5 life lessons I learned as a college athlete

Last Updated 31 March, 2016

by Shelli Bunn-Petterson, class of 2005

When asked if I’d like to write an article—a light-hearted list of lessons learned as an NNU athlete—I was thrilled. A month later as I frantically type after losing the original draft due to a computer mishap, I am reminded of the joys and challenges of college. Realizing that procrastination, while a readily embraced college strategy, is not an effective one for most students. The strain of putting thoughts into a computer and hoping that not only are the right ideas present but also that they were presented in a coherent and somewhat intelligent manner. Here it is, #TBT, lessons learned at NNU circa 1999-2002.

1. Check your ego at the dorm.

I hail from a small town in western Oregon. Coming to NNU, I had an inflated sense of my own importance. I wasn’t the best, but I was one of the best. Then I had my first basketball practice and met fellow freshman, Alysson Kollmann. She rocked; I cheered her on from my place on the bench. It was a great team, and I was in no way the best despite working towards that goal every day. Understanding that my best is not always THE best, a difficult thing for an extroverted attention hog like me to admit, was a tough but important life lesson.

2. Our talents don’t always go hand in hand with our passions.

I played two sports at NNU, basketball and volleyball. Although I loved them both, basketball was my passion while volleyball was just fun. I wanted to be a basketball star, dreamed of the WNBA and hearing fans scream as my name was announced pregame; these dreams were not to be. I was always a better volleyball player than basketball player, but I never put any of the extra effort into volleyball that I did into basketball. Don’t get me wrong, I worked hard during volleyball practices and games, but that was it. Basketball had me getting up early, doing drills, lifting, conditioning, playing pickup games in the hopes that I could be the best. I wasn’t and that’s ok. I don’t regret putting the effort in for basketball, and, honestly, I had no larger dreams and goals for volleyball so I don’t regret not pouring extra effort in there. Being the best or having natural talent is not required to make pursing your passion worthwhile.

3. Life happens, go with it.

I came to NNU because I liked the basketball coach. I met Roger Schmidt during one of the NNC (yes, this was pre-university status) RAD events. He invited me to come to a scrimmage and I got to play with Donna Knight. She was amazing! Roger was tough and no nonsense, and I decided that I wanted to play on his team one day. I played one year under Roger, then he resigned—I didn’t see that coming. I loved every minute of that season except for the moment when he announced that it was his last. It was a tough change but my new coach was Kelli Lindley, current athletic director at NNU. I not only got one season to play under my dream coach, but I also got to experience playing under a driven and ambitious woman who is an excellent role model and inspiration.

4. Own it.

One thing about college sports is that they helped me to be more self-aware. Close quarters with teammates, physical effort completely lacking in inhibitions, and crazy schedules requiring serious time management and prioritizing make it hard to pretend or put on a facade for anyone. One of my first classes—in which were some exceptionally aesthetically gifted young men—was directly after practice. On the first day, I came waddling and squeaking into class, plastic ice bags wrapped to my ankle and knee, dripping sweat and smelling of hard work, and dressed in my NNU basketball shorts and jersey. The fellas gave me a wide berth, confirming that I was now “that” gross, stinky kid in class with poor hygiene. The thing of it is, we’re not always going to look and feel our best but we can choose to keep going, accept the situation, and do what needs done regardless. In hindsight these embarrassing moments are often the funniest and most powerful memories of college.

5. There is life outside of (fill in the blank).

After tearing my ACL and having tried the whole mom and athlete thing, I decided to say farewell to playing college sports. It broke my heart even though it was the right choice for my family. The first month of school was brutal as I sat on the figurative and literal sidelines while my teammates started their next season. Then I was asked to write an article for “The Crusader.” That article led to a position as the sports editor for the campus paper. It was through that job that I started to make connections and get involved in activities that I had been missing when I was playing sports. It wasn’t that these activities were better than athletics, but they showed me that, though part of my life had ended, it didn’t mean that there weren’t adventures and friends in store for me.

From sweat dripping down my face as I rushed to get to class after practice to squinting at a screen an hour before a deadline, I was having adventures and making memories and having the college experience. And let’s face it, there is no such thing as the “typical” college experience. Isn’t that the point? College is a time in life where we get to experiment, try on different versions of ourselves as we become who we have been becoming. It’s our final coming of age, a time to learn and grow, it is the making of the men and women of the future—and for me, it is a fond view of my past.