Life after the game: Student athletes that stopped playing
Usually when sophomore Matt LeProwse strides past UP’s grass training field in the crisp autumn air, he can suppress his desire. However, some days are harder than others, and the sharp shouts of his former teammates, the familiar commands of the goalkeepers, and the echoing rattle of a ball striking the crossbar leave him yearning for his old job.
It’s on days like these, when the pristine practice pitch is being torn up by the men’s team during an intense training session, that a small part of LeProwse longs to be between the two goalposts.
But for the time being, that life is over for LeProwse. While LeProwse worked his way into a “great soccer program with a lot of history and an exciting future” the summer before his freshman year, he decided to embark on a different college path as a regular student at the end of his first season last year.
Committing to be a D1 athlete isn’t for everyone. Every year, student athletes drop out of their respective sports for a variety of reasons. While the reason for athletes dropping the sports they have dedicated countless years of their lives to vary greatly, one thing is similar among former athletes: The transition into regular student life is hard.
For LeProwse, the decision to hang up his boots was strictly academic.
“I was looking at a bunch of schools for scholastic reasons,” LeProwse, a Seattle native said. “I liked the small school aspect and I liked that [UP] was close-ish to home, not too far and definitely not too close.”
LeProwse still finds himself from time to time wishing that he was out there competing at the highest level. Yet overall, LeProwse is content with his decision to leave the team and focus on school.
“Balancing school and sports was a really tough challenge,” LeProwse stated. He also expressed that, after experiencing the dreary, practice-packed Fall Break that most athletes suffer through, “It was nice to know the other side of Fall Break.”
Junior Laura Staeheli’s reason for leaving her respective sport was much different. While LeProwse chose UP for mainly academic reasons, Staeheli resorted to gut instinct when choosing UP over other schools. The focus of her application process was where she would be running track and cross country for the next four years of her life.
“I only applied to schools in the (West Coast Conference) and I went on visits to all of them and I just went by gut reaction,” Staeheli said about her application and recruitment process. “Running had a bit more of an impact.”
Staeheli ran for UP throughout her freshman and sophomore years. Her freshman year, she suffered two femoral stress fractures. Yes, you read that correctly, Staeheli’s freshman season was hindered because she ran so much that she cracked the largest bone in her body, twice. Nevertheless, this did not dampen the Tacoma native’s indomitable spirit and drive.
The summer before her sophomore year, the same summer Matt LeProwse was striving to walk onto the men’s soccer team, Staeheli endured three to four hours of cross training every day to recover from her injuries. She spent an hour and a half in the pool, followed by an hour in rehab, which was then followed by another hour on a bike. It was this recovery process and the pressure to perform that drove Staeheli to end her running career.
“It was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make,” she said.
LeProwse and Staeheli both could’ve stayed on their respective teams but decided that being regular students was the best course of action. However, some athletes are not given that choice. This was the case for Dylan White, who dedicated his first two years of college to UP’s baseball team.
White, now a senior, is a local from Camas, Wash. and had to decide between playing baseball at University of Portland or at Oregon State. It was UP’s small community and the ability to prepare for medical school while still playing the game he loves that swayed White towards choosing UP. However, the coach that recruited White, Chris Sperry, was replaced by Geoff Loomis, who ushered in a reconstruction period, during which Dylan White and several other players lost favor within the team.
“New coaches want their own athletes,” White said. “I played my sophomore year here and you could kinda see a change in the team.”
After this period of reconstruction, White had the choice of transferring to a smaller school in the hopes of playing D1 somewhere else or staying at UP to pursue a career in medicine, knowing that he would not be able to play baseball. He chose the latter and ultimately said he does not regret his choice.
This year, White is focusing on getting ready for medical school and looking for internships, something that he admits would’ve been far more difficult had he continued playing baseball.
“I had that line being drawn in the sand in front of me and said you either have to make a decision now whether you want to continue to pursue medical school or try to pursue your baseball career elsewhere,” the former UP outfielder said.
The inability to pursue non-athletic careers to the fullest or completely embrace all the opportunities UP presents to its students was a consequence that all three former athletes referenced. LaProwse saw his grades improve after leaving the soccer team and connected with people he never had the chance to know before. Staeheli’s perseverance did not end with her running career as she is now the president of the Rise with Delight club and has two other jobs, while still preparing for medical school.
White emphasized how much time and energy it took to participate in D1 athletics. The senior, who is majoring in biology, took all his organic chemistry tests at 6 o’clock in the morning during his freshman year and said he often found it hard to make friends outside of baseball.
Nevertheless, while no longer representing UP through sports has yielded them some more free time and new opportunities, former athletes say they have endured some heartache leaving their teams behind.
Staeheli lives with her former teammates and is still adapting to life without competitive running. LeProwse often finds himself in difficult moments working for in the athletic training room — wrapping someone’s ankle before a game instead of putting his shin guards on and getting ready to go out with the team.
White has not picked up a baseball since he left the sport.
It’s a bittersweet feeling walking away, White said. While in some ways, he’s found freedom from the restrains athletics puts on a college student’s life, there’s a melancholia that lingers with the ghost of who he used to be.
“Happy is a tough word,” he said.