Two years ago, I had had reservations about matriculating to a school that boasted a successful athletics program. As klutzy as I was nerdy, I was afraid of cliché jock attitudes and a social hierarchy that would pin me down as the 4th grader who couldn’t climb the rope in gym (I still probably couldn’t climb that rope). And with a population of about 800 varsity athletes and an athletics program that’s won the Director’s Cup for 19 out of 20 times, my concern was probably not unfounded.

However, since I stepped foot on this campus I have not found an iota of evidence that confirmed my fears. In fact, I have come to love very specifically that Stanford does sports well; and for everyone else who isn’t an athlete or who doesn’t see the benefit of being a non-athlete at a school, here’s a list of reasons why it’s awesome for you:

  1. Have you ever watched the Olympics and thought to yourself, “Whoa. These people are jacked! Why can’t I be that buff!” Yeah…a good number of students look like that. Not just the D1 varsity big-time athletes; I mean most athletes. And we have a lot. The view is not lacking, folks.

    And when I say "the view," I DO NOT mean this picture. Though Lake Lagunita looks rather idyllic, no? (Lots of kids like to jog around it)

    And when I say “the view,” I DO NOT mean views like this picture. Though Lake Lagunita looks rather idyllic, no?

  2. A good number of students at Stanford look like Olympians because they are Olympians! And, it’s great to watch your friend prove he or she is the best in the world at their sport (or anything, really). Just another thing you can be proud of your classmate, and/or yourself, for.
  3. (This was huge for me) Winning at a sport isn’t the only big deal on campus, because everyone else is winning too: my experience has been that an athletic national championship (or whatever equivalent) is no more impressive than anything else Stanford’s students do in their free time. We’re all geniuses and prodigies in our own way; sports is just one of them!
  4. There is a science to athleticism. And what with an outstanding athletic program as well as outstanding research programs, Stanford is a great place to study the limits of the human body. Craig Heller and Dennis Grahn’s “cooling glove” is a perfect example of the merging of sports and academia: a device that manipulates the human body’s temperature regulation mechanisms and is “better than steroids” at enhancing performance. And most importantly, tshat research and those professors are accessible to undergrads, not just med school or graduate students.
  5. Every Stanford undergrad gets access to world-class, professional grade facilities. The new Arrillaga Outdoor Education and Recreation Center is a nice example of that—an elaborated copy of its older brother, the Arrillaga Center for Sports and Recreation, this new gym touts a much larger rock climbing wall, a new pool specifically for swimming laps and exercise (not for athletic team practices), and new fleets of cardio equipment just begging to be used. And, the AOERC only the newest addition to our Olympic-sized pool, equestrian barn, golf course, many tennis courts, slew of fields for all kinds of outdoors games, and a collection of outdoor sand volleyball courts. These facilities are for every Stanford student to use, not just ones on formalized teams.

    A sample of the new collection of gym equipment at AOERC. Taken with a camera phone, sorry!

    A sample of the new collection of gym equipment at AOERC

  6. When I’m talking about the “athletic program at Stanford,” I don’t just mean D1 varsity sports. I also mean club sports, intramural sports, and athletic classes. Want to take yoga to relax? Sure. Want to learn horse-back riding? You can. Windsurfing? That counts too! As an undergrad, you can enroll in all of these classes at varying levels of skill; and you get a unit of academic credit for it.
  7. Every student here is in some way interesting. Being an outstanding athlete is just another way to be interesting! Before coming to Stanford I was sure I would never identify with athleticism, exercise, sports, or anything of the kind. Yet by simply being near others whose passions and interests include exercise, sports, and “stuff of that kind,” I have been exposed to a uniquely diverse set of people whom I learned more from than I could have ever foreseen. Especially considering how much of an athletic nube I am, learning about the world of sports and human performance from my friends and classmates has been a pleasant educational surprise.

Athleticism is part of Stanford’s culture. And my pleasantly surprising experience has been that instead of alienating students based on their physical prowess, sports and performance merge interests and people together in a way that I, at least, have never heard of or seen before. My experience has been the exact opposite of all the Disney Channel movies I watched growing up, all those simplified plot lines teaching me, a klutzy nerd, to disdain the bully football quarterback and assume jocks are nothing more than their sport. And I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to meet the football jocks who are the nerds.

But I must say, it is entirely possible that this inclusive atmosphere is not due only to a great athletic program; perhaps I cannot credit the program alone with changing my perspective on social dynamics and identities. It is entirely possible that that’s just how Stanford is. But for whatever reason, I like the outcome.


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