Exclusives: The Varsity Typewriter
PAW web exclusive column by Patrick Sullivan '02 (email: email@example.com)
Tiger, tiger, tiger for the student-athlete
Even a walk-on finds his place at Princeton through the athletic
and academic combo
To many, the concept
of student-athlete presents a conundrum: The words cannot possibly
suggest a peaceful coexistence of two seemingly disparate focuses,
As a senior, a former
varsity athlete, and ostensibly still a student, I am well qualified
to comment on the existence of the Princeton scholar-athlete. Though
too late to consider this column a direct response to the letters
of April 4 and May 16, 2001 (and others online in Letterbox),
hopefully my words will shed a student perspective on a topic that
of late has received considerable criticism from uninformed persons.
Ask most freshmen why
they came to Princeton, and you'll hear a variety of responses.
One will be, "Because I was recruited to play a sport."
This answer is as legitimate as the textbook, administration/trustee/alum
specialty response: "Because I endeavored to enrich my intellectual
capacity through vigorous academic pursuits with other innately
intelligent, highly motivated peers." Yes, this is true. We
all want to do this.
I came to Princeton
from a small prep school just north of Chicago. The first person
from my school to enter these Ivy gates in five years, I had no
response to the "why-I-chose-Princeton question." Well
. . . um, they chose me, I mumbled that entire summer before freshman
year, as though still in shock by Dean Hargadon's letter.
The first thing I did
at Princeton was run down to the track - after all, I was the best
distance runner in my high school, breaking all the school records,
and finishing among the top 15 in the state for the two-mile. Maybe
this was why I came to Princeton, I thought. The cross-country coach
allowed me to "walk on" to the team along with two other
freshmen. All three of us suddenly felt like second-class citizens,
resident aliens among the elite, "recruited athletes"
in their new and free! Nikes.
And make no mistake,
the mens' cross country and track team at Princeton is elite. Ranked
as high as eighth nationally during my sophomore year, the athletes
were superstars, among whom were multiple state champions, Footlocker
National finalists, or even that scrappy Canadian who placed eighth
at NCAAs, as a sophomore (Paul Morrison '02). With a 4:23 mile time
not shabby by any stretch of the imagination I was
the third slowest miler on the team!
Although the coaches
viewed walk-ons as nonentities, the three of us worked and trained
constantly, hoping to earn the respect of our teammates, and the
approval of our coaches. The former proved simple, the latter impossible;
but in no time I was part of a cohesive yet individually unique
team. And I loved it.
You'd think that these
national-caliber runners, who train upwards of 85 miles per week,
would do poorly in school, or would only choose "gut"
classes around their athletics, right? Again, you'd be wrong. My
class had more engineers than AB majors, and the team owned the
distinction of having the best cumulative GPA of all the sports
For the most part, athletics
at Princeton challenges athletes to raise their game, both on the
field and in the classroom.
No athlete, from the
most stereotyped football-playing jock to the dignified elitist
fencer, deliberately coasts through this university merely to play
a sport. Of course, some athletes may say that, and some may even
appear to act that way, but in reality, all athletes at Princeton
care about their studies, and find the necessary time to accomplish
Not many of us aspire
to play a professional sport, and we'll all intelligent enough not
to believe in such pipe dreams. So we play hard, we study hard and
we're all closet academics.
And what of those athletes
who, in addition to excelling on the field, sing in an a cappella
group, or star in a Shakespearean tragedy, or serve as Residential
Advisers (RAs), or write for the Triangle show, or participate in
ROTC? (By the way, I was an RA and I manage a Student Agency).
The time constraints
of a varsity sport necessitate time management and strict work habits.
Before nagging injuries and a broken leg ended my running career
during my junior year, I found that my running two to three
hours per day required me to study efficiently, to sleep
regularly, and even to drink less, if at all. I had a routine that
at times proved difficult, but that never hindered my studies. It
Perhaps the biggest
benefit of athletics on a collegiate level, and particularly at
Princeton where academic pressure is so intense, is the social comfort,
the cohesive team framework, and the physical outlet of energy,
even if out of pure frustration. Simply said, when I arrived on
campus four falls ago, I was intimidated even overwhelmed
by my surroundings, by the intellectual potency of my peers,
by my Texas roommate.
To spend two hours daily
with athletes who shared a common passion proved to be how I first
became comfortable with Princeton. These guys were among my first
friends, and they gave me a sense of belonging that I'd wager many
freshmen seek during the first, trying months of college.
Though I've stopped
running competitively, I still maintain a strict running regimen.
It helps me focus on my studies. But sometimes, when I see a pack
of Princeton runners streaking through town on the half-marathon
loop, or doing "hills" on Washington Road, I cannot help
but miss that team unity, and the tangible benefits of the scholar-athlete.
Maybe I'm just a sentimental
senior. But I'll stand by my claim that walking on to the cross-country
and track teams four years ago created my Princeton experience.
Patrick Sullivan can
be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.