With schedules full of classes, work study jobs, volunteering and extracurricular commitments, many Macalester students don’t have joining an athletic team on their radar. The physicality of a sport, even if enjoyable, puts strain on one’s body in ways different than the stresses a tutor or part-time intern must face.
In particular, joining a sport that one has never played in an organized capacity or has been removed from for several years presents a steep learning curve. This hasn’t dissuaded some determined individuals from joining athletic teams after arriving at Mac. Returning to organized sports means shaking off some rust and learning what it means to be on a team.
Men’s cross country and track runner Alex Ropes ’16 was a talented runner in high school. In his junior year, he finished 19th in the Iowa 3A Cross Country Championships. However, he took his senior year and first semester of college off. Last spring, he returned to competitive running on Mac’s distance track team.
“I had found myself running every day even though I was no longer on a team,” Ropes said. “I also wanted to get a chance to meet some new people that I may not have been exposed to otherwise. So I figured that joining the team would be a perfect solution.”
Ropes said that while it may seem counterintuitive, his time management skills have improved since joining the team. He also said his “Mac Pack” teammates have been the greatest addition to his college experience, offering a friendly and supportive community of classmates.
“We all train together day in and day out, so we have a better idea than anyone else how much work goes into preparing for the season,” Ropes said. “So when a teammate shatters their previous best, it’s so awesome to see because I know how hard they’ve worked for that.”
Like Ropes, Nathan Rossen ’15 and Samuel Faulkner ’15 decided to pursue athletics at Mac, only at the club level. Rossen is trying water polo and Faulkner joined the ultimate frisbee team. They both said their decisions were sparked by the encouragement of friends on those teams. For Rossen, water polo is his first contact with organized sports in his life. He said that it has taken some adjustment both physically and mentally.
“The thing about water polo is you pretty much have to be treading water for 25 minutes,” he said. “I was completely out of shape, and it was really hard.”
Faulkner had experience playing frisbee in a casual setting, but still faced some difficulties in adjusting to playing with a competitive team.
“The technique is something I’m still learning about, learning about positions and what each one is supposed to do is still something I’m not completely sure about,” he said.
More so than the demands of playing the actual sport, Faulkner and Rossen have struggled with the dynamics of entering a new campus culture. They question the openness of athletics at Macalester, saying that it’s been taxing at times to find acceptance within the communities that they’ve tried to become a part of. Both, however, do credit at least part of this discomfort and alienation to their relative inexperience with being involved in team sports.
“For a really long time I had a real aversion to organized sports or to people who played organized sports,” Rossen said. “I had in my mind that stereotype of the stupid bro or whatever.”
Rossen also noted that the culture around water polo contained fewer people who fit the ‘bro’ stereotype, but that he still felt that there was “a pretty clear divide” at Macalester between people who participate in athletics and those who don’t. Faulkner felt as though he had “felt resistance” from people when trying to join even club or intramural sports. He added that he felt this phenomenon was not unique to sports teams.
“It’s just like any other club or organization, you’re going to find some separation, some exclusion,” Faulkner said.
Despite some misgivings, both Rossen and Faulkner have generally good things to say about the team and community building aspect of athletics, echoing Ropes’s sentiment on growing as a group. Rossen, with a chuckle, pointed out, “I’m very clearly the worst player on the team who regularly comes to practice. [My teammates] have been really good and helped me a lot and helped me learn the rules of the game as well as dealing with injuries and practices.”
“It makes more sense when you learn that it’s a team that works together and learns together and builds together and there is a reason why they trust each other as much as they do,” Faulkner said.