Kowal ’16: Athletics enrich the Wheaton experience, not hinder it

There we were at 5:00 am, groggy, hungry, and cold. We all met at Peacock Pond before the sun had come up to get the waters and equipment ready before our departure for lacrosse practice, because as every athlete knows, early is on-time.

The seven of us freshmen hardly said a word as we each grabbed the balls and cones, double and triple checking to make sure we hadn’t left anything behind. After a short bus ride, we filed onto the field where we would watch the sun come up as we ran.

When we finally made it back to Wheaton, and more specifically Chase, everyone was 100% more lively than they had been two hours ago, ready to go to class and any other commitments. It’s those breakfasts where you become family with your teammates. You see them at their worst in the morning, you fight through the pain with them on the field, and then you sit down together and laugh.

Athletes never stop asking themselves why they do it. Sometimes, it’s hard to remember, especially when you’re in pain, when you’re sacrificing so much, and when you aren’t seeing any success.

They ask us, “Why do you have to take the test a day early?” “Why can’t you come out tonight?”, “Why do you need to run from class with all of your gear on?” The answer isn’t because we are special, and it isn’t because we are entitled. The answer is that we care about something bigger than ourselves.

In her article, Grace Kirkpartick makes the assumption that academic achievement and athletic achievement are mutually exclusive when, in fact, they are not. What athletes learn during their sports, they bring to the classroom everyday, ultimately enriching their experience. Doing that calculus problem 35 times until you get it right provides the same satisfaction as standing on the line shooting free throws until you know you will never miss one again.

Kirkpatrick questions why our society lauds athletes. We do this because athletes provide the most visible reminder of how hard work in any field can pay off, and how each and every one of us has the chance to try, to win, and to be the best version of ourselves. They say, “Think about the education you could get if you didn’t play a sport.”

But this doesn’t make sense to us. Sports taught us to work harder when we thought we couldn’t, to be humble when we had success, and to keep moving forward when we failed. They taught us that instant gratification doesn’t exist, how to overcome mental and physical pain, and to push a little bit harder, not for ourselves but for the person standing next to us. We all come to college in pursuit of higher education, but don’t be fooled by where those lessons are hiding.