Not your typical athlete

When I was in high school I was fortunate to be able to participate in horseback riding as my outside of school sport.  Participating in a non-school sport brings about many unique challenges and opportunities.  I am so thankful for the time that I was given with my horses and the life lessons that I learned.

This year we have four seniors who have the opportunity to participate in non-school sports. Each of these four girls work hard academically while also seeking to achieve goals in their sport.  I was able to talk with these girls and ask them some questions.  The girls were asked about their first, favorite, and scariest memories of their chosen sport.  They were also asked, “if given the chance to encourage someone afraid of starting something new, what would they tell them”, and lastly, “how do they balance their time commitment to sports as well as academics”.

Mary Grace Pherson
-Ballet from the age of 4

Rachel Rozenboom
-Horseback Riding from the age of 4

Abigail Templeton
-Taekwondo from the age of 8

Kaya Wiegand
-Horseback Riding from the age of 10

What made you decide your chosen sport?

Mary Grace : My parents put me in ballet and gymnastics when I was little, but I wasn’t very good at gymnastics, and didn’t really enjoy it so I switched to just ballet.

Rachel: Ever since I rode my first pony I have loved horses.  I began to take lessons with my current instructor who introduced me to Eventing (Eventing  is an equestrian event where a single horse and rider combination compete against other combinations across the three disciplines of dressage, cross-country, and show jumping). Since then, I have been addicted to the precision of dressage and the adrenaline rush of running a cross country course with my horse.

Abby: I started with my mother and sister.  My mom wanted us to learn how to defend ourselves effectively.

Kaya: I fell in love with horses from the first moment my aunt led me around on one of her horses.  I tried a couple different equestrian sports, including dressage, but eventually landed on Eventing because I enjoy the versatility of the sport and the thrill of cross country riding.

What is your first memory of your chosen sport?

Mary Grace: My first memory is wearing a pink and white tutu with flowers on it and performing.  I also remember bringing Marissa Boyer to “friend day” at the studio.

Rachel: Honestly, I don’t remember much from when I was little.  My most vivid first memory would be my first event.  I ended up falling off at the first fence, and the horse I was riding galloped off back to the barns without me.  I was so embarrassed and mad.

Abby: It was the first class of the school, so everyone was a white belt (besides the instructors).  No one had a uniform yet, and most of the other students were a LOT bigger than me.

Kaya: My first memories of horseback riding all take place at my aunt’s farm.  She owned horses and would lead me around on them when I was very young.  I always cried when it was time to get off, and I would impatiently wait my turn to go again while my aunt led my brother around.

Share with me your best memory related to your chosen sport.

Mary Grace: My ballet teacher choreographed a dance about a girl with mental illness.  I portrayed the girl.  It was really cool to be able to act and bring awareness to a serious problem while doing something that I love.

Rachel: My first memory was my first sanctioned horse show.  There were over 300 competitors, and I was only 13!  My coach told me not to expect much, just to finish the show.  After dressage, I was in the 14th place.  A double clear in stadium, I was then put me in 7th place.  Finally, cross country day came, and we put in another double clear.  Amazingly, we had moved into 1st place!  I went in expecting nothing, but came out winning my first event ever.

Abby: In Taekwondo there are 9 degrees of black belt.  On September 17, 2016, I earned my third-degree black belt.  I still can’t believe I achieved this goal.

Kaya: Finishing my first sanctioned novice cross country course is my best memory.  We were competing at a show near Lexington, Ky.  I got a feeling of euphoria as I galloped across the finish line with my horse is unlike any other feeling.  This horse show remains one of my fondest memories of my sport.

What is your scariest memory related to your chosen sport?

Mary Grace: Last year during The Nutcracker, the music started skipping, and my ballet teacher told me before a group dance that if the music skipped, I was in charge.  Thankfully the music didn’t skip, but it was super scary to have that feeling.

Rachel: Last winter, I was in a lesson with my instructor, and she had me take off my stirrups while jumping.  Everything had gone well until my last time through the course.  I lost my balance and hit the ground hard.  The wind was knocked out of me, my back was killing me, and I couldn’t move my legs.  Realizing this was no normal fall, my mom came running over and helped me until I could move my legs well enough to walk.  I was sore for days, but everything was fine.

Abby: In my first tournament as a color-belt, I had to spar my sister.  Our school had not incorporated face protectors yet…basically, I didn’t pay attention and walked into a kick!  My sister Hannah got me right on the nose.  It’s pretty funny now, but back then it HURT!

Kaya: I would say that I am still in the middle of one of my scariest times in my memory.  My horse Maverick has been injured for the majority of our competition season this year, and I don’t know if or when he will improve.  It is tough watching your teammate and friend be hurt and not know how to help him.

What would you say to those who have held themselves back from pursuing an extracurricular activity due to fear of failure?

Mary Grace: There is always the chance of failure.  However, what you gain from doing the activity far outweighs that chance.  It is a great chance to make friends and release stress and energy outside of school.

Rachel: First, sometimes you’re the windshield, and sometimes you’re the bug.  You’ll have good days, and you’ll also have terrible days.  It’s part of life.  You will learn from your “failures” rather than letting failures define you.  Even the best have failed, they just kept going and didn’t dwell on their mistakes.

Abby: My favorite quote works well for this question.  “A black belt is only a white belt who refused to quit.”  Failure is the first step to success!

Kaya: You don’t know what you’re missing.  It took me a long time to overcome my fear of failure.  Now I am able to compete because I enjoy it, instead of focusing on my placing at the end of the day.

How do you balance academics and your chosen sport?

Mary Grace: I have learned time management through doing ballet.  Although I lose a couple hours most nights during the week, I have learned that school is most important, and I have to prioritize homework over fun things, such as movies and reading.

Rachel: I’ll be honest; it is hard.  I ride six days a week, spend multiple hours at the barn each day, and ride year round.  There is no off season in this sport, and you train whether it’s 10 degrees or 100 degrees.  I have found that time management is key as well as prioritizing.  I dedicate the the first few hours after school to training and taking care of my horse.  Then I’ll go home, eat dinner, and spend the rest of the night doing homework.  I rarely watch TV anymore and try to limit social media time. Even then, I don’t get to bed before 11:00 pm on a normal day.  It’s really based on what you’re willing to sacrifice to get good grades and still be a competitive equestrian.

Abby: I typically spend 4-5 hours doing Taekwondo on a Saturday morning.  Sometimes that means I need to do my homework on a Friday or Sunday, or I sometimes miss an hour or two of class.  Time management is key; however, I will most often never sacrifice my sleep.  In my mind, plenty of sleep leads to improved productivity.

Kaya: One of my “practices” usually takes 3 hours, including driving to and from the barn.  One of the perks of playing a sport not tied to the school is that I have the liberty to decide my own practice schedule.  Horseback riding has taught me to manage my time and work hard in athletics, school, and at home.  If I’m being honest, I sacrifice some sleep and other extra-curricular activities for horseback riding, but it is well worth it to me.




Elizabeth Wickert