Students Exercise Brains College Athletes Work as Hard off the Field as On

Article excerpt

Byline: Deborah Pankey Daily Herald Staff Writer

After running her leg of the 400-meter relay and helping set a team record, Sarah Rader had one more run in front of her.

The North Central College senior unlaced her cleats, grabbed her books and sprinted across campus to class.

Rader is among the hundreds of athletes in Naperville this week for the NCAA Division III outdoor track and field championships that continue through Saturday.

These athletes don't run, hurdle or throw javelins because their colleges and universities handed them scholarships.

They do it for the love of sport, the thrill of competition.

But they're at college first and foremost to get a degree. They won't enter the pro circuit when graduation day comes.

Instead they attend classes every day, juggling homework assignments and internships with grueling practices and out-of-town meets.

"Division III is what college athletics originally were meant to be; an opportunity to compete in sports while in college," said Emery University coach John Curtin. Curtin represents the Atlanta school on the Division III Track and Field Committee.

"The whole concept is that the kids are at school for education first, but they still happen to have something they want to achieve in sports," Curtin said. "They have to make it on campus just like any other student. There are no special programs, no special tutors."

So how do they do it? How do they find time to be top athletes in their division and top students at the same time?

Here are some of their stories:

'This is where it counts'

Ryan Carpenter wasn't always a good student, as his mother, sitting beside him, readily acknowledges.

When Carpenter graduated from Naperville North High School in 1993 he wasn't in the top third of his class.

But something changed once he got to Augustana College in Rock Island.

Carpenter, a junior, has a 3.91 GPA and twice has been named an Academic All-American by GTE and the College Sports Information Directors of America.

He's not a top student in one field, but three - triple majoring in math, physics and computer science.

"Everyone finds it hard to believe," Carpenter said. "I was not a good student in high school. I blossomed when I got to college.

"I made up my mind that this is where it counts and said I'd do what it took. It turned out studying was easier than I thought; it got my confidence up."

Carpenter, 21, finds success on the field as well.

A shot-putter and team captain for the Vikings, he has been named to the all-American track team and is ranked eighth nationally. He also is an offensive guard on the football team.

"I have a routine. I go to practice and as soon as practice is done, I head to the library. I spend a lot of time at the library," he said. "It's a matter of disciplining myself to use my time well."

Carpenter said finding a school with equally good academic and athletic programs was important.

"I knew I wanted to do football and track. I love being part of a team," he said. "I can't imagine myself not playing sports. …