The beginning of the end

ISU linebacker Fred Garrin plays against Iowa on Sept. 12. Garrin, like 80 other ISU senior student-athletes, is facing what lies ahead of him now that his time as a collegiate athlete is over. Photo: Shing Kai Chan/Iowa State Daily

Jake Lovett —

Editor’s Note: The following is part one in a five-part series about student-athletes’ lives after their careers as Cyclones.

Part one looks at how life changes after their final season.

Part two highlights the balance struck between athletic and academic work, preparing them for the rest of their lives.

Part three profiles athletes with hopes of professional or Olympic careers.

Part four examines the differences for those headed into the workplace, and takes a look at the former athletes who have already made the jump.

Finally, part five will reveal our student-athletes’ feelings about their lives after Iowa State.

The last time Fred Garrin walked off the turf at Jack Trice Stadium he was a happy man.

Iowa State had just beaten Colorado on senior day and Garrin and his team were on top of the world — but he didn’t know about the changes he would face the following week.

“At the beginning of the season I was [thinking], ‘Oh, this is my last go around,’ but it doesn’t really register and then that last game, when the clock hits zero, it’s like, ‘Oh,’” Garrin said. “It’s really just an adjusting thing you kind of go through, getting used to not being an athlete on a team anymore and just being a student.”

Garrin isn’t alone.

Nearly all of the 80 ISU student-athletes designated as seniors have seen, or will soon see, their time in cardinal and gold come to an end.

Some athletes will end their athletic careers after four years at Iowa State, while others saw their dreams die before that. There are some, like Garrin, who are seeking a career playing professionally after graduation.

Kaylee Manns, a cornerstone of the ISU volleyball program for the last four seasons, is one athletes seeking a professional career and is in the early stages of exploring a career playing in Europe.

“At first, I know I was like, ‘This sucks,’” Manns said. “I didn’t want it to end, of course, this has been a part of my life for four years. It’s just something you get used to, you just realize it’s another chapter in your life and it has to come to an end eventually. I can’t play in college for 20 years and we all know that.”

Manns’ coach for the past four years, Christy Johnson-Lynch, said that she has seen differing reactions from athletes seeing their time at Iowa State come to a close. Some are relieved or just “happy to be sleeping in for a change.”

But sometimes an exit from the day-to-day routine that comes with being a student-athlete is harder than simply managing their own time.

The ISU Athletics Department created an entire department devoted to managing student-athletes’ schedules and time in and out of class, their emotional and physical well being and helping with any problems they encounter in their time at Iowa State.

“I think some players have a hard time filling that void and have a hard time trying to figure out how to fill those two, three or four hours they were working out in the gym,” Johnson-Lynch said.

Johnson-Lynch said each athlete is different in how they adjust to life after athletics.

Most simply take to the change and try to enjoy the extra hours of down time or just try to get some extra time in bed.

“It was fun because instead of going to practice I could just go home and go to sleep after class,” Garrin said. “After that, it got kind of boring because my day was so regimented — it was scheduled — and so now to have so much free time … what do you do with it?”

The free time has to go somewhere. Usually, it is devoted toward schoolwork.

Now, instead of blocks of study times preset between practices and classes, the student-athletes can focus almost entirely on their academic work, in some cases, for the first time.

“I actually do have a lot more time to do my work because I really didn’t do that much before,” said Elise Reid, who after four seasons must say goodbye to ISU soccer. “Now I’m doing it and this is probably the first semester since my freshman year that I didn’t have a midterm.”

One of Reid’s classmates and teammates, Lauren Fader, said the extra time with her books has given her a better chance to prepare more for her medical school admission tests she is taking this summer in hopes of enrolling in a school following her anticipated May 2011 graduation.

“It’s a good thing, I think, that I haven’t had as much to deal with soccer wise, so I’ve had more time to focus on that stuff and keep up on my classes,” Fader said. “On the other hand it’s been kind of crazy and sad because for my entire life, pretty much, I’ve gone to practice almost every day.”

There are benefits to being out of their sport, but most of these athletes have had several months for the sting of the final loss to wear off.

It doesn’t take long, though, before the things about their sport that schoolwork and studying can’t replace creep back to the forefront.

Some athletes can’t ever completely let go.

“Sport is so much of their identity, so when that is over they have a hard time figuring out what makes them special or valuable,” Johnson-Lynch said. “Once you go find a job you love or are passionate about or start a family or whatever it is for you then I think you can learn how to fill that void.

“It’s hard to replace that with something else until you get out there in the real world and figure that out,” she said.

Manns knows she wants to explore a professional volleyball career after she leaves Iowa State, but has got the sport so encoded in her DNA that she hasn’t even been able to quit ISU volleyball workouts cold turkey.

The senior in advertising and Spanish still attends practices twice a week, fulfilling both her need to stay involved in the game she has grown up playing and to mentor to the young players expected to fill in for her next year and into the future.

“I would just say that I miss the camaraderie with my teammates and the competition,” Manns said. “I still get to [compete] two times a week, which is good, because I don’t know what I’d do. I’d take out competition on everybody. I’d walk down the street and try to beat somebody.”

It was Manns that called what was ahead of her “a new chapter,” and the saying goes “all good things must come to an end.”

Knowing that and being ready for the challenges facing them does not make saying goodbye to any easier.

“I think it’s going to be difficult, but I feel like I’m ready now,” Garrin said. “I feel like I’ve matured. The growth from 18 to 22 [years old], I feel like when I leave here I’ll have grown and learned so much and had so many experiences and had revelations about life that I’m really prepared, but it will be a sad day.”

Garrin, just like the other 80 seniors nearing departure from Iowa State, is ready due in large part to his four years studying and playing here — a journey for all of them that started with a coach convincing them that Ames would be the best place to start the rest of their lives.