Everybody here is very good at something—or a lot of things,” Jack Meyer, JE ’14, told me. Meyer himself is a case in point: he plays goalie on the varsity lacrosse team and is a classically trained singer.
Of course, most Yalies engage in an eclectic mix of activities, interests, and skills. That is, after all, the reason a lot of us came here in the first place. But even after months on campus, I am still reminding myself not to be surprised when the upperclassman who led my health and sexuality workshop is also that fabulous singer from the Woolsey Hall jam—and plays club soccer, and writes for the Herald, and is taking five credits in mechanical engineering.
Two of Yale’s biggest extracurricular spheres are athletics and the arts; active participation in either takes up a large part of every day here. But there are some students among us who have found a way to do both: ambitious crossover athletes and artists who juggle widely disparate lifestyles on top of rigorous academic schedules.
“Sometimes it’s really hard. A lot of things are sacrificed,” Jennifer Matichuk, SM ’13, a varsity hockey player and theater set designer, said. Matichuk was recruited to Yale to play hockey, but soon found herself involved in the theater community. In her sophomore year, she even served as a member of the Dramat Board. “My strength was good for building things,” Matichuk said, “and I thought, ‘Hey maybe this could be something I’m good at.’”
Matichuk, whose team practices for over 20 hours a week, is constantly caught in a balancing act between two divergent passions. But for her, at the end of the day, one takes precedence over the other: “Hockey always comes first,” she said. “Always. I make sure [for] every show I work on that my producer and director understand that my hockey team is my number one priority.”
Not all athlete-artists have such an easy time picking one activity to prioritize. “It’s just like learning how to portion your time really, really well,” Charles Stone, PC ’14, said. Stone is a member of an a cappella group, the Baker’s Dozen, as well as the club water polo team. “My day feels like it’s all ‘go.’ [I’m] either doing work, in rehearsal, or in practice,” he said. Since Yale does not have a varsity water polo team, Stone pointed out, the club team takes itself very seriously. “[It’s] arguably the most intense club sport while we are in season,” he said. The team practices five times a week and plays games on the weekends.
Stone is not alone in finding it difficult to find a balance between a cappella and athletic pursuits. Ian Graves, JE ’13, rowed varsity crew his freshman and sophomore years, until he decided to drop the sport and dedicate his time to his a cappella group, Mixed Company. “I had been able to balance the two until then,” Graves said, “but it was a struggle, and going forward I didn’t want to miss out on any more.”
Graves recalled his time on tour with Mixed Company his freshman year, while he was still rowing for the varsity crew team: “When I was still a lightweight, [I was] in Rome with Mixed Company,” he said. “I was eating olives and sunflower seeds, practically nothing all day, and Mixed Co couldn’t understand that. And at night while everyone was lounging around, I was doing cross-fit workouts by myself.”
Graves’s experience in Rome speaks to a larger problem these athlete-artists face. For these students, it’s not just a matter of the large time and energy commitments required to participate in such involved activities—the challenge of navigating the social dynamics between the two worlds is another factor crossover athletes/artists must consider. “[The different activities] definitely have very different dynamics,” Matichuk said.
Indeed, the world of the arts and the world of athletics don’t always overlap. “There was definitely a disconnect between the two,” said Graves, who also noted that members of Mixed Company never go see athletic events, while athletes rarely make it to weekend theater outings. “Being a senior now and meeting people through [senior] society, I think it’s really a shame that people don’t have more crossover,” he said. With the immense time commitment that many of Yale’s extracurriculars entail, maybe it’s no surprise that many find it difficult to explore circles outside of their own. “People get singularly focused and caged in,” Graves said.
Mixed Company’s Caroline Rouse, PC ’15, who also plays varsity golf, jokes that her crowded rehearsal and practice schedules keep her from seeing her roommates. “During rush and golf season, [they] thought I disappeared,” she said. But the divide is not just between her and her friends from outside her two activities. “[The different social groups] fill different purposes in my life,” she said.
Despite the inherent challenges that come with participating in two of Yale’s dominant but sometimes at-odds extracurricular scenes, there seems to be one common tie among this ambitious breed of artist-athletes: they chose to come to Yale precisely because they can do both here. Meyer considered conservatory training for classical voice study, but ultimately couldn’t commit to music over sport. “I knew if I came here I could sing and play lacrosse, and do both at a high level,” he said. Meyer was drawn to Yale’s strong music department that would allow him to continue voice and theory study, while also playing varsity lacrosse.
At the end of another day, once again sweat-stained and vocally exhausted, with muscles aching, Meyer felt assured. “It’s all worth it,” he said. “Definitely worth it. That’s why I came here.”