In the process of applying to scholarships for my upcoming master’s degree program, it dawned on me: I did a poor job of prioritizing my college life, and that is the best mistake I have ever made.
Quality over quantity! That’s the advice I read over and over again in “Get Free Cash for College – Secrets to Winning Scholarships,” a worthy if quirky investment for students in need of serious financial aid.
In this scholarship book, they have general categories: the Athlete, the Community Servant, even the Underachiever. None of them were types to which I could conform to on more than a couple of the defining traits. Had I given back to my community? Sure, five years ago, when I totaled about 60 hours raising toiletry and backpack donations for battered women and kids to fulfill my Eagle Scout Project. But that spirit of service waned, and I gave myself up for volunteering only a handful of times my freshman and sophomore years to clean, cook, and converse with the disadvantaged and the displaced. My last service effort was the women’s 5K I helped with in October of 2011. It’s not that I have given it up entirely, but in the times of recent transition I have fought harder to find a sense of homecoming and educational stability more than anything else.
Then I thought I had my college career staked out in the sport of triathlon. When I sat in for the first meeting of the year in September of ’10, I relished the gung-ho spirit of our president as she laid out the team’s plans in a flurry of talking points: team kits (uniforms), registering for the upcoming race in Dallas, and so on. I even jumped in and started running track as part of training, something I had never done before. I’d always been known for the Speedos and swim meets ever since I first started competitive swimming as a seventh grader back at Bonham Junior High. And my transition from the pool to the track was exhilarating. Sharing in this athletic suffering was a privilege unlike any I’d ever known before. My track coach, Jamie Cooper, was supportive from day one, bringing out my strengths while also showing us grace when we lost – both to our own doubts and against other racers. Though I wasn’t too keen about our cycling coach, we had a phenomenal swim coach, and it is a rare joy to have a family of coaches that help get you through the injuries and the days of utter mental exhaustion.
If I felt like I was only bettering myself while training, my teammates showed me that there was a leader in me. In March of 2011 I was elected to serve as the team secretary, and though my nomination was a bit forced, I now look back on my time as an officer with only gratitude for those who saw me as capable enough. One of my biggest undertakings was drafting a new team constitution, and the words I put down in Word became the bones of our team, giving structure to the unparalleled sense of fierce dedication and fellowship that is uniquely that of the Texas Tech Triathlon team.
When I moved to San Antonio, I set aside some down time to plan out my continual workout routine and gather some information on local teams. It’s eight months later, and all the running groups I’ve found online practice halfway across town. But the more I go at it alone, the more I have a lane in the pool to myself and see the supportive faces of my former teammates, the more I understand that there is no distance I wouldn’t go just to belong to another team that welcomes me and helps me test my own limits. So in this new year I’ve opened up again, and now that I have finally sent off my graduate school applications I know that there is time to find my next team. I no longer ask myself, “How far?” and “When?”, but rather tell myself that I don’t have to go at training – or community service, for that matter – alone.
I’ve put my scholarships aside for now. My taxes have been taken care of. My FAFSA is filed. And I keep having quiet flashbacks of those memories: racing down that last hill at Mae Simmons park on a bright Sunday morning; washing the windows of the Ronald McDonald house and raking the leaves outside; getting hugs from my teammates as they led me to the Shreveport Regional Airport, holding on to their condolences for my dead brother-in-law long after they had driven away. In those moments, grasping the handlebars of my bike and sitting alone in the airport at 4:30 am, I was no one’s community servant or volunteer. I was a friend, a mourner, and a wandering soul. I gave back to the world by saying words of encouragement to my teammates every time we raced past each other. I was the man who could inspire altruism in others, giving them something else to race harder for. Because those who I came to call my second family did the same for me.
This isn’t some sort of limbo, when friends become silhouettes and we lose touch on purpose. In this waiting period, before all the letters from my prospective grad schools start coming in, I know I have the support of others. Not just at work, but out there on the track and in the pool, among faces that won’t become familiar to me for a while. At this age, maybe the best way that I can give back to my community is by meeting new people and giving them memories of loss and camaraderie to look back on. All those moments probably can’t sway a scholarship committee, but that is okay with me. My community is my team, the members of past and present. We train and pay it forward. That is our wealth.