#SquadGoals: Students Gain Friendship, Focus and Family Through Club Sports

This story is featured in the Spring 2019 edition of the HPU Magazine. Discover below how HPU students meet lifelong friends through club sports. 


It was the first race of the season, but Kelly Rickard knew it was over. Her rowing career had ended with a dislocated knee.

In just her second year on the club rowing team, she had grown to love a sport she originally didn’t like. As a freshman, her roommate told her in no uncertain terms to get up and do something, so Rickard had tagged along.

She found family in rowing and the drive to keep going. Now, as a senior and team captain, she can’t imagine college without it.

Despite her injury, the psychology major from Georgia, Vermont, worked hard with Coach Burt Whicker to become the men’s coxswain. Her teammates encouraged her as she went weekly to physical therapy.

“This team has been my saving grace,” she says. “It’s where I’ve found my best friends, my bridesmaids, my home. They’ve gotten me through more than races and hard practices. They pulled me through one of the hardest times of my life.”

In September, she sat in the boat with her best friend and doubles partner, Courtney Meissner. She was able to race again. Even better, they brought home a gold medal.

“We didn’t think we’d do well because we had never rowed together,” Rickard remembers. “When we got off the water, we couldn’t have been happier.”

They brought out their best, kept each other calm and reached their potential together with each stroke.

That’s what club sports at HPU do.

Go For It

With 33 club teams at HPU, students have the opportunity to do most anything — horseback riding, frisbee, soccer, martial arts and more.

Hobie Williamson had run cross country since middle school. He wanted to continue without the heavy commitment of collegiate level sports, but he wanted to be part of a team. He found the sweet spot in club running at HPU.

“It’s perfect. There are still practices and races, but it’s more casual and relaxed,” says Williamson, a sophomore from Phelps, New York. “It’s allowed me to meet amazing people I call my friends. They helped me adjust as a freshman and made this the place I call home.”

Williamson and his teammates say club sports have helped them become more confident and develop leadership skills,

responsibility and perseverance — important assets for the future.

Team meals are an essential part of the experience. They eat together on campus after every practice. Before big races, they gather at Coach Erin Moran’s house for potluck dinners. They laugh, have fun and make memories.

“We’re all really close as a team and enjoy being with one another,” says Gabby Kozlowski, a sophomore from Winston-Salem, 

North Carolina. “We come from different backgrounds and majors, but running unites us as a team.”

 

Keep Pushing

Club sport camaraderie doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time practicing, setting goals and overcoming adversity together.

Whicker, the rowing coach, understands this, so he holds practices six times a week and puts new team members on the water within days of joining the team. Their time together includes incredibly focused workouts but also team-building exercises such as hiking, flag football or yoga.

“You become very close to people when you sweat for them,” says Whicker. “I tell our novices they will make the best friends of their lives in rowing. Success comes from forming those relationships and putting in the time.”

He tells them to look out for one another and help a teammate who’s down.

Rickard, who received that during her injury, paid it forward when a new team member became sick. Even though they’d just met, Rickard took her to the hospital and stayed with her there. Whicker called her parents to let them know she had friends caring for her.

The fall activities fair on campus is where students like Madison Gotro, a sophomore from Charlotte, North Carolina, find their sports family.

“Don’t be afraid to get involved,” she says. “It may seem intimidating at first because college is a big step and everything is new, but if I would not have stepped out of my comfort zone and joined club running, I would not have achieved as many goals, met my running family, or become the person I am today.” 

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