Last weekend, I ran in my final cross country Heptagonal Championship, the Ivy League conference meet. After eight years of running cross country every fall, my final season is coming to a close. I am leaving behind something I have loved deeply, something that has been central to my identity. Now I am struggling to understand what it will mean to live as something other than a collegiate athlete.
Being an athlete at Yale is difficult. Yale has been for me, in many ways, a circumscribed experience. The track, the shuttle out to the field house and the training room are the places I know best here. I spent over four hours training almost every day. A constant worry has been getting to bed as early as possible, eating enough food, making sure my studies do not overwhelm me so that I can practice at the highest level.
Some of the sacrifices I had to make have significantly hampered my time here. Unlike at some other schools in the Ivy League, many high-level seminars happen during the afternoons, our practice time. The inability to enroll in the courses I am most interested in at Yale because I am an athlete representing Yale still angers me. Then there were the speakers, discussions and events I wanted to go to throughout the years that I have had to miss because practice was always there. Losing touch with friends because their lifestyle was not compatible with my training has been a difficult experience.
The life of a Yale athlete is a cramped one. But it is only within restrictions that the beautiful can develop. The mutual self-denial that the life of a student-athlete imposes has allowed my teammates and me to bond in a way that would not be possible otherwise. The shared toil of practice and the monotony of physical therapy have given us a common language. And the athletic bliss of a race well-run has given us a common purpose. The sacrifices are real, and can feel unjust, but in some way, they are necessary to reap the benefits.
In this sense, athletics at Yale are extreme examples of the intensity Yale students devote to their extracurricular activities. Our extracurricular activities make incredible demands upon us, to a degree not found on many other college campuses. My peers have devoted semesters or years of their life to a single organization, making it far and away their top priority — above school, friends or sanity. For my friends at other schools, their clubs exist for their benefit; at Yale, it seems as if we exist for the benefit of our clubs. The downsides of this approach are many, but the benefits are very real. In life, we are given few chances to care passionately about a group, and practicing doing so is important; it serves as a bulwark against the cynicism that seems waiting to engulf us.
Now, in our senior year, my friends and I are stepping away from the things we cared so much about. I am lucky enough to be able to continue running, but many organizations on campus seem to have no room for seniors. We are left with ample time to reflect upon our collegiate experience.
The day before my sophomore Heps, I was running with a senior on the team. He seemed down so I asked him what was wrong. He said that he was not sure that running in college was worth all the sacrifices he had to make for it. I had never considered the question before, but I am grateful he asked it. I have carried it with me ever since.
There is no one answer to that question, but it’s worth keeping in mind. For the underclassmen, it can help prevent tunnel vision and keep you aware of the multitude of opportunities to be found here. For the seniors, it is a reminder of the consequences of our choices and a lesson for the future. In order to achieve anything important you have to give up a lot, but losing sight of what has been lost is a mistake. I could not be prouder of my time running for Yale, and that pride is strengthened by knowing what I lost in the process.
Isa Qasim is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.