Monday, August 26, 2002 - Athlete Perspective
NSDT Update: The Life of a Full Time Student Athlete

By: Adam Kates

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If you have ever classified yourself as a “full time athlete” or a “24 hour athlete” then you know that, while life is often a lot of fun, it is also one of the most demanding existences there is. One’s entire day, one’s entire life, revolves around doing what is needed to ensure optimum performance during competition. A major component of this is recovery. One can train harder and faster than anyone else but if they do not recover properly then the benefits of training will be short lived.

This summer I have had the good fortune to consider myself a “full time athlete.” Training as well as I can is my full time job and my main concern. The time in between training can be spent preparing for my next session: recovering and regenerating and analyzing my last workout. I am currently on the Haig Glacier in Kananaskis Alberta for my third on-snow training camp of the summer. A typical day here consists of a 3 hour hike/ski in the morning followed by lunch and a nap. An afternoon workout of either strength, running or sometimes even skiing for a second time is usually followed by video technique analysis and stretching. Dinner is around 6pm and after a meeting it is usually early to bed for all. As you can see, everything we do revolves around being as prepared as we can for each workout. The old adage “Eat-Sleep-Ski” is not far off for us “full timers.”

What happens then when a small thing, oh lets say a 4 year University education, interferes with ones ability to be a “full time athlete?” Unlike the vast majority of my racing peers, I am also a full time student who is entering my fourth and final year of a double degree in English and Education at Lakehead University. So what do I do when afternoon nap time is interrupted by afternoon Contemporary Literary Criticism 101? When homework and essays interfere with stretching time? And when a late night of studying for a final may conflict with the “early to bed early to rise” philosophy that is adopted by most high level athletes? Yes, life as a full time student and a full time athlete is extremely difficult, but contrary to popular belief, it is far from impossible to be successful at both.

As I mentioned before “full time athletes” attempt to do everything possible to ensure optimum performance. They have to feel as good as they can at all times, no matter what it takes, no matter what sacrifices need to be made. It is no wonder then that most top athletes are overachievers in many aspects of their lives other than sport: they strive to do everything perfectly. With the added distractions of 24 hours per week of University classes plus studying, essays and presentations, us “full time student athletes” have to be even more conscious of living the “perfect” lifestyle. While I am a University student you sure won’t see me out at weekly Kegers with my classmates! If you want to attempt to undertake a career as a serious student athlete you have to be perfect, or at least make a damn good attempt. While full time athletes may have 7 hours to play with between workouts, a student athlete might only have a 2 hour brake before 4 hours of classes. You must optimize you time, especially your recovery time. Sleep as much as you can and stretch while you wait for your next class to begin (even if you do get weird looks from your classmates). Even though you are often only sitting in class, it is still mentally draining to be going all day. Recovery whenever you can get it is extremely important. You do not have time to waste…so optimise every minute of your day!

There is not doubt that I could train much more during the school year, but at what cost? Training without proper recovery is like driving a car without stopping to put fresh oil in…sure you will keep going for a while, but eventually, like the car’s engine, you will burn out. It is important for full time student athletes to focus on quality as opposed to quantity. Make each workout or training session as good as can be. School allows little room for error, so try to minimize your mistakes. Be extra careful and do not push your training envelope too far or you may have a hard time getting back.

Being a student and having the mindset of a full time athlete is a very difficult undertaking. After highschool, many Canadian skiers are faced with a difficult choice: keep skiing and keep chasing my dreams while accepting the fact that a career as a full time cross country skier probably won’t lead me to great wealth or retire from the sport that I love so that I can pursue an education which will lead to a career that will pay the bills. Unfortunately, in our country the choice is black or white; very few people delve into the grey area which I have entered. In my opinion the danger in this trend is that we are losing too many good athletes who feel that they have to be a “full time athlete” in order to have any success at all. Once they reach the senior ranks these talented young skiers realize that the ease with which they dominated the junior level is replaced by a feeling of hopelessness as they are consistently thrashed by full time 28 year old National Team Skiers. The future looks bleak for so many young skiers, who could develop at a slower level while attending school and who have the potential to be fast full time 28 year old National Team Skiers in the future, simply pack it in.

In a sport where athletes do not hit their peak until their late 20’s and in many cases until their early 30’s it is important for student athletes to remember that it is possible be a successful skier as well as a successful student…it is not going to be easy but hey, if it doesn’t kill you it will only make you stronger.

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