Redeeming Myself to Finish Year 1 of Graduate School Strong

Listen, you have no idea just how relieved I am right now.  3 hours ago (from when I started typing) I submitted my final project to close out my first year of graduate school at the University of Texas.  The last 9 months have just been a roller coaster.  From me feeling exhausted during my very first class in August after my internship, to wanting to drop out in November, to running to my Sport and International Relations class throughout the spring semester and spending April joyously chasing down (this is a severe understatement) Texas’s assistant head track coach, the year has been crazy.  I’ll recap on my struggle-some fall which was a 4/10 at best to the redeeming spring semester that I had and share a bit of what helped me get to that point that may help you.

After being apart of a research study. Pain, so much pain.  Upright bikes are evil

After being apart of a research study. Pain, so much pain. Upright bikes are evil

So…my fall semester sucked.  It was hard and I wasn’t emotionally or mentally all the way prepared.  I spoke about this in a earlier blog.  Mainly I was burned out, I concluded this in January.  I had been going to the max since August 2013 and most days of multiple jobs, campus responsibilities, intense classes, and being with friends.  I was sleeping 40-43 hours a week in the fall and 33-38 hours/week in the spring.  Winter was no break nor was the summer with an extremely important internship with Texas Athletics (although I did sleep 42-46 hours/week!).  I sat in my first class at the University of Texas in August last year and said “this is going to be a long semester”, and it was.  Adjusting to research papers, missing old friends and struggling to make new ones, not eating enough and getting drained by club ultimate frisbee, by November I didn’t think I wanted to work in athletics at all and wanted to drop out.  I had made only ONE “B” all semester before the curve, so..yeah.

The spring semester was a new era.  I came back from my Mexico/Belize trip with a newly invigorated soul.  With that I took control of things and with a bit of time under my belt, and more fortunate classes was able to grow some friendships in Austin, do better in class, and find some great opportunities.  I’ll share the really good things that happened this spring

I joined a group in October called SAAB, Students of African American Brotherhood.  It was very similar to a group some of my older friends and I started in undergrad called Men of Distinction.  The environment was really positive and as great as it is to be around diverse people, it is very relieving to be with people who share similar life experiences and backgrounds as I do.  I had taken for granted that it took me 2-4 years to build the friendships I had at Slippery Rock, but by the mid-Spring semester my relationship with some of these guys were flourishing and my mood generally was better.  Having friends generally just helps with mood and motivation to some degree and it helps to be able to have people you trust to share thoughts with.

This spring I enrolled in a class called Sport and International Relations.  Just the title alone sold me as these are two big interests for me.  This class ended up being my favorite class in all my 5 years of college.  To the extent that I’m considering a Ph.D idea in something having to do with this, or around international sport diplomacy.  Much of our class was about the Olympic movement in the Cold War era and about national grand strategy which helped me better understand that era with some of the readings and doing some free reading.  We did two major projects that I loved.  The first was to create a international sport diplomacy program that would serve US interests.  Our group picked to do military base sport camps in Japan and Honduras.  It was just fun to put together and the guy who led our group is very bright and helpful which made it better.  During the second project (that I just turned in) we had to pick another country, come up with a grand strategy, and then create a sport diplomacy program to support it.  I suggested we do India as I am in love with that country.  I won’t go into details of the project (unless you ask) but we ended up created a large multinational cricket festival in that region with some other things (it was a larger project).  This class was a blast and the only class I’ve had that I wished was more than once a week.

Another good thing was that I finally tracked down Coach Tonja Buford-Bailey from Texas track and field.  I had been trying to shadow the track team since the fall.  I emailed her in like Sept/Oct. no answer.  I found out where practice was in Nov. and met her, great lady actually.  She said to email her my spring schedule, which I did within a day.  Spring starts, don’t hear from her, so I email her in early Feb. which was met with no reply.  I wait a few weeks, and then send another one in early-mid March.  No answer.  At that time I was becoming negatively self-conscious wondering what I’ve done wrong or if she just is too busy for emails as this is D1 track.  I ran into one of the athletes before Spring Break in mid-March and he said to come to practice after Texas Relays was over and he affirmed my second thought on her just being bust.  I’m like, bet I’ll be there.  Week after Texas Relays I show up on Friday afternoon.  Just my luck, she is away on a recruiting trip and they are practicing on their own.  With much avail to my persistence, I go to practice on Monday and finally meet with her again.  She vaguely remembered me but when I refreshed her about shadowing, she asked if I could that day since I was there.  Haha I just thought of the Boy Scout motto, Always Be Prepared, and on that day I was (aka I didn’t make plans).  It was fun and goodness are they fast.  Upon being inquired if I was interested in volunteering (I think showing some initiative to help with little stuff and a few athletes knowing me aided this), I met with her the following day just to be turned down largely due to it being April and the end of the season.  The call came from the head coach.  But she said to shoot her an email in the summer and maybe something can be worked out for next year.  If you read this far then I’m privileged that you read this as very, very, few people have been told about this.  I got to do a tempo workout with Coach Bailey and some Texas track girls and I was exhilarated for 2 days straight.  How many times does a not-so-fast guy like me gets to train with a 3x Olympian and some of the fastest women in the country.

The last couple of great things happened in April as well.  I began personally training a lady I was arranged with via a personal trainer out of Dallas, Dave from GetfitwithDave.  The woman I trained was absolutely delightful and it allowed me another outlet to express the new concepts and physiological adaptations I was growing to learn.  She lost 6lbs in a month (and she isn’t much overweight), got stronger, improved her mobility, and I helped teach her to sprint and about her body physiology.  I had a blast with her.  She gave me crockpot too, I hope she reads this.  The other great thing was getting my internship with EXOS.

After the SAAB Games

After the SAAB Games

In looking back there were a number of things I felt really helped this be a better semester, some I could control, others not so much.  First and foremost, taking the trip to Mexico and Belize revitalized me.  I needed to not be worried about school at all for a month and to challenge myself differently in life.  The change of pace that was brought upon my life was paramount.  Traveling and meeting new people from far places can help shake off a bad slump.  Being able to not really have to think much at all about the things concerning life at home because I was concerned about daily communication in a different language and making sure I didn’t get off on the wrong subway station provided me with a great mental break from those things that have stressed me for months.  It’s hard to stress about the fact you’re worried you didn’t pass your classes when you can barely speak Spanish and are pacing through Palenque, Mexico talking to 3 bus different business to get you to another city asap but they can’t so then have to go to the main bus hub to get them to create an alternative set of busses to get you 300miles up the road before morning.  I got my hostel in Campeche at 4am and still got up for breakfast at 8am after a shower.

Making friends helped tremendously.  My friendships with some of my SAAB brothers were growing, as well as with my two training partners.  Growing these relationships helped with that healthy social connection we all need as people.  Having people who you are able to trust and physically talk to and share your life with help get through the hard times that life can bring.  Friendship takes time and experience and by the end of the spring I came a long way with a few people. Also in this time, having been away from the friends I’ve seen almost daily while at school for nearly 11 months by finals, really helped show what friends stick, and which didn’t so much.  Having friends you enjoy just simply because of who they are helps make life more manageable.


Another big part that helped was to fully buy into myself.  And really, it was kind of hard to do on my own.  I’ll admit I got somewhat intimidated by the fact that some of my classmates seemed to know much more about certain ideas in regards to training and anatomy than I did.  At first I was resistant but then I realized I needed to ask and inquire, like I’ve always done.  In humbling myself to ask I learned from them.  And these were also the same people genuinely impressed by my presentation in class about training protocols I did for the Belizean athletes I worked with.  Now yes, you should be the one to validate yourself, but one is a fool to assume that validation from those that are assumed to know more doesn’t help with confidence.  In reexamining my opportunities and the things that brought me to the University of Texas, I had to accept that I was worthy and buy into myself and what I know, and also, what I will soon learn.  Confidence added to a desire to get better added with passion to be your best can produce great things.  I felt I was on the right path, but still needed to prove it to myself.

Closing this up, I had an interesting school year.  From being demoralized from the 1st day of class to searching for my lost phone in Mexico, to working out with a 3x Olympian to taking a international sport diplomacy class, this school year is certainly one to remember for me.  Being able to take a mental break from school and other personal problems, bask in the growth of friendship, and really buy into what I had to offer, I was better able to take advantage of what opportunities became available this spring.  Those aren’t the only things, but they played a big part.

One thought on “Redeeming Myself to Finish Year 1 of Graduate School Strong

  • Donald – Great post man. Glad to hear things are coming together well for you. Congrats on the EXOS internship – that is awesome!!! A guy I just interned with out of Cranberry actually knows Verstegen and referenced him occasionally. Anyways, hit me back on my email when you get a chance so we can exchange numbers and chat sometime. I still want to hear about that USATF cert. I just started my internship at GW today in DC, and will be going straight into grad school like you did, so I know you’ll have some valuable insight.

    Talk to you soon,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *