The Nursing-Athlete Life

The number one question people ask me is, “How do you do it?”

I always laugh at this question because the answer is that it is definitely not easy! Being a nursing student, a Division I swimmer, and having a college social life does not always seem like it could be possible, but it can be—I live it daily! I experience both the stress and the victories that come from this combination.

A big part of my story is that I would not be at Gardner-Webb had it not been for God leading me here and opening a plethora of doors for me. When I was a senior in high school, I was going to change my intended major just so I could swim. I soon realized that God had other plans for me. When I was accepted into the nursing program and Coach Mike Simpson was still willing to recruit me for the swim team, God showed me that nursing was my true calling and that I could both swim and study nursing. Coach Mike was also one of the first coaches I had spoken to that wanted me to pursue what God was calling me to do, even if it was to do what everyone else said was impossible. He always stresses the “Student” part of our life before the “Athlete” part, wanting the team to succeed both, in and out of the pool.

There have certainly still been times I have felt like it would not be possible to do it all. It has not been an easy ride the last year in a half. I have had plenty of struggles. I have to attend class tired after 5:15am practice. I have to travel for meets and miss important exams. I have had to rearrange my swim schedule to get extra help in a class. But these are not excuses for me to slack off in or out of the pool. I have had to learn my strengths. I have learned that I function better in the morning and that I need a certain amount of sleep each night to be able to perform well. I have also had to learn not to wait till the last minute to do course work.

Now, you may be thinking that everyone has had to learn these things. Yes, you are right. But, waking up at 4:55 to swim from 5:15-7:15, eat breakfast from 7:30- 7:50, go to my Anatomy and Physiology class at 8:00 AM, then my 9:00-11:50 nursing lab, lunch, 1:30-3:30 practice, 4:00-5:00 weights, and dinner; by the time it’s dinner you wonder where did the day go!? We usually don’t start classwork till 8 at night and what if we participate in a club?? Where does that fit in? (I participate in clubs during off season because my schedule isn’t as crazy). Somehow we make it all work. Having a very regimented schedule really doesn’t allow for much free time to just pull out my nursing homework and complete it. When I sit down to do work, it’s usually to do all of it at once because I don’t know when I will get the next opportunity.

With that type of schedule it can get pretty crazy. But here are a few tips that have helped me get through the demand of Nursing School and being a Division I athlete.

1. Time management. Write down everything you have to get done and when its due (planners or post-it notes are really useful). Stay organized, I can promise you the list won’t seem as bad once you get it all on paper! Then, focus on the most important of task. Once the list is complete, go make some new friends and join a club!

2. Get to know your professors. They are there to help you, and believe it or not, they want you to succeed. They have been in your shoes before and know the demand and stress you are going through.

3. Study efficiently. Learn how you study best. You only get so much time to study in your day, so learn how to make the best of it. Write notecards, type outlines, read over the chapters again, write study questions, use diagrams, make connections between different material, or write chapter summaries.

4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Gardner-Webb offers many different forms of academic support such as the Writing Center, Leap Peer Tutoring, and the Noel Center for disabilities. Professors have office hours where you can go in and ask any questions you may have. In the College of Health Science building, where Nursing, Exercise Science, Athletic Training, and the PA Programs are held, there are open Lab hours where you can go in and practice your skills. There are even lab workers in there who can help you!

5. Connect with people in your major and classes. Sometimes it’s easier to ask a friend than a professor, so it’s a good idea to get to know your classmates. If you miss class they are always willing to share their notes.

6. Get sleep. I know you are in college and you want to have fun and “live the college experience.” But remember, you chose to play a Division I sport and come to college; so, prioritize. Proper sleep will help you both physically and mentally and It is key to give your body what it needs so you can perform to the best of your abilities.

These qualities, if learned now, will help you immensely in your adult life. They are qualities that will not only help you to have the best college experience you can have, but that you will hold on to forever. I wish you the best of luck! And one last thing…

“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” ~Norman Vincent Peale

Mackenzie Ropka. Junior Swimmer. Nursing Student. New Jersey Native.