Balancing act

As the 2008 Summer Olympics draw closer, The Promise of Berkeley asked several current and former Cal students, all of whom have competed in past Olympics and/or stand a good shot of making it to Beijing this year, about juggling their many priorities as Berkeley student athletes and their competitive nature in and out of the classroom. Let the games begin!

Emily Silver

Emily Silver ’08
(American studies) swimming;
2008 Olympic hopeful
My competitiveness as an athlete directly translates into my focus as a student. I want to be the best! Berkeley is the No. 1 public university in the world, and it is thrilling to be competing as a student with some of the brightest young people out there, but it’s also intimidating because of the stereotypes that are attached to student athletes — that we don’t work as hard, or study, or that we have it easier than most. But those stereotypes drive me to work even harder to prove that I do belong here.

Peter Cipollone ’94
(economics) men’s crew;
gold medal at 2004
Summer Games in Athens
In my first two years, I did not balance my work and my training well. I was a real underperformer in the classroom. I took 1992 off from Cal, and tried and failed to make the Olympic team. We missed by something stupid like a half-second. From this experience, I figured if you are going to work hard enough to get within a half-second, you might as well work hard enough to win. This spilled over into academics, and pretty much every area of my life.

Natalie Coughlin

Natalie Coughlin ’05
(psychology) swimming; five gold medals at 2004 Summer Games in Athens;
2008 Olympic hopeful
Although it was difficult at times (to balance schoolwork and training), it all came down to time management and planning ahead. I always knew my competition/travel schedule in advance and would let my professors know at the beginning of the semester to plan on making up exams or projects. Also, whenever I had free time in the day, I would fit in studying or reading.

My focus and drive really helped me be focused in my studies and in class. Since my time was so precious, I made sure to pay attention in class and make that time worthwhile (otherwise I would prefer to sleep!).

Alysia Johnson

Alysia Johnson ’08
(theater and performance studies)
track and field; 2008 Olympic hopeful
You have to bring books on trips with you and do as much work as possible on the road. When I’m not running, lifting, or doing something else in the training room, I’ll open the books. My day basically starts at 8 o’clock, with lifting and a morning run, and doesn’t end until 11 p.m. when the theater stuff ends � and I’ve got no breaks, so I literally have to eat on the run.

My focus is on acting, but being an athlete, it’s a little bit difficult to be in productions. I hope to do one next semester since I won’t be competing in cross-country. At the same time, I’ve been able to look at the different aspects of theater such as set design and lighting, which I probably wouldn’t have looked at had I been able to do the acting part of it.

Cal and the Olympics trivia

Michele Granger ’93
(history/mass communication)
softball; gold medal at 1996
Summer Games in Atlanta
School was a tremendous challenge for me at Cal, and I was able to juggle softball and school with the help of some fantastic teachers. I was at Cal before tutors were available to athletes like me, so I took advantage of the office hours that the professors held. I particularly struggled in Latin, and my professor basically became my savior in the class by providing me with extra help during her office hours. I absolutely loved being a student at Cal.

My best tips to any student athlete are to turn in work early before you leave for road trips, never miss a class you are in town to be at, and always make sure that you personally meet the professor during their office hours.

Dave Maggard ’62
(physical education)
shot-put, competed at 1968
Summer Games in Mexico City
When I injured my knee at the beginning of my junior year, I could no longer play football and began concentrating on track. Once I left Berkeley, I coached and taught high school and had two children. I worked out on my own without any coaching until I was almost 29 — which was when I made the Olympic team. Because of Coach Brutus Hamilton, I learned how to manage my time in a better way. He was a great mentor with wonderful wisdom.

Attending the premier university in the world, where there are so many around you who exhibit discipline and seriousness in achieving a degree, causes one to pick up on the need for discipline and time management. The environment of excellence brings out the competitiveness from all of those who make it.

Dana Vollmer ’09
swimming; gold medal at 2004 Summer Games in Athens;
2008 Olympic hopeful
With the amount of material expected to be learned and the hours needed to be spent in the pool, Cal teaches me how to manage my time at the most elite levels. Whether I’m planning my days to the hour, or just know that I need to get stuff done instead of procrastinating, I have learned how to stay on top of my studies at an esteemed university and also remain at the top in national-level swimming competitions. As a competitive student athlete, I set extremely high standards for myself not only in the pool but in academic success as well. I know that I will only be swimming for so long — and then academic success at Cal will carry me the rest of the way.

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