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The alarm would scream shortly after sunrise. Breakfast was healthy and crucial. No buttery flapjacks. No glazed donut. Then, on to the training room.
First came stretching and heat applications to nurse her minor back injury followed by three hours of sweat and determination on a scuff-marked court. At the end, there was an hour of weight lifting before the morning was completed with another session of heating and icing her injury.
Now came the second part of her day. Switching active wear for casual wear, it was time for the volleyball player to transition into the arts and sciences student. Instead of juggling a ball, she juggled two classes, co-presidency in the student athlete advisory committee and working with the assistant dean of students.
This was a typical day in the final year of Greta Strenger’s college career at Stony Brook. She was the captain and only senior on her Division I women’s volleyball team and a full-time student who was involved in several extracurriculars.
“There was eating somewhere in there,” Strenger said, thinking back to her 2011-12 year.
However, it was not as funny back then. Strenger said she had a difficult time adjusting to college. She recalled feeling “stuck in a bubble” during her first few years at Stony Brook.
While Division I volleyball games were much more difficult than high school varsity, she said the mental game was the most challenging aspect. The Minnesotan struggled with pressures and identity issues.
“There’s, like, NCAA [National Collegiate Athletic Association] rules and regulations, Strenger said. “You have your coach, athletic trainer, strength and conditioning coach, administrators and academic advisors. All these people who are tracking your life, which is awesome and they’re great support systems, but sometimes it can get confusing. It’s hard to be a Division I athlete.”
She said the confusing part was trying to figure out how to have experiences that were separate from her sport. It was not until Strenger joined programs outside of volleyball that she began feeling more confident in her life’s direction.
She started working with the Ellen Driscoll, assistant dean of students, through an NCAA “Choices” grant to spread alcohol awareness. Through that experience, Strenger got involved with the student advisory athletic committee and started a peer mentor program with Driscoll. The program involved pairing underclassmen with upperclassmen in the athletic department.
These experiences made the 24-year-old well suited for her job today.
Strenger has been the coordinator of the department’s new life skills program since August. Student-athletes can come to her office with issues they are having in school, sports or social life. Strenger then tries to match the student with an upperclassman from a different sport. This helps the student find direction as well as friends outside of his or her team.
Life skills is part of the five-year strategic plan that Shawn Heilbron has been working on since becoming the director of athletics in May 2014. The plan is called “Together We Transform,” and its main goal is to make sure student-athletes are prepared to enter the work place after dedicating countless hours on fields and courts. They can seek advice on building resumes, finding internships and connecting with other student-help organizations on campus.
“Life skills is perfect because it allows us to focus on something more than just time or the stats,” said Raven Dorsey, a life skills intern and senior track runner. “It propels us forward past just being at Stony Brook.”
Strenger works closely with program overseer Courtney Rickard, associate director of athletics student-athlete development and life skills. The two come together to set up program events that will reach larger student-athlete audiences.
When asked why Strenger was a good match for the job, Rickard joked about needing eight hours to mention all of the qualities she loves about her colleague and friend.
“In a professional career, not everybody feels that they’re placed on this earth to do this,” Rickard said. “She’s placed on this earth to do this.”
One of the first events took place on Oct. 27 in the lobby of SBU’s Island Federal Credit Union Arena. Upperclassmen athletes were asked to serve as panel members for the event. Roughly ten tables were placed in a “U” shape, and two athletes were seated at each table next to placards stating their majors. Fellow athletes could walk to each table and ask questions regarding the major presented before choosing spring semester classes on Nov. 2.
“A lot of people are undecided and don’t know what to do,” said Louise Badoch, a senior SBU tennis player. “They don’t always listen to advisors, so it helps to talk to fellow athletes.”
“We want to positively transform the lives of each student-athlete,” Strenger said. “As a former student-athlete, I’m, like, ‘That is so awesome.”