My name is Blair McDonald, and I am a sophomore on the Vanderbilt Women’s Soccer team. I have noticed that, at times, there is a disconnect between athletes and other students on campus. As a result, I wanted to write about my college experiences and try to bridge the gap between student-athletes and the rest of the student population. Throughout the year, I hope to write a variety of pieces that provide a little bit more insight, the good and the bad, into the lives of Vanderbilt’s student-athletes.
A lot of people ask me what it means to be a student-athlete.
It means finding an impossible balance between school, sports and sleep (notice I didn’t say anything about a social life). It means sore legs, arms, backs, knees, ankles, necks…even hair? It means 15-minute naps between class and practice. It means ending practice at 6 p.m. just to wake up at 6 a.m. the next morning for early conditioning. It means doing homework on the floor of an airport before you board an 11 p.m. flight back to Nashville. It means running from post-practice rehab to a class on Commons with a to-go box of pancakes and bacon.
To be a student-athlete requires hard work, sacrifice and unwavering dedication. Despite the challenges and sacrifices necessary, for almost every student-athlete I know, we wouldn’t have it any other way.
As student-athletes, we’re challenged every day to excel in the classroom and on the field. Some days, it’s hard—really hard—to balance all of the responsibilities that come with this lifestyle. In high school, I rarely struggled between my school work and my soccer life. Unfortunately, now, I do find myself slightly overwhelmed by all of my responsibilities. This overwhelming feeling is one that student-athletes know very well. At the end of the day, however, we’re surrounded by like-minded individuals in pursuit of the same goal: success. As a result, we have an amazing and unique opportunity to represent Vanderbilt on a national stage while forging lifelong relationships along the way.
It is impossible to replicate the incomparable rush of a game-winning goal, buzzer-beating basket, final touchdown or match-point. But when it’s time to go to work during those early mornings and late nights, we play for so much more than wins and losses. We grind every day to perfect the details of our game that allow us to shine under the fluorescent lights every week. In training sessions, we have the chance to get better together. From extra fitness to fun intra-team competitions, every training sets the tone for the rest of the week.
However, after practice is done for the day, it’s time to move on from training and focus on our next job, school. Conversations at post-practice breakfast in Hendrix, our dining hall in the athletic center McGugin, quickly turn from “Wow, that drill was hard” to “Hey, did you do the homework for Human Sex?” To embody the role of a student-athlete, we must juggle the expectations of a student at Vanderbilt, as well as a D1 athlete.
Our days are long and our nights are longer, but we can always turn to our teammates and other athletes for support. Meals at Hendrix and late-night study sessions are just a few ways in which the athletes of every sport at Vandy spend time together.
Beyond the community we have within McGugin, we also cherish the connections we have with other students as well. It is always a rewarding feeling to walk around campus and hear students cheer us on after a hard-fought game. It’s especially rewarding to hear the support of students we don’t know personally. When we look up at the stands to see an electric student section on game days, we’re reminded that we play with the support of all our peers at Vanderbilt.
Being a student-athlete doesn’t come without its fair share of challenges. However, the memories we’ve made and the people we’ve met as both students and athletes will stay with us for the rest of our lives.