Life of a D-3 athlete

After junior Liz VonFeldt’s first place finish in the 200-yard breaststroke with a time of 2 minutes, 34.7 seconds, the men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams fell to WIAC conference opponent UW-La Crosse on Nov. 26. The women also had leadership from freshman Cori Severson who had second-place finishes in the 50-and 100-yard freestyle.

Story by Debora Biasutti

Student athlete.

That’s how UW-Eau Claire Athletic Director Scott Kilgallon defines the nearly 560 students who are involved with a Div. III sport at the university.

“I’m a big believer in that if you have your academics on top, you are going to be able to focus on your athletics,” Kilgallon said. “It’s also important to go out with your friends at night and have a social life. If you do well in your academics, you will be able to go out and relax with your friends.”

However, for senior Nicole Dorvinen, Eau Claire women’s swimming captain, being an athlete comes first.

“I always say that I’m an athlete student and not a student athlete. Sometimes sleep comes as a priority before school because I’m so exhausted from swimming,” said Dorvinen, who has already been accepted to a few graduate schools for sports psychology. “Swimming is my number one priority, but I don’t let my grades slip.”

Dorvinen is an eight-time conference champion, two-time all-American and holds three Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference records.

Besides classes and working at the university’s admissions office, Dorvinen said she practices two hours each afternoon, and then she also has two morning practices a week, which usually lasts for an hour. She also lifts weight three times a week.

“I would say I have pretty good time management skills,” she said.

Another athlete who has his schedule full is junior quarterback Austin Neu. During the season, Neu said the team practices from 2 to 7 p.m., and they lift weights twice a week.  In the off season, he said the football team still works out five times a week for a couple hours each time.

Scheduling classes around practices can be hard, but Neu said the coaches really emphasize that you need to go to classes first before you go to practices.

“I’ve never had to miss a practice or anything, but it’s definitely a lot of extra work,” he said. “You have to sometimes get 8 a.m. classes, and no one likes them.”

With such a busy schedule, Neu said he doesn’t get to go home very often during the season, but his family tries to go to his games to get a chance to see him.

A similar situation exists for freshman Thurgood Dennis, who is part of the track and field team as well as a defensive back for the football team. He said his family tries to go see his games as much as they can, but he can’t go home on the weekends because that’s when the majority of competitions happen.

“At least I get to go home during spring break this year,” he said. “There is a track and field trip, but I decided to skip that so I could go home.”

As far as the overall experience as a Div. III athlete, all three athletes made a similar point: they still love what they do.

“Sometimes I wish that I had the college experience that everybody else has, but I wouldn’t trade (being an athlete),” Dorvinen said. “This is what I love doing. I’ve been swimming for over 12 years, so I can’t imagine not doing it.”