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Written By: Nicole Martorella- National level Weightlifter


Weightlifting & College: The “Unofficial, but Technically Not” Student-Athlete

College is a time for young adults to explore their interests and acquire the education they need to set the foundation for a long, and hopefully rewarding career in the field of their interest. It is the time to create your “brand”, and your time to live life in your own way.  Regardless of “who” you are, you devote much of your time while in school focusing on the things that are important to you, and the things that will have some sort of benefit to your life. Student athletes probably spend the most time participating in their activities, are the most motivated and driven in the pursuit of their goals… and so on. I am only slightly biased here, but I will explain.

Before I continue, let me give you a brief introduction of myself. This will be the first of many articles I’ll be writing, so you’ll get to know me well. My name is Nicole Martorella, and I am a senior exercise science major at the Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania.  If my head is not buried in one of the several exercise physiology textbooks that I own, I am probably journaling or doing class work at a nearby coffee shop.  My athletic career has mostly consisted of years and years dedicated to another sport – swimming. I swam for 14 years before walking away from the sport after my junior season in college to pursue weightlifting. I am still fairly new to the sport, with this year being my first full year actively competing and training. I might be new to the sport, but I am a veteran when it comes to being an athlete.

Being a student athlete is not an easy job for anyone in college. Balancing hours of training with hours of studying is especially difficult when sleep, recovery, and maintaining some sort of social life is factored into the equation. No matter what sport, all athletes spend great amounts of time trying to accomplish all the goals they have – both in athletic performance and academic areas. Those in varsity NCAA sports might have more obligations since they actually represent their schools, but that is not to say that those who belong to the “not-actual-student-athlete-but-still-an-athlete” group don’t have responsibilities themselves. Olympic weightlifters in college are a prime example of this.

After experiencing life as an NCAA student-athlete and currently living the “not-actual-student-athlete-but-still-an-athlete” life now as a weightlifter, I can say that both ways of life are very similar. When I was a varsity swimmer, I spent long days on campus starting as early as 5:30 AM and ending as late as midnight. Double practices, Saturday morning practices, competitions where I had to miss class, team meetings, other team functions, you name it. Although I do not train as frequently as I did for swimming as I do for weightlifting, my training sessions for weightlifting are longer than what most of my swim practices were. I still travel and occasionally miss class for weightlifting competitions.  I am just as busy, if not busier, being a weightlifter than I was as a swimmer.

All weightlifters experience similar challenges while in college. A lot of weightlifters that don’t have a university-based team must travel to a facility to train, which makes up time that could be spent doing school work. We log in long hours in the gym training for a sport that is physically and mentally brutal. We struggle to maintain friendships outside of the gym and to find the time to be social, especially when training has us feeling drained. Some weightlifters in college must train solo some, if not most of the time. This can be tremendously challenging when there is only one person there to push you, and most of the time, that person is also your biggest enemy – yourself. We must make sacrifices to satisfy our hunger for success, usually in the social life department. For the athletes who must maintain where they are at weight-wise and for those who are in the midst of a cut, we have to turn down invitations to go out to eat – which is devastating to those who love to eat, like myself (especially if it involves breakfast food).

Even though some may say that being an athlete you don’t get the full college experience, all athletes would disagree with that statement. Our bodies may always be hurting, we might always be struggling to stay awake in classes, and we could be fighting the bad voice in our heads that tells us to give up and that things aren’t and won’t be worth it. But see, that’s the thing. Deep down, we know that everything we do is worth it, even if it might not seem that way in the present. That first body-weight snatch, double body-weight squat… we all know that feeling of a huge successful attempt on the competition platform, or hitting a milestone number. There were hours of work filled with blood, sweat – and yes, tears – behind that elusive lift that made it all worth it. There is nothing that makes us happier than achieving our goals, especially knowing all of the hard work we put in to do so. After all, the journey is what makes the final outcome the icing on the cake, right? It might be hard to be an athlete in college, but if your goals have any sort of importance to you, then you know very well that it is worth it – always.