My Opinion – The Present In Perspective

While striving for athletic success is important, maintaining balance and creating new traditions can be just as fulfilling

While striving for athletic success is important, maintaining balance and creating new traditions can be just as fulfilling

Growing up, I was always involved in sports. 

I played Little League baseball, football and soccer, but for some reason, swimming was the only sport that had any promise. Like in most programs, the kids on my swimming team became close friends. Matter of fact, good or bad, I had very few friends beyond the realm of swimming.  

With my younger siblings joining the sport and Mom as our driver, manager and tireless cheerleader, going to the pool was a family affair. As we got more serious about the sport, training became a year-round thing with the Amateur Athletic Union and Junior Olympics, etc.  

By the time I reached high school, my relationship with the sport of swimming had become a quasi-religion. My teammates and I were in the pool at 6 a.m., while our moms were in the school’s kitchen preparing breakfast for the team. Class began at 8:30 a.m., but we were back in the pool by 3 p.m. for another two hours of training.  

Furthermore, we spent another three hours in the pool on Saturdays and competed in meets at least once per week. Honestly, I don’t remember having much time for homework, and I know my grades suffered, but somehow I managed to graduate on time. Then, it was time to go to college.

I was recruited by a number of smaller schools, but then I got a call from the greatest swimming coach of all time, James “Doc” Counsilman, PhD, at Indiana University. He had coached some of the greatest swimmers, including Olympian Mark Spitz, so I thought if I was ever going to realize my full potential as a competitive swimmer, competing for the Hoosiers was the logical choice.

The training was tough and the competition at that level was unmatched. We trained five hours daily in the pool, sometimes totaling over 14 miles a day. We competed on the weekends, which often required traveling to other schools in the Big Ten Conference. We spent so much time in the pool that our time for academics, family and friends diminished. This routine overwhelmed many of my teammates and resulted in anxiety, depression and loneliness, etc.  

This unfortunate consequence is common among student-athletes and has been documented by the NCAA. The NCAA Student-Athlete Well-Being Study of nearly 10,000 student-athletes conducted in fall 2021 found elevated levels of mental health concerns, including mental exhaustion, anxiety and depression. Sadly, 50% of student-athletes in the study said they were unable to achieve a sense of balance.

There’s no doubt swimming at Indiana was a stressful and challenging time, but like any great coach, Doc recognized the signs and intervened. He taught us how to balance our personal lives with our commitments to the team. Doc pushed us every day in practices, but he also understood the priorities of academics, mental health and family obligations.

This shared experience created a strong bond among us and for myriad reasons, the Indiana University swim team became my kinfolk. This was all well and good until the tree leaves started turning colors and my teammates started talking about their plans for the quickly approaching holiday season.

When competing at elite levels, student-athletes are faced with making a choice between remaining on campus to train with their teammates or going home to spend the holiday with their families. And who wants to get blamed for ruining Thanksgiving?! 

In my case, I chose my family, who lived only six hours away; driving home for the holidays was easy. However, many of my teammates were not as lucky, so I invited one of them to join me and my family for Thanksgiving. Certainly, it was a break from tradition, but it was a great experience for everyone — so much so that I brought home another teammate for the following Christmas.

Sure, realizing our full potential in any athletic endeavor is important, as is honoring our family traditions. But maintaining a sense of balance should always be a priority. I think it’s best to keep the present in perspective, because creating new traditions can be just as fulfilling as sticking to the old ones.

Happy holidays!     



Miss Whitney    2/18/2013 — 10/12/2023

Web Content manager Christopher Di Virgilio and Miss Whitney during the 2023 Triumph Foundation Sports Festival in June 2023. (Photo by Christopher Di Virgilio).

PVA Publications has recently lost a part of its family. In October, SPORTS ’N SPOKES Web Content Manager Christopher Di Virgilio had his 10-year-old service dog, Miss Whitney, pass away. Whitney was a remarkable service dog who spent the first part of her life training with Canine Companions for Independence (CCI).

She was raised and socialized for 18 months by Christopher, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran. Although Whitney was unable to complete CCI’s formal service dog training due to a medical issue, she continued to serve as a dedicated companion. Whitney helped Christopher manage his post-traumatic stress disorder and tremors, providing both physical and emotional support.

She accompanied Christopher as he photographed events, becoming a recognized and calming presence among many athletes, organizations and even other service dogs. Despite not having CCI’s formal credentials, Whitney embodied the spirit of a service dog — she improved Christopher’s life immeasurably through her loyalty, training and unwavering support. Whitney was an outstanding example of the high-quality dogs that CCI breeds and trains to assist people living with disabilities. 

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