’re going to want me to do this for you when you’re one.” HA!!
Of course, it was not all bad, or no one would do it (trust me, the “love of the game” falls away pretty fast for many). The perks that come with being a collegiate athlete at a top Division I school balanced the brutally long days at first. Scholarship. Athletic conflicts with class schedules that always seemed to fix themselves (thanks Academic Athletic Resource Center). Unlimited free printer use. Flights all over the country. Excellent accommodations and food all the time. “Athletic Status.” Most Professors liked us. One even told me to sleep in his class because “athletes don’t get the sleep they should.” And the annual favorite, two words: Nike. Christmas. (Athletes speak of the day they get 1000’s worth of athletic gear for the team each year.) And the perks are only amplified during play-offs. Better flights and hotels (a chartered plane, once, in fact, from Massachusetts to Stanford-on the NCAA’s dime). Better food. ESPN airtime. The whole enchilada.
Sophomore year came. Fall was less demoralizing, but the perks looked less inviting. I found classes I was really interested in, things I really wanted to do and participate in, but my answer was always the same, “I can’t…I have softball.” Practice, game, weights, team bonding. What the hell was I at Stanford for anyway? I thought I was here to go to school…
Mid-sophomore year I told my coach that I needed to go abroad for my major. This was a watershed moment. I would miss the following fall (HA!) and later come to realize that staying on the team for the undeniable love and sisterhood I felt with my teammates and coaches was not worth sacrificing my remaining two years in college for, especially if I was not playing regularly.
I quit the team the following February. I told my some of my best friends/teammates the night before that I was leaving the team. We all mourned what we knew would be my final at bat. I hung my shoes on the dugout symbolizing my departure from the game…I had never played enough in college to leave them on the field. It was finished. I only had to tell the coaches. And tell them I did after we got off the bus.
And now. Was it worth it? Did I gain from playing on one of the most time-intensive athletic teams (likely in the country) for two and a half years? Definitely. I sacrificed huge parts of my college experience to play a game that I knew I would not ever play again after college. My academics, social life, body, and emotional health suffered. But I will always be able to count myself amidst an elite group, the Stanford student-athlete. I was forged by Stanford’s rigorous ways: stronger, smarter, tougher, and unforgivingly confident. And finally, I will never regret being a part of the top-rate tradition of excellent people found in the Stanford softball program. From the coaches (one whose family I even spent New Year’s Eve with) to my sisters/teammates/teachers, you would be hard-pressed to find better, and for them, I will always be grateful.