MADISON – It was seven in the morning – already earlier than I’ve woken up all semester. First thing I do? Check my phone and see a text from Baylee Wellhausen.
“Hey Luke! I am running a bit ahead of schedule so I think I’m going to leave my apartment at 8 to go to the rink.”
I was already behind schedule, not even out of bed, and already in over my head.
My goal for the day was to live a day in the life of a student-athlete – specifically, Wisconsin women’s hockey player Baylee Wellhausen.
“Time management” was Wellhausen’s answer as to what the hardest part of being a student-athlete is.
“Just being able to handle having practice in the middle of the day and workouts and also finding time to do your homework and even setting time aside for yourself amidst all of the work that you’re doing,” Wellhausen said. “I feel like, especially for me, that’s a challenge. I feel sometimes I’m so focused on doing hockey and school and hockey and school that I often forget that I need to have some time for myself.”
I was beginning to experience that myself as I speed-walked my way to the LaBahn Arena in the early hours of the morning, realizing this was just a normal Tuesday for Wellhausen – a Tuesday that also happened to be her 21st birthday.
Any normal college student would already be planning their route of bar-hopping after getting their birthday mug from the Nitty. Wellhausen, though, was more focused on the classes and practice ahead.
After getting a quick tour of the team’s lounge and locker room in LaBahn, it was off to Starbucks for a coffee to get the mind going. I, however, abstained from getting a coffee, which I would greatly regret later on in the day.
It was time for class. The first power lecture of the day was about to begin.
Juggling school work for Wellhausen is made easier by the great resources UW provides. Coming in as a student-athlete freshman year, the academic advisors preach preparation and communication, according to Wellhausen. Being a student-athlete can involve planning months in advance for projects way down the syllabus a normal student hasn’t even thought of yet. Traveling for games and tournaments make this a necessity for most student-athletes.
“One of my assistant coaches, she always holds, like, a study session for anyone who wants to come and do homework in the hotel,” Wellhausen said. “It is pretty difficult, traveling. For me, it’s maintaining focus and getting assignments done when I’m so excited for games. But I think the university does a really good job helping us out with that.”
As the first class ended, any other Tuesday we would have been going to her next class right away, but that one got cancelled. Luckily, that gave me some time to talk and get to know Wellhausen before her mid-day practice.
Tuesday was the last day of warm weather before classic Wisconsin February kicked in, so naturally, I asked about what a normal summer was like for Wellhausen.
“Some of the girls do get internships, like the older girls. But that usually doesn’t happen until after training. My summers look like, we at least have one or two classes. Usually I’ll have one class to do,” Wellhausen said. “Then we have workouts Monday through Thursday at 7:00 a.m., which is crazy, but you know we all get up and get better together and then we have ice, which is captain’s practice, which is a little more lenient.”
The normal student looks forward to the summer because of a dream internship they have set up for the whole summer, because of the ample free time to spend with friends and family or because of week long vacations that have been planned.
Wellhausen looks forward to it because she gets to do what she loves even more: hockey.
“It’s so worth it. As soon as I could start walking my dad put me on skates. He was a big hockey fan growing up, so he put me on the ice. It’s pretty much all I’ve ever known,” Wellhausen said. “I pretty much fell in love with the sport from a young age and the sport’s become such an integral part of my life that all the people I know are mostly through hockey.”
“It’s just my life, I can’t imagine life without it. And the game is just so much fun to play, the people, the teams, the friends I’ve made through all those years,” Wellhausen continued. “I think that’s what keeps me at it. It’s the community aspect that I’ve become a part of.”
Growing up, Wellhausen’s dad hosted a hockey show around the times of Milwaukee Admirals games. There was even a section of the show in which she would get an opportunity to interview some of the players. A young Wellhausen questioned soon-to-be NHL players on their favorite foods and colors. She was growing up in the hockey community, one she still loves being a part of at UW.
“Everyone is just your best friend. We are all one big family, we’ve been through so many things together, all the ups and downs. Even relationships, we are always there for each other. Bad breakups, they’re your go-to girls for anything and everything. The team is always there. It’s just a great family to be apart of.”
Dedicating almost every day to hockey comes with its fair share of sacrifices that the normal student would never have to think about. But all of the sacrifices over the years are worth it for Wellhausen.
“It is [worth it], exactly. And even growing up you’ll see all the girls have the same stories. You weren’t able to go to some of the school dances in high school or middle school, kind of all those things you gave it up just because of the your love for the sport, and it’s totally worth it.”
One of the sacrifices she had to make in high school was taking a lead role in a school play. She had tried out, not thinking she would actually make the cut, but ended up with one of the lead roles. Of course, the night of the play was on a night of a hockey game.
If you know Wellhausen, it wasn’t that hard of a choice for which she would sacrifice.
After our quick break between class and practice, it was back to the LaBahn for mid-day practice. As Wellhausen has grown as a hockey player, she has come to realize that her talent will limit her dreams. Earlier in life, her goal was to compete for Team USA in Olympic hockey, but as time has gone on, her focus is fixed on winning a couple national championships in her last two years on campus. After college, though, Wellhausen still hopes to play professionally, possibly overseas.
“Having so many years of it being such an integral part of life, I’m sure it’s going to be difficult to let it go or unnatural to you to not have something to do every single day and finding new meaning in new aspects of life.”
Even normal students can relate. Letting go of those things is difficult.
Practice consisted of multiple, fast-paced drills – one on one, two on one, three on two and two on three. Two hours later, it was time for a quick conditioning drill. I was exhausted and I wasn’t even participating. Should have gotten that coffee at Starbucks.
Wellhausen knows that she approaches school differently than a typical student might.
“I definitely don’t consider myself a normal college student just because of all the responsibilities I have athletically,” Wellhausen explained. “But at the same time, I have the utmost respect for normal college students because I feel like you have so many more classes to do and you have a job you have to manage and it’s kind of like an even scale.”
Next was another power lecture. She was actually looking forward to this class. This one had to do with literature and writing, two things Wellhausen deeply enjoys outside of hockey.
Finding ways to connect her passions, Wellhausen actually keeps up a blog for the UW women’s hockey team, posting as the season progresses.
But even a class which she often looks forward to was no match, as Wellhausen had to fight off exhaustion to stay awake during class. I didn’t even have to practice and I too found myself dozing off.
All of a sudden, it was well past 5:00 p.m. The day was coming to a close. Wellhausen was off to have a nice home-cooked birthday meal that her mom was bringing, and she still wasn’t sure if she would be able to celebrate her 21st birthday as any normal college student could and surely would.
I only spent one day with Wellhausen, trying to skate a day in her skates. And just as hard as it was to roll out of bed at seven, it was just as hard to leave at the end of the day as I caught a glimpse of that family aspect of team sports that she so often sacrifices for.
If you’ve ever been apart of group that made it feel as if you were a part of something bigger than yourself, say a school play, a political organization or a team sport, you’re always willing to sacrifice some aspects of your life for it.
That’s what student-athletes do every day.