One of my favorite questions to bring up at some point with friends is how they found themselves at Providence College. For some, it is a simple transactional answer, while for others it may be a deep family connection or higher aspiration. What I find enjoyable in this question is learning of the different pathways and unique life moments that brought individuals to a shared experience at Providence College. It makes me appreciate the singularities that can have an unbeknownst impact on the lives of others.
I still think back to my own discovery of Providence College right after junior year of high school (circa June 2015). I cringe a bit whenever I think about it, but I remember looking at photos of the 2014 NCAA Cross Country Championship on Letsrun.com. What stuck out to me when seeing the pictures of Shane Quinn and Ben Connor on the All-American podium was not the great racing by the Friars, but how cool the New Balance uniforms looked. Yes, I know that is ridiculous, but hey when you are in high school you have different priorities…so I guess good job New Balance marketing?
Sure enough, my next thought was “what the heck is Providence College?” Being from Buffalo, New York, I had no exposure to who the Friars were (although I would later learn that Buffalonians still have a strong admiration for Ernie D despite Buffalo not having the NBA team Buffalo Braves since 1978 – classic Buffalo people). I then found myself looking into the school to discover that men’s basketball and hockey were competitive, men’s soccer had just made the College Cup and the men’s and women’s cross country programs were renowned in the NCAA. As a high school student with a high level of school spirit, I was drawn to the success and competitive drive of Providence College Athletics.
Further poking around helped me discover that the school aligned with what I was looking for in terms of it being a small, liberal arts school away from home. I subsequently took a dream shot with one of the cross country questionnaires not expecting to hear anything back. Surprisingly, in June of that year, Coach Tim [Brock] reached out to me via email. Some summer emails (which I believe are still saved on my old Yahoo personal email?) led to a summer unofficial visit, which led to a fall official visit and…boom by November I had committed to Providence College. It still provides a strange feeling to me when I think back to the sheer unpredictability of what would lie ahead.
I reflect on what led me to Providence College Athletics because in many ways being at the school brought me a whole new sense of self-reflection. Being in a new environment facilitated my appreciation of where I came from as well as what I was representing. As a student-athlete, you come to realize what has made you who you are, whether it be pain, success, failure or growth. My time with Providence College helped me realize a lifelong vocation to become the best version of myself.
Providence College for me was very much a fresh start. I viewed it as a “new beginning” to put low points in the past, primarily the past summer transitioning from high school senior year to freshman year of college. This summer was marked by burn out from an eating disorder I had junior and senior year of high school, injury from a meniscus bucket handle tear that barred me from running for three months, depression from not having my traditional decompression activity of running, binge drinking from using it as my new decompression activity and means of coping with injury, and alienated relationship with my parents from the sum total of all these struggles (although they were not truthfully aware of all this).
It was a slippery slope that had me unfulfilled and dissatisfied with who I was. The worst part of it all was that it was hidden in plain sight. I was still my affable and cordial self, but, in terms of self-worth, I felt adrift. At a time when there was supposed to be great joy in entering a new phase of academics and athletics, everything was murky to me. I felt lost. I had immense difficulty in understanding who I was trying to be and what I wanted to be.
Thankfully, in my first semester at Providence College, I found myself blessed to have a teammate, Andrew Doherty, who I could be vulnerable with going on record about my personal struggles. Not to mention, the rest of the Athletics Department who gave me a sense of belonging as a part of something larger than myself. Having my prior struggles validated shifted my perspective from feeling invisible to feeling invincible.
By having coaches who emphasized the importance of recovery and consistent training blocks, I realized that I no longer needed to abuse my body to make it fit the “skinny” runner archetype. There were other means to setting myself up for peak performance. It was also senior and fifth-year teammates, such Hugh Armstrong, Steve Robertson and Julian Oakley, who lead by example in fully committing themselves to training that showed me what to emulate.
I will never forget watching Steve toil an entire spring semester on the Alter G day-in and day-out before winning the BIG EAST 10k in his final race. Even after finishing the race when I congratulated him, Steven was more disappointed than elated since he had missed the NCAA East Regional qualifying time by a few seconds. “Damn,” I thought “that is the mentality I want in my time at Providence.”
It was from moments like these that I honed-in on a mindset of turning tragedy to triumph; to use personal struggle as motivation. Those first two months in the training room rehabbing my meniscus could now be perceived as the time where I was able to make friends beyond the team and reapply my energy from running for new means of bettering myself. I still joke with my great friend Meg Onyundo on how we first met doing rehab exercises in the training room.
In all honesty, things did not suddenly switch from night to day. It still took me until junior year spring break to tell my parents for the first time about my eating disorder. The point of bringing this personal struggle up is that partaking in a four-year journey through Providence College gradually activated me into understanding how to grow from it. Along the way it has taught me the value of active listening since one must learn from the people around you and discover the importance of empathy to better understand your own identity.
Alongside active listening, being journey-oriented is the other valuable skill in having a fulfilling four years at Providence College. As student-athletes, we oftentimes view our semesters through wins and losses or GPA, so being able to see the bigger picture of our efforts rekindles the drive to continue along. If you are a student-athlete reading this, please know that some of my best memories came in Helen Bert Lounge late nights, Ray dining hall “sessions”, watching fellow Friars sporting events and training room banter. These are the little pieces that compose the larger mosaic of a meaningful Friar experience.
Some other quick advice (which I will keep concise): be self-deprecating, feel the fire in the speeches given by Bob Driscoll, learn the names of EVERY trainer (plus the sports med student-helpers too – good opportunities for dates), meet people beyond your team, be grateful for the grind and leave Providence Athletics better than when you arrived. If you take anything out of reading this far, the only thing I ask is that you surround yourself with people who make you a better person in some way.
I am forever grateful and honored to have the opportunity to be a student-athlete at Providence College. My time as a Friar with the cross country and track team has taught me invaluable lessons that continue to assist me in working to become the best version of myself. Whether it be long term goal setting, buying into holistic training, doing what others are not doing, or being the last one to leave practice to know you are doing something right. These lessons remain with me.
I reflect back to those initial interactions with Providence College on occasion. What sticks out the most is the unforeseen journey it would take me on. Everyone has a different journey when they enter Providence College. However, our shared experience is what coops us into learning from each other. Do not drift through your time at Providence College but be cognizant of the impact you may have on others as a teammate. Appreciate what a tremendous opportunity and privilege it is to be where you are. Doing so will provide you an awareness to never forget where you came from nor the sacrifices others made to support you in your journey. Providence College Athletics is a fantastic place and I am humbled to be a small part in its larger story.
Men's Cross Country/Track, Hamburg, N.Y.