Why I Chose the Student-Athlete Life at GWU

One of the core promises Gardner-Webb University makes to all students is that each student is more than just a number. The professors get to know each student as a person, and my professors even took the time to ask me if my name was spelled with an “h” or not.


This promise also holds true to the athletes at Gardner-Webb. On our teams, we are more than just a player. The coaches see players as more than simply what our talents allow us to offer for a winning season. As a member of the women’s soccer team, I know first-hand the experiences student-athletes have. My coaches, while helping me grow as a player, have taken the time to help cultivate me as a person. For example, like many teams in the Big South Conference, some of our games happen to fall on Sundays, preventing the athletes from attending church. In order to ensure that the players are growing in their faith, our coaches go above and beyond their job description each week to set up a completely voluntary church service for members of the team to attend. These services have radically helped me grow in my faith as the speakers my coaches recruit are intentional in directing the sermons to apply to student-athletes and the struggles we encounter.


When I was first touring Gardner-Webb, the head women’s soccer coach, Mike Varga, said something to me that told me everything I needed to know about how the coaching staff treated their players.  I was told that if a career ending injury were to occur, the player affected would still be allowed to retain her athletic scholarship. For most schools, each player is only valued so long as she can make a tangible contribution to the program, meaning that if she was so unlucky as to obtain an injury preventing her from playing, she would be forced to forfeit her athletic scholarship. However, at Gardner-Webb University, each athlete is valued as more than his or her contributions to the field (or court, pool, track, etc.). Each player is seen as part of the family.


One of the best parts of being a student-athlete is the immediate sense of family that being a part of a collegiate sport gives you. Each person on the team has a different personality, many of them very foreign to your own. Surviving three practices a day, six am workouts, and the daily struggle to ignore the free deserts at the café brings all these personalities together, giving you life-long friends all with different perspectives that force you to break free from your comfort-zone.


My teammates have encouraged me to join clubs and organizations that I never would have thought to experience without them, helping me grow into a more rounded person. In addition to bonding with your teammates, the faculty at Gardner-Webb organize ways for the athletes from every team to meet and grow closer to one another. Getting to know the other athletes meant getting to know people from other countries and walks of life that I never would have gotten to meet, let alone been able to form relationships with. Through other athletes on campus, I have learned to say “hello my name is” in Turkish, Spanish, German, Swedish, and Norwegian (although I still have to have a lot of help with that last one), in addition to being able to learn about their cultures from a young adult’s perspective. Additionally, each sport on campus makes it a point to support the other teams on campus, ensuring that the stands on any given game day are packed with supporters.  

As being a student-athlete often means having to miss class and important due dates for athletic events, many prospective students at other Universities have to decide between excelling as a student or as an athlete. However, the professors at Gardner-Webb understand the pressure on student-athletes and go out of their way to ensure that we are able to give their best on the field, while still succeeding in the classroom.


As a student-athlete, I expected to grow intellectually and athletically during my college experience. However, I had no idea that being an athlete would have such a dramatic impact on my growth as a person. My teammates have helped me grow in my faith and pushed me to experience life outside of my comfort zone, something I never could have expected when I first committed to play soccer at Gardner-Webb University. Go Dawgs!

Sara Houff, Soccer Player