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Tuesday, July 14, 2020 — Houston, TX °

The Fifth Lap

By Gabe Cuadra     4/17/13 7:00pm


Rice fight, never die

I've started trying to formulate this column several times over the last week now. This is my last Fifth Lap column.

I've been searching for a story to tell or an image to describe, something that would capture the essence of Rice and Rice athletics.

The first ideas came from Night of the Owl, the Department of Athletics awards event.

There was, for example, the playing of a SportsCenter feature on O.J. Brigance (Lovett '92). Brigance was a football standout while at Rice and then went on to become a Super Bowl champion as the special teams captain for the 2000-01 Baltimore Ravens. Brigance has spent the last five years living with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, an incurable motor neuron disease that took away his ability to walk, to use his arms and, eventually, to talk on his own. Throughout his illness, Brigance has continued to go to work and continued to find a way to make a difference in the lives of others.

Even though I've seen the video several times, I am still always moved by it. Brigance not only represents the excellence of Rice, but also exemplifies an amazing resilience and commitment to making life better for those around him. While Brigance's actions in the face of an extreme illness are the epitome of these virtues, over the last five years, I have seen the same spirit of resilience and commitment embodied by my friends, teammates, classmates and the Rice community.

A second idea came from the night's senior responses. These speeches consistently and prominently featured the ways in which the Rice community had stood behind the seniors throughout their successes and struggles, both on the field and off of it. One of Rice's greatest assets is a culture that cares about people as people and is driven to see them succeed, not to weed them out. Thanks to that culture, this is a place where people can overcome adversity. Rice is better because of it.

Blue, Gray, in the Sky

Then, I started thinking back to the early days of my Rice career. Most of my first-semester mornings were spent traversing Hermann Park and Brays Bayou with my teammate and close friend Matt Carey.

The conversations on those runs ranged from the nerdy to the mundane to the completely absurd. Occasionally, the conversations would float over to our goals, our future ambitions and the things we hoped to accomplish before we left the hedges.

Looking back almost five years later, it's amazing to see how our paths have twisted and turned. Some of those original goals were checked off, while others never will be. Some of our future ambitions remain the same, while others have changed dramatically. College rarely presents the linear passage we expect when we are 18. Yet the experiences, discoveries and people we meet here will impact who we are for the rest of our lives.

Stand, Cheer, Drink More Beer

And, finally, I began thinking about the indelible sports moments from the last five years. They start with the extraordinary moments like watching women's volleyball and men's tennis win conference tournaments, following women's soccer and swimming along the way to their conference titles, having Jason Colwick win an NCAA pole vault title and Becky Wade race in the finals of the steeplechase at the U.S. Olympic Trials, and cheering on men's basketball to its first win ever over the University of Memphis. Then there were the viscerally grabbing moments. There were the moments of painful helplessness watching people I care about struggle with injuries. There were the moments of emptiness when I felt like I let my team down.

And there were the beautifully ordinary moments. There were the crisp nights spent out at the track with the Texas Medical Center lit up in the background. There were the spring afternoons shared with friends at Reckling Park. There were the massive Saturday morning team brunches after long runs in early October.

For me, Rice has meant opportunity: athletic opportunity, academic opportunity, extracurricular opportunity, and the opportunity to work and live with truly amazing individuals. It is hard to express just how appreciative I am of all those who have made those opportunities possible, and I hope they realize just how large an impact they have had on me and the thousands of other students who have or will pass through the Sallyport.

Rice University is not perfect. Neither is Rice Athletics. But as I prepare to attend my final classes as an undergraduate and approach my final track meets as a Rice student-athlete, I leave incredibly proud to have been a part of this university.

There truly isn't anywhere else like the campus on South Main.

Go... Go... Go Rice!

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