Athlete to educator: teachers reflect on collegiate years

Hadley Carr

From NCAA running championships to US Soccer tours with Abby Wambach, Wilson teachers are more athletic than you think.

For some teachers, education wasn’t always their aspiration. Since she was a little girl, biomedical science teacher Danielle Krafft wanted to become two things: a doctor and a professional soccer player. Entering Florida State University, she planned to do both. 

Krafft had a plan laid out: obtain an undergraduate degree, take the MCAT, get into med school, defer acceptance, and play soccer professionally until her legs ran out. 

It was working—while playing on the Under-18 USA National Team and at National camps, Krafft played with Brandi Chastain, Abby Wambach, and all the players that made “little girls dream of playing soccer.” It wasn’t a matter of comparing “playing pro or Nike Deals [when she] just schooled [them] in practice.” But after Krafft was injured for the second time in her junior year, “reality hit” and her chances to play professionally slimmed.

Wilson track coach and health teacher Tia Clemmons was also on track to compete on a professional level, post-college. As a high-level high school student athlete entering college, Clemmons says that running professionally and competing in the Olympics was not only her dream but her path. 

Initially, Clemmons wasn’t looking at Howard, but after being offered a full ride her senior year at the Penn Relays after her 4×400 race, she signed on the spot. Howard’s track program,  however, wasn’t geared towards training for post-college opportunities, so her goal of running professionally faltered. Though it may have been disappointing, Clemmons was “completely content with [her college experience].”

Some former athletes, such as math teacher Walker Yane, never dreamed of competing in college. In fact, when Yane arrived at Earlham College, he transitioned not running on an organized team to running D3 track and cross country for four years. Yane ultimately ended up placing 8th at the NCAA Championships for the 3000 meter steeplechase, making him an All-American.

Science Teacher Nora Swift also attended Earlham College, where she played soccer and ran track. Swift, who played soccer her entire life, and loved it, unexpectedly found a niche in running. Swift took that love and ran with it. 

She entered college knowing she would play soccer, run track, and study biology. She left having replaced soccer with cross country, studying abroad in New Zealand, staying an extra year at Earlham for graduate school, and becoming part of the running community through the hours she would spend traveling to meets and on runs that would stretch for 12 miles.

Given the abundance of time spent with one another, the formation of communities between college athletes is often inevitable. To this day, Clemmons’ closest circle of friends are the people she met in college, and particularly those who ran with her. As recruits especially, Clemmons and her friends worked out together, studied together, and lived together.

Yane certainly shared this sentiment. Like clockwork, the Earlham team had practice at 4:30 p.m. every day. At 6:30 p.m., the team would skip showers and go straight to dinner. By that time, “most other people had finished eating and no one wants to sit with somebody who just got done with practice.”

Krafft’s teammates were the first people she saw when she had morning practice at 5:30 a.m. They were also the last people she saw at 6:00 p.m. study hall followed by dinner at their apartment complex. In addition to that, Krafft spent hours on planes during her freshman and sophomore year of college with the Under-18 USA National Team, traveling to China, Denmark, and all over Europe.

However, such accomplishments did not come without sacrifices. Swift gave up music for sports. Yane didn’t get the opportunity to study abroad. Krafft often traded her social life for training. Clemmons went to meets instead of the spring breaker trip, but notes that the “sacrifice comes with a great reward.” Across the teachers, there was an overwhelming sense of no regrets when it came to their collegiate experience.

They spent years training and enduring. For Swift, it was years of training on her travel team. For Clemmons, it was runs in the morning with her high school coach. For Yane, it was driven training during college to make up for the years he missed.  For Krafft, it was pioneering Florida State University as the school’s first Black women’s soccer player. It was hard work; it was determination; and ultimately, it was success.