Lexi Zimmerman and Courtney Fletcher: The student-athlete divide

BY LEXI ZIMMERMAN AND COURTNEY FLETCHER

Published May 6, 2010

As athletes who take academics very seriously, we have noticed a mutual misunderstanding, even tension, between athletes and non-athletes. Everyone knows the two sides of the issue: “Athletes are only here because they play a sport,” and “non-athletes sit around and do nothing all day." But both arguments have an element of truth. Some athletes were greatly helped by their athletic ability when applying to Michigan, and, equally, there are some non-athletes who have all day to do homework yet still fail to turn it in on time. While both sides have legitimate arguments for their cause, the real issue is the lack of respectful dialogue between the two schools of thought. Here is our attempt to contribute to that dialogue.

You’re probably wondering who is writing this column. We are both players on the University’s volleyball team (Lexi is a senior and Courtney is a Junior). Last season, we made it to the Elite 8 in a historically successful season and Lexi was named a First-Team All-American. In our time at the University, we have learned what it takes to be student-athletes, which is no easy task. There is a certain rhythm to the balancing act that every athlete must master. Somewhere between the morning lifts, afternoon classes, practice, rehab and evenings spent struggling to stay awake while studying, you learn to operate on survival mode. During the fall, our rigorous schedule means we miss Friday classes due to travel. We study and take exams on the road before huge games and return exhausted still knowing there’s an equally hard week ahead of us.

The difference between athletes and non-athletes is not so much the amount of time committed to activities, but the distribution of that time. While our non-athlete friends are recharging and free to get lunch on weekends, during the season our weekend schedules are literally booked (Courtney has to iCal things like meeting with a professor while walking to practice). Our “recharging” time away from our athletics is during the week, when we still have classes to attend.

Time management continually becomes a higher priority as athletes fight to break the label of “just athletes.” It takes time for most student-athletes to learn how to take advantage of the unique, world-class resources offered by the University. But by the time athletes are headed into their senior year, many have finally mastered the art of juggling their sport, school and general student life.

Both of us have found our balance after two years, but we have had our limbs pulled in many directions in the process. Courtney is a Girl Scout Leader and Screen Arts and Cultures concentrator who also loves other arts, such as ceramics, painting, photography, cross-stitching and scrapbooking. Lexi found she could turn her passion for the outdoors into a concentration with Program in the Environment (PitE) when she took advantage of Camp Davis, the Michigan field camp in Wyoming. She also loves exploring campus buildings and meeting people who are passionate about completely different things than herself.

It is a great honor for any student to represent their university with the pride that comes with being an athlete. But here, more so than at other schools, athletes make a conscious effort to fully experience everything this institution has to offer. Non-athletes too exhibit the unyielding drive and motivation of a top athlete. But instead of on the court or field, this drive is seen in their competitive fire to achieve their lofty goals in school, work or student groups.That's the "Michigan Difference." This connecting factor is what athletes and non-athletes alike should be focusing on. No matter where you find your passion, we are all inherently bonded by the University. We have all been given the amazing opportunity to study, work and play here for four years. And we can all agree that our time in Ann Arbor is flying by.

It takes a lot of hard work, dedication and enormous sacrifice to be a true student-athlete. Our sport, along with every other sport at the University, is a 365-day a year commitment, and we take it seriously. But we have many other commitments — just as many of you do. Maybe intramural sports are what's important to you. Maybe it's academics or maybe it's involvement in the community. With that alone, we have a lot more in common than you think. So please, when you see athletes, don’t think immediately that all they do is chug muscle milk or, even worse, that they should graduate with an asterisk on their diploma. Instead, know that at the end of the day, we’re all working equally hard, but in different ways, to represent the block M and become the leaders and best.

Lexi Zimmerman can be reached at lexizimm@umich.edu. Courtney Fletcher can be reached at fletcho@umich.edu.