Life As a Student Athlete

Louie Chen / Former UC Davis Men’s Golf

6341. That was my national ranking at the start of my freshman year. I was still in a development phase when my Brother was a top 15 NorCal tennis player and my friends and teammates were already entertaining offers from colleges.

I was shameful.

I considered maybe just giving up golf and focusing on my studies like every other Asian-American. I wasn’t gifted physically to be an athlete. I was a scrawny 6-foot 125-pound Asian kid with minimal flexibility. A recipe for disaster. Here is where my respect and admiration for Kobe Bryant forged. He had games where he didn’t play well and would shoot his team out of the game. He would be embarrassed. Ashamed to be a failure. But instead of quitting, he used those emotions to fuel him, make him stronger. So I decided to take on my challenge the same way he did. I became obsessed with proving to my friends and family — and more importantly to myself — that I CAN DO THIS.

My obsession drove me into studying the history of the game, the fundamentals, and more importantly, what the all-time greats did in their journey to greatness. I wasn’t just driven to improve my rankings, I was driven to inflict the same sense of failure on my competition as they unknowingly inflicted on me.

I started my junior year inside the top 300 rankings. I started to get noticed by many colleges, but then I came into the dilemma that many Asian-American athletes face: sports or academics.

Being a student-athlete is hard, especially a golfer. Not because it is as physically taxing as sports such as basketball and football, but due to the immense amount of time and traveling it takes. Golf tournaments were often 3-hour drives or even a plane ride and took a week to finish. It was hard to focus on my academics, especially in an ultra-competitive environment such as the Silicon Valley.

I never really experienced a high school student’s summer. My training regime of my junior year became waking up at 7 AM to practice while taking SAT tutoring classes in the afternoon. At night, I would head over to the gym. Weekends, when I didn’t have tutoring classes, would go to traveling and competing for golf tournaments.

I thought things would be easier after my junior year. My national ranking was in the top 75, and I had just committed to UC Davis, a school with a good balance between sports and academics. My friends would stress over college applications and acceptances, while I finally had time to relax and enjoy myself. Or so I thought.

Oh man is college hard. You always question the one-and-done until you actually experience life as a Division I athlete. Morning workouts and classes, afternoon practices, and then night classes. Weekends were gone and packed with practice. Weekly 4-mile runs that would drain your energy for the rest of your day. It wasn’t easy.

I would see my friends enjoying college, getting good grades, and working for a cool internship the following summer. Meanwhile, I was struggling to just get through the day.

My decision to quit wasn’t because I couldn’t take the challenge or wanted to enjoy the “college experience”, rather, it was because I began to lose sight of why I played the game in the first place. Practicing was no longer fun, and the competitive edge that once drove me started to slowly fade away.

The point of this isn’t to discourage kids and athletes from playing a sport, but it is to prepare them for what is to come and to make sure they never lose their passion for the game. Sports is about having fun, as they say.

 

Louie Chen / Contributor

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