KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Sprints instead of selfies. Toning instead of tanning. A day at the beach took on different meaning for Western Michigan University student-athletes over the summer.
While most students were off working and enjoying break, many student-athletes were hard at work preparing for the season. They moved back to campus early to train and bond. Now that classes have begun, they're buckling down—ready to excel on the field and in the classroom.
As their seasons get underway, a few seasoned student-athletes are giving a glimpse into what it's like juggling academics, athletics and life in general.
As a red shirt senior, football player Justin Tranquill has seen his share of summer training. In fact, it's one of his favorite times on campus.
"We have morning lift and run, then if you have a job you go to work after. If you have class you go to your class," Tranquill says. "Outside of that, it's pretty much free time. You nap, you recover, you do some extra work. More than anything for me, though, it's a good time to build fellowship with the team."
That fellowship often comes in the form of sweating together. This summer that included clearing trees for Habitat for Humanity and running grueling sprints up the dunes on Lake Michigan.
"The relationships you build with teammates, the life skills you learn of discipline, execution, time management and hard work, those are things that you can take with you past football and into the real world for the rest of your life—as a working man, a father or a husband."
Tranquill, who already earned his bachelor's degree in sales and business marketing, is now pursuing his MBA. He also has another goal line he's running toward—Tranquill got engaged this summer, a moment he shared with his teammates afterward.
"This entire camp we've been reminiscing about our four years we've been here. I think we take each day just one day at a time, thankful for the moments we have left together and looking forward to those moments that this is our last opportunity to have together."
By now Tranquill has learned the importance of surrounding himself by the right people to ensure his success.
"My fiancee definitely gives me the balance. I have football and school, but she's definitely that happy medium," he says. "Having three roommates on the football team who are going through it, too, is helpful. It's nice to have friends going through it with you that you can relate to."
LAYING DOWN THE LAW
Between strength training and conditioning and hitting the books, senior volleyball player Kennedy Potts has something else on her mind this year—law school.
"I'm starting to apply right now," the behavioral psychology major says. "I think being a student athlete not only sets you apart from a lot of other applicants, it provides you with a lot of great relationships and it really prepares you for hard work."
Potts just wrapped up her last summer training with the WMU volleyball team.
"There are days where we all go to the pool after we work out or play beach volleyball," Potts says. "We work out together as a team, do open gyms together, do team dinners, explore Kalamazoo and enjoy our time. Then when the season starts, we're in grind time. Two-a-day practices, getting rest, treatment, workouts."
A beach lover at heart, Potts made time to take trips home to Muskegon on the weekends to swim on the lakeshore. She also enjoyed a retreat with her teammates at a ranch in Big Rapids.
As she looks toward the future and eyes graduation in the distance, Potts is grateful for the impact being a student-athlete has had on her life.
"I feel like I get more things done when I'm busier," she says, adding that she learned the importance of planning and time management. "It's really just looking ahead and prioritizing what needs to get done and then really being present in what you're doing."
Right now, one of her top priorities is making sure her team's hard work in the offseason pays off on the court.
"I'm just really excited to see how this team grows, because you can see how much potential we have and how high we can fly."
GRACE UNDER PRESSURE
Compared to the hustle and bustle that comes with the first week of classes, summer was quiet on campus.
"It's kind of weird because nothing's really going on," says Grace Labadie, a senior soccer player from Kalamazoo. "No one's really here and you're just all soccer all the time, which is nice, but at the same time you're ready for people to come back, have classes start and have a little break in the schedule."
On top of soccer and classes, Labadie and other student-athletes also find time to give back through camps or other service opportunities.
"We definitely want to reach out to the community and do what we can," Labadie, a sports management major, says. "So, we do things with Special Olympics, Loaves and Fishes, whenever we have time we try to reach out."
Labadie says her favorite part of getting back early for preseason this year was meeting all of her new teammates. It also gave her a chance to spend time with her twin sister, Jane.
"It's fun to have someone in your family who you can talk to all the time. Not a lot of siblings get to play together at the Division I level, so that's something we don't take for granted."
She's not going to take her senior season for granted, either.
"The last year you have to go out on top, so I'm really just looking forward to ending in a good way and doing well with the new teammates and just really putting this program where we want it to be."
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