By: Jan Hathorn
Director of Athletics
Adversity. It’s talked about a lot in athletics. Especially how to overcome it. It’s almost inevitable that a coach will speak to a team about the many adversities they will face in life, and how athletics is the perfect foil for how to prepare them to deal with this very fact of our existence. If a coach is giving “the adversity in life” speech, it’s probably because the team just lost a contest / event that they really thought they would win, and everyone is feeling some form of distress as a result. Regardless of what prompts the discussion, I believe athletics, and competition, DO teach us how to deal with adversity, and how to truly overcome it.
I’ve been thinking a lot about adversity lately. Webster’s dictionary lists one definition as: “an adverse or unfortunate event or circumstance”. When I read this I couldn’t help but think of some folks who have recently had to deal with more than their share of unfortunate circumstances. From Pole House 2 burning down to serious injuries, it seems there have been more than our share of adverse events happening to our student-athletes.
Last Friday, I had the opportunity to spend a little time with a young woman whose story of overcoming adversity is inspiring: Natalie Stier. If you are not familiar with her situation, Natalie was in a very serious car crash in December. She sustained some pretty life-threatening injuries, and many people surrounding her thought she might not make it, or, at the very least, ever return to the level of athletic activity she was accustomed to prior to the accident.
Natalie is a member of our indoor and outdoor women’s track and field team. According to her coach, Nate Hoey, she was the kind of athlete who worked harder than everyone else and made herself into a valuable, scoring member of the team. She didn’t come to campus as a top recruit, but with hard work and gritty determination, she became a top performer for the team. I’ve been told that that very same gritty determination and work ethic are what helped Natalie recover so quickly from her injuries. Ironically enough, Natalie’s event is hurdles. And she is still is a hurdler, literally and figuratively.
Athletes and sport are certainly closely scrutinized in today’s world. Often only the bad things that happen to athletes make the headlines. Yet Natalie’s story is one of many that illustrates the very nature of what sport is about: dealing with the adversities in life and overcoming them because the experience of sport built the skills to do so. I feel confident that Natalie’s ability to look adversity in the eye and not succumb to it, but rather overcome it – hurdle it, if you will – is due, in large part, to the skills that she learned through her athletic experiences. And it made me proud, once again, to be part of a profession that can teach such valuable life lessons to our young men and women.