What happens to most college athletes after they finish or quit college? There are many answers to this question, but I believe one answer will occur the most. Former college athletes miss being in college. That is right, in most cases the athletes want to go back to the good old days of playing their sports, doing some schoolwork, and simply enjoying their time in college with whatever they are doing. I am one of these athletes. Leaving Saint Francis University after being on the tennis team for 2 years was one of the hardest things I have had to do and there is not a single day that goes by without me wanting to go back… So I did. I decided to get myself on a plane and make my way back over there for a week and find out what I was missing.
My journey started with a joke. My friend from the SFU track and field team, where I would always go to celebrate thanksgiving, sent me a text joking that I should just come visit and celebrate thanksgiving with them, and yes Thanksgiving is the holiday of which a very small amount of people know the actual meaning behind and yes it is the one with the huge stuffed turkeys. I did not take his joke serious, but just out of curiosity I went online to take a look at what the price of a plane ticket would be. This is where it all became real. THE TICKETS WENT FROM USUALLY BEING AROUND $1000 TO BEING $300! This new company WOW Air) was selling tickets to fly to America and back cheaper than I had ever seen. After a day or so of debating whether or not to go I decided to just take the opportunity and go. So a couple of days later I am on the plane, having a short layover in Reykjavik (Almost missed my second flight because I was hungry and decided to get a sandwich instead of being smart and going to the gate) and I couldn’t be more excited and couldn’t wait for the plane ride to be over.
When I got there, jetlagged and all, I spent some days with my friend Mike who lives in Pittsburgh, enjoying the black Friday shopping deals and all the leftovers from the thanksgiving feast.
Then me and Mike got our stuff and made our way up to school. When I got there I did not know what to think. Being there felt so normal and yet so weird at the same time. It felt like my semester just started and I could just finish where I left off. After being there for a week, this feeling didn’t change, it might have even gotten worse. It is incredible to see how easy it is to fall back into the patterns of a life you used to live and for your body and mind to almost believe that you are actually living that life again. When I left the school and Mike drove me to the airport, it felt like I was not supposed to leave yet. ‘The semester couldn’t be over already could it?’ That’s what my initial thought was before realizing again that I was only visiting… weird.
Here comes the cliché. The best part of being back at school of course was seeing my old team and all of my close friends that I had made in the past two years there. To make this even more of a cliché, I’m going to use the most used phrase of all time; ‘you don’t know what you had until it’s gone’. I don’t think I ever consciously valued my team and friends enough. When you spend that much time together you really do become some sort of a special family that (hopefully) ride or die together. I am fortunate enough to also have had a good relationship (at least off the court) with both my head coach and my assistant coach. Even they feel like they have some spot in that dysfunctional family.
So what I did all week was first of all bothering everyone that could possibly have time to entertain me, and secondly to do as many of my favorite things about college in one week as humanly possible. Going to the gym with a part of my standard work out group from last year, going out to my favorite American restaurants (mostly Chick-Fil-A), watching movies with my team late at night, and hang out with my friends in the weekend. Everything was almost exactly as I left it and it felt great being back in that atmosphere again.
Even though the week was awesome, I can honestly say that it is incredibly weird to be back in college without going to college. While everyone started preparing for finals week and the stress levels were rising, I was busy finding out who would fill the next gap in my daily schedule. When people were thinking of going to bed early to be ready for their morning conditioning, I was convincing them to stay up longer and hang out with me. When the others had to rush through their meals in the cafeteria to be in time for the next class, I could take all the time in the world to finish my plates of food which I earned by using other people’s meal plans. Being in college without going to college actually sounds pretty great doesn’t it? It is also very misleading. When my friends were getting tired of studying, I realized I miss the pressure of having to do well on all of your finals. When my old teammates were grumpy from having to wake up for their 6:30 am conditioning session, I missed the feeling of being in a team and going through all of it with people you can basically call your family. And when people had to rush through lunch to go to their next class, I was jealous that I was just sitting in the cafeteria instead.
Hopefully I will be able to find a school where I can finish what I started and get my degree while still playing tennis, but I can honestly tell you what everyone will tell you. College flies by at an insane pace. I know that for me only two years have passed in college but it feels like just yesterday that I arrived at Saint Francis for the first time. I will never forget how quick I was accepted into the team and the family. I now wish I would have valued those connections more, but I am grateful that I had the chance to see everyone again and even meet some new people on campus.
If any retired student athlete reads this and has the chance to go back and visit their old college, I would definitely recommend it as it was one of the best weeks of the year and I would choose to do it all over again right now if I could.