The Fifth Lap
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!
More from The Rice Thresher
Pitcher Roel Garcia became the latest Owl to turn pro on Tuesday when he was drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays in round 14 of the MLB Draft. According to Garcia, he barely remembers the moment he heard his name called because he was so overwhelmed with joy.
On Thursday, sophomore distance runner Grace Forbes proved to the rest of the country what her Conference USA opponents and Rice teammates have known for years – she’s one of the fastest runners in the country. Competing at the NCAA championships in Eugene, Ore. for the second consecutive year, Forbes, took second place in the 10,000-meter, the best finish by an Owl at the NCAAs in over a decade. According to Forbes, who missed the indoor season and the first month of the outdoor season due to extreme fatigue later diagnosed as an autoimmune disorder, the result was a testament to the work she’s put in to overcome an incredibly challenging year.
Five Owls will be heading to next week’s NCAA outdoor track and field championships, after qualifying at the NCAA West Preliminaries which ran May 25 through 28. Headlining the meet for Rice was sophomore distance-runner Grace Forbes, who took first place in the 10,000 meters for the second consecutive year. Forbes will be joined in Eugene, Ore., by sophomore thrower Tara Simpson-Sullivan, junior thrower Erna Gunnarsdottir, senior thrower James McNaney and sophomore vaulter Alex Slinkman. Jon Warren, head coach of the men’s track and field program, said that he was impressed not only by the five qualifiers, but by all 13 Owls who participated over the course of the week in Fayetteville, Ark.