The Pioneer

Inside look at a college athlete

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Illustration by Crystal Jeffers/The Pioneer

Illustration by Crystal Jeffers/The Pioneer

Illustration by Crystal Jeffers/The Pioneer

Veronica Sanchez,
Contributor

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For 11 years, I spent the majority of my time at volleyball practices, weight rooms and busy weekend volleyball tournaments. For a big part of my life, those were the things I knew. Since day one of my volleyball career at 14, I have never had a free weekend to myself, was always on the go, and dedicated an incredible amount of time and energy to my sport. Until I got to college, I didn’t realize how much volleyball affected everything in my life.

While I did have a vast amount of great experiences, triumphs, built friendships and encountered many milestones that helped me grow as both a student and a person–the hardships and struggles helped me grow just the same.

For three consecutive seasons I was the starting libero, a defensive position, on the Cal State East Bay volleyball team. Usually that’s the person in the middle of the floor with a different color jersey on. Being a college athlete meant more than just going to school full time and competing at a high level. To be a college athlete means sacrificing my social life, experiencing both adversity along with simultaneous joy and most of all, learning to be an excellent multi-tasker.

When I was growing up, my older brother attended school and played soccer. I heard nothing but great things about his experience. I attended his soccer matches and thought to myself, that’s what I want to do someday. Six years later, I was in his same shoes.

Personally, I always assumed that participating in a sport and being in school would be a piece of cake. In my eyes, athletes had it all; they had the fame and glory to go along with their success in the classroom. Never did I realize how hard it was to be an athlete and a student at the same time.

Before accepting my athletic scholarship at CSUEB, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I knew I had the passion and skill to compete at a higher level than before, but I didn’t know how much I would have to sacrifice in order to maintain being an athlete in school.

One of the biggest challenges I had to face was scheduling my classes around volleyball practices. We usually practiced Monday through Thursday, not including weekend matches. I had to schedule all of my classes in the morning. Most of the time, I got lucky because all of the classes I needed were only offered in the morning. Sometimes, I couldn’t take my core classes because they were only offered during practice times, which meant my graduation would be delayed. I had to put volleyball before school.

Another challenge I faced was managing school work and volleyball at the same time. Looking back, I remember a point in my life when I slept very little and struggled to balance my schoolwork and focus on volleyball. Coaches, teachers and family members put a lot of pressure on me to maintain a good grade point average and also exceed in volleyball at the same time.

I hope that most of my fellow athletes can agree with me when I say that traveling and being on the road was the worst. Our traveling schedule was far from the best: Fridays and Saturdays were game days which meant we had to be on the road or on the plane by Wednesday or Thursday, depending on where we played that weekend. By my second year, I remember dreading game days for the single aspect of travel.

Throughout my whole athletic career, the biggest setback has been my knee injuries. I had a total of three knee injuries and three surgeries. Being a libero meant that I was constantly putting a lot of pressure on my knees. Moving laterally on the court and going from one base line to the other for three straight sets and sometimes even five killed my knees. Clearly, all of those games I played did major damage to my body. It all took a toll on me both physically and mentally.

As my education comes to an end, I reflect on my experience not only as a student but a student athlete as well. Even though being a student athlete was a very difficult experience, balancing school and volleyball, I did gain a lot of great experiences, friendships and it shaped me into the person I am today. Overall, I learned a lot of life lessons that I will carry with me for the rest of my life and was very blessed to have gotten the experiences that I did.

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