Sports playing alumni offer advice about the reality of college-level athletics

January 22, 2017 — by Michelle Lee

The Carnegie Mellon cross country team (in red) gets the start during an early-season meet in September. 2016 alum Stephen Law is on the team.

Class of 2016 alumnus Stephen Law, now on the cross country team for Carnegie Mellon University, stood with his hands on his hips, mouth wide open as his coach laid out the day’s workout this past fall: run 6 miles out at a sub-7 minute pace and then, without stopping, run the six miles back at a 5:40 pace.

“College running is a step up from anything I’ve done in high school,” Law said. “A lot of the times, the practices are insane, which makes what the upperclassmen runners do seem absolutely crazy.”

Many students dream of continuing to play the sport they love all the way through college. Of course, the reality of trying to get accepted by a college’s sports program and then actually playing the sport while completing a difficult academic load is a laborious feat.

Class of 2014 almuna Madison Seagraves, a University of Oregon student who has been dancing since age 4, spent four or five days every week in high school dancing. But even that level of commitment did not compare to the level of obligations necessary at the college level. Seagraves was taken aback by the amount of dedication and strength it took to be on the University of Oregon’s dance team.

“I thought that I would be prepared to be on the team, but it kicked my butt,” Seagraves said. “If you really want to dance in college, you have to try your hardest no matter what you’re doing. The college dance world is very competitive, more than you would expect.”

Like Seagraves, Law advised college athlete hopefuls to not underestimate the competitiveness and dedication necessary to play their sport. Before entering college, Law believed that he was ready, maybe even overly ready, to be on a Division 3 cross-country team because of his ability to run 10 miles a day, six times a week.

Arriving on the Pittsburg campus, Law was humbled as soon as he began running with the college team, saying he met runners who worked two or three times as hard as he did.

“Literally every junior and senior was and is doing more than 15 miles of running a day at much faster speeds than me,” Law said. “So whenever you think that you’ve worked hard enough and can relax on the workouts and the distance runs, just remember you can always be doing more.”

The intensity of the college sports is nearly universal. For example, the Oregon dance team competes at the nation’s largest collegiate-level dance competition and is hosted at the ESPN sports center, so dancers like Seagraves have to make significant sacrifices. While Carnegie Mellon is in Division 3 for running, Law and his team put in the same amount of work and dedication as D1 athletes.

“We do really care about winning and really work towards that,” Law said.

Of course, it takes more than just hours of training and practices to play on a college level. In many cases, athletes’ social lives becomes almost non-existent beyond their sport.

“I have to give up some of the ‘college experience,’ like going out and spending a lot of time with my friends that aren't on dance team,” Seagraves said. “I’m not as involved with my sorority because the dance team takes up a lot of my time. It takes a lot of work and sometimes it can get a little too overwhelming for me.”

Law added that while running does take two hours of his schedule on most days, other college students use the same time to explore the city, join fraternities, volunteer and more.

Even with the sacrifices, Seagraves said there are plenty of benefits, too. Some of her best experiences at college have been dancing at football and other games, an experience amplified by all the school spirit at Oregon. In addition, the bond that her team shares is worth the practices and struggles, she said.

“I have made my best friends from being on dance team and I get to do what I love. It is constantly pushing me to become a better dancer,” Seagraves said.

For his part, Law sees running on the team as being at the center of his college experience and one with surprising benefits.

“My confidence level as an athlete has raised and I know what I am definitely capable of,” Law said. “For example, in Pittsburgh, it’s always sub 10 degrees Fahrenheit with awful snowy and windy conditions. But the team just puts on a few long sleeve shirts and we head out to run 12 miles. So when I’m back here at Saratoga, I can still keep running when its like 50 degrees and sprinkling which was something I used to consider as pretty bad conditions.”

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