What Happens When D1 Becomes Priority Number One

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You’re a racing horse amongst ponies, a genetically superior breed amongst mere mutts. You’re a D1 athlete.

Your days are filled with workouts, team meetings, and practices in addition to the generic responsibilities of a normal college student: class, homework, probably–but not likely–a social life. Despite your chaotic schedule, you are called upon day after day to perform at the highest level of athleticism with unwavering dedication.

The problem with this formula for success is that you are human. You have emotions, flaws and off-days just like any other person. Perfection is an impossible request, especially considering the tremendous pressure that comes with Division 1 athletics.

Whether they are worried about keeping their scholarships or terrified of disappointing their parents by admitting they’re falling out of love with their sports, many athletes reach breaking points in their college careers. For some, this crux of confusion comes during the first year of school, and for others it may not arrive until the last. Regardless, one thing is certain: it will force them to face their fears head on, and to make some of the toughest decisions of their lives.

I faced my athletic breaking point during the second semester of my third year. After two full years of struggling to remain standing, I came to a point where I could not take the immense amount of pressure on my shoulders every day. I cracked. I broke. I crumbled.

I was forced to realize my D1 status had taken control and had become the number one priority in my life, even over academics. I distinctly recall skipping class or review sessions to fit in “necessary” overtime practice. My relationships also suffered because I didn’t have the mental capacity to tend to them properly. I looked on as my strongest friendships disintegrated right before my eyes. Even my relationship with myself had become toxic. I routinely felt ashamed for not reaching the unrealistic standards I had set for myself.

When I finally recognized this twisted priority arrangement during my third year, I decided enough was enough. It was time for me to take back control of my life.

Whereas before I had left practice and qualifying rounds distraught over bad scores or elated due to record-setting ones, I now drive past the gate of our practice facility completely detached from my performance on the course. Now when I return to my apartment, I relax with friends instead of breaking down in inconsolable tears when I fear I won’t make the traveling team for the next tournament. I hop in the shower and change into a frilly, floral dress—a distinct contrast to my tomboy-esque golf attire—and meet my boyfriend for dinner on the downtown strip of my gorgeous college town. I ease into the mountain of schoolwork that lies before me every night without the intense pressure of deadlines and upcoming tests festering in my mind. I am finally able to enjoy and embrace these experiences outside of my sport because I own the ability to turn off my D1 mentality.

I am now living in a post-breakdown world. Jobs and finances and marriage still loom in the overhead air—especially as a young adult, it is normal to resist the future and ease into it with trepidation. However, my newfound ability to deal with the present has transformed me drastically.

Even though I don’t have everything figured out quite yet, I feel as if a pair of glasses, tinted with guilt and fear, has been lifted from the bridge of my nose. Achieving the status of a D1 athlete was arguably my most significant accomplishment to date, but being a collegiate athlete no longer defines me. I am a unique individual with more to offer than shear strength and a low scorecard. I am more than D1.

Alex is a fourth-year student-athlete at the University of Virginia majoring in Media Studies and Spanish. Her hobbies include challenging her friends to grueling tennis matches and diving head first into rocky road ice cream sundaes.

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