Spanning the globe: Boxer athletes take their studies overseas

By Blake Timm ’98

A Wide World for Pacific Student-Athletes

Students face many choices throughout their college career from selecting classes to picking a major to where to live. Add in collegiate athletics, and the most important skill becomes time management. The balance becomes even more complicated when a student-athlete decides to study in another country. In addition to the usual academic and financial questions, a student-athlete often faces questions from her team. How will leaving affect the program? Can the Boxers survive without this player for a few games or an entire season?
It didn’t hurt three of Pacific’s top student-athletes who spent part of their 2003-04 seasons studying in other countries. One returned home to become a national champion. Another became one of the best freestyle swimmers in school history and the third finished her career as a three-time Academic All-District performer. All faced tough decisions when it came to studying abroad, but they agreed that it was worth sacrificing part of their seasons for the experiences.

BACK TO THE FUTURE

Desireé Lockhart’s ’05 fire was fueled by the stories of her grandparents. Lockhart’s grandfather had served in France during World War I, and brought a French bride home with him in the early 20th century. The family ties were the motivation the Port Townsend, Wash., native needed to put her quest to become a national collegiate women’s wrestling champion on hold and jump the pond for a semester in Montpellier, France, in fall 2003.

A social work major, Lockhart didn’t need to study abroad. But she had made the decision her freshman year in high school. “I couldn’t do it in high school,” Lockhart said, noting the irony. “I was involved in too many sports. I couldn’t choose what season to miss.”

The fact that Lockhart was participating in only one sport at Pacific made the choice to go abroad much easier, despite being favored to win a national title. “With a season as long as ours is, you can cut out one of the semesters,” Lockhart said of the women’s wrestling season, which stretches from September to April. Head Coach Scott Miller supported Lockhart, his top women’s grappler and one of only three returners to the team that season. “Coach Miller really understands that athletics is not the main focus of the college experience.”

Lockhart’s experience fending for herself on the mat prepared her well for her first weeks in France. Upon arriving she participated in a month-long language immersion program. With the school, Paul Valéry University, officially closed, Lockhart faced the challenge of communicating, finding food, and making her way on Montpellier’s public transportation system on her own. “For the first month I was living in the dorms,” she said. “The university was not open, so there was no food service. They placed you in a dorm room, all single rooms with co-ed bathrooms. It was like they dropped you in this new country and said ‘Okay, now go find food and good luck.’”

Her one steadying force in those rocky first weeks, however, was wrestling. Within three days of her arrival, Lockhart stumbled upon a gym where a man was waiting for what was expected to be the first day of wrestling practice. While practice never began that day, or for a couple of weeks after, Lockhart quickly made a friend in Sebastian, a former junior Olympic gymnast who was trying to learn the sport. Lockhart coached Sebastian and he turned into her training partner for most of her stay.

Once practices did begin, Lockhart managed to hit the mats two days a week. There was no conditioning, only a mix of techniques and sparring. “I couldn’t really get in shape because there was no contest between me and the other people,” said Lockhart, whose 121-pound frame was dwarfed by all of the men in the room, “but it was a good experience because it kept me on the mat.”

When the language immersion program was over, the experience became more comfortable. Lockhart was placed with a host family on the outskirts of Montpellier and settled into life as a student. She enjoyed trips, the food and, most of all, getting to know new people.

“I was opened up to a whole new culture,” Lockhart said. “The people I met in the program were from all over the world. A lot of them spoke English, but speaking French with them was really neat. It was more than just the experience of being in France, but also the exposure to a bunch of different cultures.”

Upon her return to the United States in January, Lockhart thought that getting back to wrestling would be a struggle. Despite her two times per week training with the Montpellier Wrestling Club, Lockhart had gained a weight class (thanks to a love of French bread). The thought of getting back in competition shape and the expectations of a national title proved daunting, but Miller’s expectations for a national title provided motivation. “I wanted to show Coach that I didn’t just go away and slack off,” Lockhart said. “He was expecting a national title out of me and I felt like I had to fulfill those expectations.”

She struggled in the first few matches of her abbreviated season, but fortunes changed with a couple of confidence building victories at the Women’s International Collegiate Duals, hosted by Pacific in February 2004. The momentum continued through March when Lockhart won the 121-pound U.S. women’s collegiate national championship, becoming the school’s fourth women’s wrestling national champion.

The championship took on a bittersweet taste in 2005, her senior year, when a knee injury forced her out for the season and her eligibility ended without a chance to defend her title.

Leaving Pacific for a term wasn’t easy, but it was a decision that Lockhart said she would make again. “I think it is really important to stay true to what you want. When you come to a college like Pacific, the coaches are aware that this is an academic institution and that there is more to life than just athletics.”

STUDYING OR SWIMMING

Marya Hall ’05 was thrilled to have the chance to be on Pacific’s first varsity women’s swimming team in 15 years. There was only one catch – she was planning to study in France.

A standout freestyler at Corvallis (Ore.) High School, Hall had enrolled at Pacific without ever expecting to swim beyond the club level again. She decided during her sophomore year that she would study abroad in France in spring 2004. Then came the news that Pacific was going to bring back swimming for the 2003-04 season.

“I was really excited that we were even going to have a swim program at all, and I looked at the schedule and saw that most of the season was going to be during the time I would be here,” Hall said. “I figured I would have the next year to swim, so I felt like I still had the year to do the French thing and come back the next year.”

Like Lockhart, Hall did not have to go abroad. Required only of language majors, Hall, who graduated in May with a degree in exercise science, decided to take a term in France because of a family connection. “I got into French because my aunt married a Frenchman, so my cousins lived in France for half of their lives,” Hall said. “They were always speaking French, so I figured it would be interesting to learn it.”

Pacific’s coach for the season, former Olympian Claudia Kolb Thomas, couldn’t have agreed more with Hall’s decision. However, she might have changed her mind after she saw what kind of swimmer Hall turned out to be. By the time she left for France in January 2004, Hall had broken all of Pacific’s standing freestyle records from 100-yards to 1,650-yards and was ranked in the Northwest Conference’s top-10 in four different events. By the time she finished her two-year career in 2005, Hall owned nine school records and was part of three record-setting relay teams.

While the 2004 NWC Championships took place, Hall was in Montpellier, France, for a semester. She took classes in translation, French grammar, and French cinema. Swimming, however, didn’t fall completely out of the plan and she swam once a week until other activities kept her too busy.

Hall planned to have a summer to get back in shape before returning to Pacific. The day after her plane touched down, she began teaching swim lessons and lifeguarding. Within a week, she was getting back in the pool, starting the climb back to competition shape.

The trend of Pacific swimmers studying abroad did not end with Hall. Allison Curtis ’07 plans to rejoin the team in time for preparations for the 2006 NWC Championships after spending the fall in Spain.

MORE TO LIFE THAN HOOPS

Whether it’s on the mat, in the pool, or on the court, at Pacific students find coaches supportive of studying abroad. Kristine Callan ’05 was no exception. She had never known a winter without picking up a basketball.

A four-year starting point guard for the Boxers, Callan sat out part of her sophomore year nursing a pair of shoulder injuries. It was during that time that she considered the possibility of missing part of the season and studying abroad. “I had never really been out of the country,” Callan said.

Unlike Lockhart and Hall, who competed in individual sports, Callan faced the choice of leaving the team in the middle of the Northwest Conference season and leaving the Boxers without a point guard.

Summer wasn’t an option for going abroad to Australia because of her academic pursuits. The three-time ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District honoree was involved in physics research over the summer, which helped to earn the Bend, Ore., native a prestigious spot in Duke University’s nationally renowned physics graduate program this fall.

“It wasn’t an easy decision, but I have learned a lot since coming to Pacific about what is important and what my priorities should be,” Callan said. “Being at Pacific and at a Division III school taught me that basketball is fine and you learn a lot from it, but there is definitely more out there than sports and being good at them.”

That attitude rang true with both of Callan’s coaches. LeeAnn Kriegh ’94, who coached the Boxers in the 2001-02 and 2002-03 seasons, supported Callan’s desire to go abroad. So did Jeff Thompson, who took over for the 2003-04 season. “He didn’t second guess me at all,” Callan said. “He told me my position on the team wouldn’t change.” Callan’s decision was tough for teammates to swallow, though, but eventually they accepted her decision.

After leading Pacific in a 56-46 road loss at Puget Sound on Feb. 7, 2004, Callan headed to Melbourne, Australia. She studied at the University of Melbourne, where she took several science courses, including upper level biology and physics.

Like other study abroad students, Callan used the opportunity to see as much of the country as possible. She traveled to Sydney, caught a ballet performance in the famed Sydney Opera House and walked Bondi Beach, one of the world’s hot beds for beach volleyball. She also went north to the Great Barrier Reef and hiked on Hinchenbrook Island, Australia’s largest national park.

Back in Melbourne, Callan adjusted to a much different life at “university” than what she was accustomed to in the U.S. The large university was divided into different colleges, each of which had their own living quarters and dining facilities. Classes and most studying took place during the day with free time at night. Sunday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights were the evenings most students went out, with Friday and Saturday nights relatively quiet.

Basketball, meanwhile, took a back seat. A minor sport in Australia, there weren’t many opportunities to run to the gym and find a pick-up game. Her only exposure to Aussie hoops was going with a friend to her team’s practice. That didn’t mean that her semester was completely without sports. Callan found time to try her hand, or foot as the case may be, at soccer, rugby, and cricket. She also played netball, which Callan described as similar to U.S. women’s basketball in the 1950s.

With her traveling experiences and exposures to a new culture, Callan said she believes her most valuable experience in Australia was opening her eyes to a more global view of life.

“I learned that there are so many different ways to look at the same thing,” Callan said. “I think I had often taken that for granted that at home a lot of people think the way I do. It’s not that you have to agree with everyone, but just realizing that there is more than one way to view something, never taking it for granted and never assuming things about people.”