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8 Hard Lessons I Learned As A Rower, STEM-Major & National Champion

1. Always show up.

Skipping class or practice for that matter, is a TRAP.

No matter if it’s to class, practice, or that “optional” conditioning session, the most important thing I learned throughout my collegiate career was that you have to show up to remain relevant. You might think that taking a nap in the place of a class in order to catch up on sleep is a good idea, but IT ISN’T. Skipping class or practice for that matter, is a TRAP. Showing up to class “tired” or “distracted” was immeasurably more valuable than skipping under the pretense that I could make it up later. In addition to this, don’t think of review sessions, office hours, or the aforementioned extra conditioning session as “optional”; committing to show up to these ahead of time and following through with my commitment gave me an immense advantage. This leads to my next point...


2. Schedule everything ahead of time.

Keep an accurate, up-to-date calendar to schedule your classes, appointments, practices, and other important commitments long before they arrive. Keeping track of everything you have to do will make it easier to show up when you have to. I’ve found that any of the digital calendar apps from any app store work perfectly for this. However, an up-to-date calendar means nothing if you aren't organized.


3. Stay organized.

If you are trying to be a successful student-athlete, you can’t be “that guy” who shoves all of their notes in a big wad into their backpack after class. To be successful, I had to keep everything coordinated and in order. I have separate notebooks for every class. The ones with the folders inside of them are perfect for this. Additionally, having a separate bag for your sport is critical. You really don't want to dig your notebook out for class only to find it soaked in sweat from cohabitating with clothes you worked out in earlier that morning…. not like I’ve ever done that before. Organizing my life around my sport and my studies was not enough. I also had to schedule around athletic and mental recovery in order to succeed.


4. Recovery time is valuable.

I have had too many weekends during my collegiate rowing career where the fear of missing out on a football game day or a frat party got in my way of getting a good night's sleep. And sleep isn’t the only thing that you have to factor in for recovery. To physically and mentally recover from practice and school, you have feed yourself. Eating and drinking nutritionally dense, and in my case, as a rower, calorically dense foods is imperative. You aren’t going to wake up for practice the next day feeling great if you had one meal and a glass of water the day before. Not getting the nutrition you need will make you slow mentally and physically. Despite this, I wasn’t TOO liberal with my recovery time.


5. Don’t underestimate your ability to accomplish everything that has to be done to succeed.

If I had never pushed myself beyond my comfort zone, I wouldn’t be graduating this fall with a biochemistry degree nor would I have won a National Championship. I realized that I could pile on the workload and not buckle under the pressure. You have to constantly be in an all out assault on your day, attacking any moment that could give you an edge. Don’t be afraid to practice alone on your days off or do a second or third practice when you have time. If you are a good enough athlete to be competing at a collegiate level, you can survive a few extra workouts a week. The NCAA guidelines that restrict the coaches to the amount of practice time they can assign you aren’t restricting what you do in your free time. A gallon of whole milk is a cheap and effective way to cover up any calorie deficit you might accrue from the extra training. Academically, take the “hard class” that is required to get into your dream major. You will regret it if you back out of the challenge out of fear. I nearly didn’t pursue biochemistry because I was afraid I couldn’t do it while rowing. At the same time, it is important to figure out what is meaningful to you.


6. Manage your passions.

If you aren’t passionate about what you are doing, there is no point in doing it.

For a while, I wanted to immediately join the national team after I graduated. I had tunnel vision on this objective, and it clouded my judgement. Eventually, I realized that I was going through the motions without being passionate about where I was going. Stepping back and looking at the big picture can bring clarity. If you aren’t passionate about what you are doing, there is no point in doing it. You certainly aren’t going to excel in your field if you don't care. One important way to manage your passions is to set goals for your future.


7. Set goals.

If you aren’t working to get somewhere, you will be aimless and lost as a scholar athlete. I had to set specifically defined goals in order to succeed. By reassessing where I was in relationship to my goals, I could tell if I was making progress or not. My goals also helped me realize when I was in need of outside assistance. If I wasn’t accomplishing what had to be accomplished, I realized, after way too long, that I should seek help from those who could provide it.


8. Have the difficult conversation with your coach/professor.

If I could go back and tell my freshman self something now, it would be to not fear your academic and athletic support staff and use them as much as possible.

When things started to go downhill with rowing or school, I had a tendency to turn inward and try to work harder in order to dig myself out of the hole I had created. After a while of figurative undigging, I would find myself wishing I had gone to someone earlier. If I could go back and tell my freshman self something now, it would be to not fear your academic and athletic support staff and use them and their resources as much as possible. A number of times, I practiced while sick because of a misguided fear that my coaches would be upset with my illness. This resulted, inevitably, in getting sicker and not recovering nearly as fast as I could have. The number of times I have been afraid to go to a professor's office hours because of my perceived lack of understanding being correlated to my status as an athlete is countless. Most of the time, I was wrong about being ignorant and all of the time (in my experience) the professor never thought it was because of my sport. Being able to admit that I was stuck and finding the appropriate help to proverbially “dig myself out of my hole” has been a crucial skill as a nearly graduated athlete.

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