I decided I’d swear off the family vacation my parents planned for the last week of August in order to return to Yale early and participate in some preseason varsity workouts. What’s another week of vacation, anyway? I’d rather come back and experience the end of summer as a Yale varsity athlete does: box drills and beep tests, maxing out my lifts and hitting the field hockey turf. It couldn’t be that hard.
Actually, I didn’t. Vacation is far too precious to me. But I still wanted to find out what it’s like.
After picking the brains of some of Yale’s finest athletes, I realized that when it comes to playing a varsity sport here at Yale, I’m completely outclassed and unprepared. The demands and rigors of one day of preseason alone would render me weary and sore. Preparing myself mentally and physically to meet each day’s challenges would require a significant change in attitude and output. I can see it now.
Based on my conversations, here’s what I imagined two days of preseason might be like.
Day 1: I wake up to my alarm’s buzz at some ungodly hour, wander over to Stiles for breakfast, and then up to the weight room. Apparently, I’ve picked a perfect day to try my luck with the football team. Today is testing day. Before me, a couple of behemoths clean absolutely mind-boggling amounts of weight. I’ll try my luck with 185 pounds.
I hang my hands — conspicuously lacking the calluses that have hardened on everyone else’s palms — over the bar, before beginning my lift. I strain to perform the maneuver, my back arched and my rear end sticking out. It’s ugly. I clearly didn’t spend enough time in the weight room this summer. The men around me are hardened and comfortable in this environment, as polished in their terminology and technique as a scientist in his laboratory. Dropping the bar and feeling completely out of place, I sneak out of the weight room.
After a quick lunch — I’m really not hungry after feeling nauseous all morning — I ride the bus out to the field house and strap on the pads that the equipment manager has nicely laid out for me. My arms trembling from my embarrassing lifting performance, I pull my navy blue jersey over my shoulder pads, drag my helmet over my ears and tighten my chinstrap.
Already tired after the warmups, my eyes sting with the sweat that has dripped from the white forehead pad looming just above my line of sight. I try to get a feel for each of the positions before realizing that the only place for me is with the tight ends. I’m not big enough to be a lineman; I don’t have the arm, the speed or the athleticism to be a quarterback, receiver or running back; and I’m not mean enough to play defense.
In the pass skeleton period, I stand in the huddle and stare blankly at the guys around me. “Dog Double Flank Right Brown Pick Texas on two. Break.” The huddle breaks and the other guys divide quickly and almost gracefully to take their places on the pristine lined field. I stumble to my spot, bend my knees, sink my butt, and place my right hand down into the grass. My posture is a sorry excuse for a three-point stance. “Black 80. Black 80. Set. Hit. Hit.” I explode off the line and run my drag route from left to right. Plodding with my head down, I run directly into a patiently waiting linebacker. I land on my back, struggling to breathe, my head pounding. The figure standing over my prone body seems to be screaming, “You got JACKED UP!”
No mas. That’s it for me. My day on the gridiron is done.
Day 2: Today I will try a new sport, one slightly less intimidating, challenging and dangerous, or so I think. I roll out of bed and stare at the pair of revealing blue shorts and the pinny that I have set aside for myself. I picture what my white thighs will look like stretching out of the shorts and come up with only one image: Will Ferrell running through the streets naked in “Old School.” Nevertheless, I dress and again make my way out to Yale’s athletic fields — this time to the turf of Johnson Field.
Arranged in front of the field hockey team is a sight as frightening as my shorts and pinny this morning: two lines of orange cones, just 20 yards apart. It’s beep test time, baby. The goal is simple: make it from one cone to the other in between each beep rudely belched from a recording device placed off to the side. The only problem is that the time between each beep shortens after each repetition.
Just minutes into the test, I’m winded. My body, already sore from the bruises acquired yesterday at football practice, seems to be telling me to stop. I again sense the nauseous feeling that I felt yesterday morning in the weight room. I scurry over to the garbage can and throw up. The coach kindly allows me some time off.
When I’m ready to continue with practice, I step into a situational drill. The whistle blows a few times before I even move, the direction of play changing with each whistle, seemingly without reason or cause. Finally, I spy the ball rolling in my direction. I bend over to put the curve of the peculiarly shaped stick I’m carrying onto the turf. Whack. A violent swing from one of the girls has sent the hardened sphere hurtling in my direction. Suddenly, I collapse, this time clutching my knee, just above the shin guards and blue socks I’m wearing. Play continues as I shimmy off the field and out of sight.
My varsity athletic career, although imagined, was quite short. It was also uncomfortable, strenuous and confusing, just how I would want to spend the last two weeks of my summer vacation. Relaxing and doing nothing is for the birds. I’d rather spend a couple of weeks in the rain with coaches yelling at me.
Nicholas Thorne is a junior in Pierson College.