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Athletes pull double duty for love of the game

Being an athlete in college requires practicing for three to five hours a day, competing and potentially traveling on weekends - all in addition to attending class and doing homework. Balancing these athletic commitments alongside academics is normally a sufficient challenge for anyone, but for four Brown athletes, one sport is not enough.

These four athletes engage in a total of eight different sports at Brown. TJ Popolizio '12 wrestles and plays soccer, and Megan Nolet '14 swims and plays water polo.  John Spooney '14 runs track and plays football. John Sheridan '13 plays baseball and won the 55-meter dash as an unattached athlete at a Brown-hosted track meet last December, and he said he aspires to join the track squad.


Welcome to the teams

Though the four athletes said they love both of their sports, only Spooney knew during the recruiting period that he would be competing for two squads. 

Popolizio was recruited by the wrestling team and committed to it with the understanding that he would have the opportunity to try to walk on to the soccer team, which he successfully did the summer before his freshman year. Brown was the only school that offered him the possibility of playing for both teams, he said.

Nolet, a marine biology concentrator, wrote in an email to The Herald that she was recruited for swimming and did not know playing water polo would be possible. She was unaware that women's water polo is a spring sport, whereas swimming is a winter one - meaning potential conflicts are minimal. She joined the water polo team at the end of the swim season during her freshman year, when she was approached by men's and women's water polo Head Coach Felix Mercado, she wrote.

Sheridan did not run track in high school but said he was inspired to do so in college because of his father's experience with the sport and his feeling that he missed out on the opportunity to run in high school.

"I think the biggest part of (why I wanted to run track) was my curiosity," Sheridan said. "My dad ran track in college, and I was always curious about how much speed I have."

Time management

Of Brown's current multi-sport athletes, only Spooney said his practices and games for the two sports never conflict.

But Popolizio has not been so lucky. Soccer is a fall sport, and wrestling is a winter one, but Popolizio said wrestlers start practicing full time in mid-October, during the heart of the soccer season. He said he joins the wrestling team only after the soccer season finishes, causing him to miss "a good chunk of the wrestling season." He then stays with the wrestling team through the remainder of the season. In the spring, Popolizio first lifts with the wrestling team and then goes back to train with the soccer team. 

Spooney, who is also a neuroscience concentrator and wants to be a doctor, also said it is very difficult to be a multi-sport athlete at Brown due to the challenges of balancing training, studying and having fun. "It takes a lot of motivation, lot of perseverance, really," Spooney said. "But just keeping yourself grounded and motivated really helps. And having a good support system, which I think Brown has."

Sheridan, who is double-concentrating in economics and public policy, said he knows being a multi-sport athlete is not easy and that he is worried about the potential burden joining the track team would add to his schedule. Yet, like Popolizio, Nolet and Spooney, Sheridan said the love of the game motivates him, and he would definitely join the track team if he could.

"I think, ultimately, if I was given the chance to play two sports here, I would definitely do it," Sheridan said. 

But Sheridan said right now he cannot join the track team due to Title IX conflicts. More female athletes would need to be recruited to the squad to adhere to the standards of equal opportunity between male and female athletes.


Love of the game(s)

Though balancing the time commitments of both sports can be a challenge, Popolizio said his soccer training helps him with his wrestling, and vice versa.

"I would say I've got pretty good balance for a soccer player, and a lot of that comes from my experience with wrestling," Popolizio said. "And as far as the other way around, I definitely have some athleticism that I gained from soccer."

Spooney said his football and track training complement each other.

"Football is more of a quickness type of training, while track is definitely speed," Spooney said. "I think they both help each other, and one keeps you in shape for the other."

But Popolizio also said the differences in the types of training soccer and wrestling require, coupled with his alternating focus on the two sports, also have disadvantages.

"I'm noticeably weaker when I show up for wrestling after playing soccer for four months," Popolizio said. "And the other way around, when I jump back into soccer, I have a hard time maybe going for 90 minutes."

Popolizio has also been having recurring knee problems due to constant wear and tear from the two sports and has been delaying possible surgery. But rather than dropping both or focusing on one, he still prefers to tough it out and play both sports.

"There's always a part of me that feels that I am missing out by not specializing in one of the sports," he said. "But, that being said, it's been the two sports I've played my entire life. And my dream really was always to try to go to the best school I can and try to be able to do both."

Men's soccer Head Coach Patrick Laughlin said Popolizio only plays to his full ability and always needs to be doing something.

"There's only one way he knows how to compete - and that's full-out," Laughlin said. "I asked him, one time when he came back from wrestling in the spring, to take a week off to let his body adjust. And two days later I saw him running on the street. And he just couldn't take the time because he's so used to doing things that he had to get out there and get going again."

Laughlin said not everyone can be a multi-sport athlete.

"It takes someone with a great deal of athleticism, a huge competitive edge and a real desire to be able to do two sports and be a student here at Brown," McLaughlin said. 

Ultimately, despite the extensive effort required to play multiple sports at Brown, Popolizio, Sheridan, Nolet and Spooney are motivated by their passions for athletics. 

"Managing two sports and four classes gets to be a lot of work, and sometimes I think I am in way over my head with my endeavors," Nolet wrote. "People ask me why I do it, and they usually say I am crazy. ... I tell them that it is worth it to me."

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