There is one thing in college athletics that is known to be a universal truth: your time is not your own. Now your friends, your class schedule, your roommate, your dorm, and your major? Those you get to have a little creative license with, but not your time. No, it doesn’t matter what sport you’re playing or what division you’re in, your time is definitely not your own. At schools much bigger than Holy Cross it’s more than just your time they control. Where you live is dictated. Who you live with is predetermined. There are athlete dorms, dinning halls, and gyms meaning it’s hard to make friends outside of your team. Your class schedules are picked for you and some majors are so time consuming they are considered “off limits.” For a D1 athlete I have it lucky and I know that. I’m not complaining. I’m just stating the fact that if I were in control of what I chose to spend my time doing, getting up before the sun rises in -14 degree weather to practice in a building with borderline toxic air quality would not be very high on the list. If I’m being honest it probably wouldn’t be on the list at all. Or even remotely near the list.
After we were handed the spring schedule from our new coach, my team started panicking they all turned to me with fear in their eyes and sadness in their hearts and said, “Mairead, how are you going to make it to practice?” or “This must be so devastating for you,” or my personal fav, “Who wants to start making bets on when Mairead’s first breakdown will be?” You see there are people who claim they aren’t a “morning person” and then way past that is me. I think I love sleep more than my family (I’m just kidding mom!!! [kind of]). It’s so important to me that on an assignment where we crossed out things we wouldn’t have done that day if we knew we were going to die I literally did not cross off napping. For me: Sleep doesn’t just = Happiness… it = LIFE. So initially yes, I was devastated. Like considered fleeing the country or possibly faking my own death type of devastated. But that’s understandable, right? To fully grasp what seeing 6 AM listed as a MONDAY practice start time did to my soul I think we need to rewind a little. Let’s start with junior year in high school Mairead.
Junior year in high school Mairead was on scholarship at a private school a few towns over from her. She had to drive on the Garden State Parkway during rush hour to get there and so in order to be on time she had to leave her house no later than 7:10 AM, so it makes sense that she woke up at exactly 7:15 every single day. She was late each morning without fail and would continue this trend until she graduated. When at school, she would use every study hall she had to nap on the couches of the “Junior Lounge” (thank you swanky private school) and purposely tried to block her study halls into periods of two to three hours in order to create the optimal napping scenario. Everyone in her grade knew not to wake her up under any circumstances as she had already threatened several students’ lives and even whipped a basketball at a boy mid wake up. After school she would rush home so that she could immediately start… her second nap (she had to fit it in before soccer practice) and then, after practice, would promptly go to bed at 10 PM, 11 the latest if she had a TV show to watch. When did she do her homework? College-all-nighter-no-napping Mairead would also like to know the answer to this.
Hearing the horror stories of “7 AM practices” or “6 AM lifts” or even worse, the cruel, torturous, and completely inhumane custom of having “5 AM fitness” from returning college freshman on her team over winter break made her want to vomit, but she figured it couldn’t be helped. So she did the only thing a rational 17 year old could do, she pretended they were all lying at that this would not and could not happen to her. When it came time for junior year Mairead to commit to a college for soccer she was stuck between two schools that were very similar: both small, academically rigorous liberal arts colleges in the same conference with coaches and team members she respected and enjoyed. There were several differences between them like location and what position they wanted her to play, but those were not a huge factor for her as they balanced out. She liked one college’s close proximity to civilization and the other’s idea of where she should play on the field. And then, just when she believed she would never be able to choose between the two, something magical happened. On her unofficial visit to the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts on March 22, 2013 the words “never had a morning practice in my career” were uttered by an upperclassmen on the team during her fifth tour of the campus in 10 months. And while being near a city was important to her, not having to be up before 9 AM was pretty much a basic need for survival.
Let’s fast-forward a little bit to fall of sophomore year in college Mairead. This Mairead may not nap as much, and I may know exactly when she does her homework, but don’t let her fool you, she still struggles making it to her 9:30 AM class on time. When we catch up with this Mairead, she is standing in the huddle at the end of practice. It’s been a rough season for this Mairead. She tore a ligament in her knee the previous spring, and although its better than it was, and she has been able to do full contact, both her and the coaches have decided putting her on the field is not an option. Her knee is a liability not only to herself but also to the team. So she’s not in her happiest of places, but the team is having one of its best runs in conference so things could be a lot worse. And just as she thinks this they would become a lot worse as the words, “8 AM morning practice tomorrow before we travel. Don’t look at me that way all the teams do it,” came rushing out of her coach’s mouth. 8 AM my not seem early to you, some people take classes at that time. But to fall semester Mairead it was as if someone had concocted this very hour in the devil’s image. Her past high school strategies to deal with the morning wouldn’t work. “You can’t wake up at 7:55 for an 8 AM practice,” her roommate said, and her roommate was (is) always right. So she got up at 7:35 and she went to her 8 AM practice, and she practiced as hard as she could (read as: walked almost the whole time with periods of intermittent slow jogging), and she got yelled at mercilessly by her coaches (read as: was shouted at encouragingly and reminded she could do this), and it seemed like she was the only one being yelled at (read as: false). So when practice concluded at 8:45 AM she burst into tears. Yes, only 45 minutes of morning physical activity caused this reaction. Her assistant coach and athletic trainer came over extremely worried and asked her what was wrong. She replied between sobs, “It is honestly just too early in the morning for me to be up right now.”
And now here we are, with present day Mairead, who can finally stop using the third person in reference to herself. I am a month into morning practices and after swearing that “I am getting used to them” was a phrase that would never come out of my mouth, I have to admit I kind of am. Don’t get me wrong it’s been a struggle and a half. It absolutely sucks not being able to go to ~Leits~ and dance on the ledge with my galpals. It sucks not being able to really catch up on sleep since the weekend is the only time we can go out and if I don’t go chances are all go weeks without seeing all my NARP babes. And frankly, it sucks going to every class smelly and having to go to bed early, or even worse having to stay up late to do homework knowing full well there is no scenario where you get more than 2 hours of sleep. Are there mornings when my alarm goes off and I think, “If I just lay here very quietly maybe no one will notice I’m not at practice?” Are there times during fitness and rehab that I wonder why exactly 11 year old Mairead decided this would be the best way to spend her last years before adulthood? Did it suck when is was -14 out and my hand froze to the driving wheel? Do I crawl back into bed after every practice to nap no matter how many times I swear I’ll stay up and do work? Did I get overwhelmed with work this week because I still haven’t figured out the best way to schedule doing it? And was it a HUGE adjustment? Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, and YES. But I’m doing it. Without a breakdown. And that’s more than I could say just last semester.
I’m coping because somehow I’m finding the positives. Post-practice team breakfasts are fun and I finally get to Kimball early enough for omelets. Our new coach knows what she is doing and being able to see the purpose behind a drill makes it bearable to be up before the sun. Fitness is hard, but it’s short, and it’s soccer specific (and it’s at 7AM, not 5). Practices have a positive tone even though it’s so easy to be negative that early in the morning. There is always an element of fun: whether it’s a Friday full of competitive small sided, or a Tuesday running sprints against a “rival” team. Personally it pushes me to work harder on the fieldhouse track when I’m rehabbing because watching those practices makes me want to play. For the first time in a while, I don’t just love the feeling of playing the actual game. I love watching it, and doing drills, and strategizing, and working on touches, and doing ladders, and hurdles, and even the feeling of severe nausea after completing my first full fitness practice since my procedure. Our team is getting closer; something about doing something hard together does that to people. And of course, not going out as much saves money and calories. Just kidding, I really can’t make that one better, seeing girls in heels in the bathroom on Wednesday nights still stings, but wishing I was able go out is a lot different from utterly despairing in the idea of morning practice. Before this started, if you’d asked me, or any girl on my team, (actually just any person I’ve ever spoken to…ever) if I would still be pretty put together after a month of morning practices I would have probably laughed in your face and walked away or broken down in sheer panic at the word “morning.” Now it’s just a sucky but manageable part of something that I otherwise genuinely enjoy.