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The Sand Dunes

  • Alyssa Wisdom, '13 by Alyssa Wisdom, '13 Psychology Stanford Women's Track & Field

At the base of a daunting fifty-foot-high mountain of tan sand speckled with black streaks, I inhale a deep gust of salty beach air, clearing my airway, my mind, and my worries to concentrate on the task at hand. A quick glance at my teammates’ faces, a tapestry of my inner emotions of dismay, assures me our thoughts are in sync while our head coach’s “inspirational” pep talk loops in our minds. Already breathless from the hilly mile and a half jog from the beach bank, they throw unsure grimaces at the surmounting challenge ahead of them. Drones of low murmurs arose from the team as they exchanged strategies on how to come out of this workout in one piece. Jules Sharpe, a freshman high jumper, shakes his jitters out, claps his hands, and exclaims, “Come on you guys. Let’s do this!” As my knees begin to buckle under the disheartening anxiety that many freshmen athletes experience in the face of their first grueling workout, I feel a reassuring hand on my back from Shataya Hendricks – a junior sprinter from my hometown in Florida – reassuring me that we’ll get through this together.

Then a shrill whistle pierces the air, signaling the start of the workout and sending waves of runners, hurdlers, jumpers, pole vaulters, and throwers scrambling up the sand. Mounds of sand begin flying left and right as we try to get our footing in the sand. A grunt of despair escapes my lips as I involuntarily drop on all fours ¾ of the way up the dunes and resort to clawing my way to the top by any means necessary. The only thought occupying my mind is coach telling us, “This is a test of will power, not strength.”

As we reach number eight in what seems like an endless amount of uphill runs, the lactic acid begins to accumulate, made conspicuous by our rapidly deteriorating form. Steps begin to slow, strides gradually shorten, and legs give way turning the uphill sprint into a desperate crawl to the top. Our coach’s “don’t stop!” are the only words that rise above our heavy panting. Overcome with fatigue, bodies start to drop and a freshman extends a shaky hand and cries, “But coach, I can’t.” At this point, exclamations of encouragement burst from the entire team, offering helping hands to push our fatigued teammates to the top. Yes we are all ravaged with fatigue and can barely drag our own bodyweight up the sand dunes, let alone another person, but we are determined to reach the peak of the dunes together as a team, no matter what.

Since the turning point of the sand dunes, the freshmen have broken out of their restrictive, reticent shells and the upperclassmen out of their comfortable cliques to intermingle amongst themselves. What began with the occasional lunch and bike ride to practice evolved into roommate and parent introductions, coordinating dinners, accompanying each other to parties, and the occasional karaoke night where the video vixens, Mariah Careys, and Michael Jacksons were unleashed. These past winter and summer breaks, my current roommate, hurdler Kala Stepter, and teammates Amaechi Morton and Karynn Dunn – a hurdler and jumper – traveled to Florida to visit me. Now, a substantial amount of my teammates reside in my dorm, and even though some of my teammates are no longer participating in track and field, we are still closer than ever and spend quality time with each other on a regular basis.

With my freshman year under my belt, I plan to help the freshmen this year cherish their experiences and challenges as student-athletes so that they can seamlessly incorporate themselves into the team and help to strengthen us as a unit. Track and field has been an interesting facet of social networking in my life that has and will continue to make my Stanford experience fulfilling and well-rounded. The bonding my teammates and I undergo clawing up the sand dunes, bent over breathless at practice, and turning back to make sure everyone finishes the workout together as a team has formed some of the closest and strongest friendships that will no doubt last a lifetime. Though sports do consume a tremendous amount of our time, they also teach us vital time management and prioritizing skills that, in the long run, make our “free time” more meaningful. I’m proud to know that when I receive my diploma from the provost, turn my tassel to the side, and toss my cap in the air at graduation, I conquered Stanford University as a student-athlete in varsity Track and Field – a sentiment that I want our freshmen this year to share.

Alyssa Wisdom, ’13, is a thrower on the track and field team. She is majoring in Psychology, with a concentration in the Mind, Culture, and Society track and a minor in Italian. She is actively involved in the community, exemplified by a concert she hosted through the Caribbean Student Association to raise money for underprivileged East Palo Alto youth in a Mural, Music, and Arts Program and a 2010 summer internship at Broward Partnership for the Homeless. After graduation, she intends to go to law school, specializing in minority law.