‘Til game time do us part: How athletes balance married life, education and sports

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A fresh pair of navy blue Nikes. A BYU warm-up sweater. A stack of textbooks next to an open notebook. A smelly diaper.

One of these things is not like the other.

While most college students will never see a similar scene in their home, it is all too familiar to some of BYU’s married athletes. This unique group balances a full-time education, spouses and sometimes children with a life on the court, field or track in Division I athletics.

Eathyn Manumaleuna sacks Texas' quarterback, David Ash, during Saturday's home opener at LaVell Edwards Stadium. Photo by Sarah Hill.
Eathyn Manumaleuna sacks Texas’ quarterback, David Ash, during Saturday’s home opener at LaVell Edwards Stadium. For all his ferocity on the field Manumaleuna is a gentle giant at home. Photo by Sarah Hill.

Eathyn Manumaleuna leaves his 1-year-old son Benson and his wife Vea to suit up each day for the football team. As a senior defensive lineman for the Cougars, his roles as husband and father are in a different league than his role on the university football team.

“The most difficult part is being away from home as much as we are. Football takes up a lot of our time,” Manumaleuna said. “It’s equally important that I stick with it so that my family can receive food on the table and clothes on their backs.”

NCAA Division I athletes roaming BYU’s campus devote four or more hours each day to the sport they love. Add that to days spent traveling for games and other competitions, plus hours in the classroom or cracking open books on the go, and what is the result? Minimal time at home with a spouse and the greater challenge of devoting time to family.

Kim Beeston, a senior guard on the women’s basketball team, knows the reality of arriving home at the end of each day exhausted and the effort demanded to maintain a strong relationship with her husband.

“Sometimes it feels like you are being pushed and stretched in a million different ways so I find it a lot harder to balance my time and still give my best effort in each area,” Beeston said.

Kim Beeston shoots the ball against San Diego State. Photo by Whitnie Soelberg.
Kim Beeston shoots the ball against San Diego State. Photo by Whitnie Soelberg.

With so many things requiring time and attention along with the team’s need for their skills in competition, married athletes rely on spiritual strength and all of the little things they can do to keep their significant other atop life’s list of priorities.

“When I’m home, I’m home,” Manumaleuna said. “I’m not trying to bring outside aspects into the home while I’m there with my family. Family home evening, scripture study, morning and evening prayer — that’s what’s helped us continue strong.”

Athletes use technology while on the road to remain close to their spouses, relying on frequent phone calls, FaceTime and Skype. They manage time effectively to take advantage of the limited hours they can share at home with their loved ones.

In the offseason, the time that had been set apart for travel and competition can be spent with spouses and children. But athletes still devote hours every day to strength and conditioning training. Whether that consists of hours in the weight room or miles on a treadmill or track, athletes and their families know there is no such thing as an offseason.

When intense team training starts in the weeks prior to each new regular season, the time commitment amps up again. But while that means hours of dedication to athletics and lost time with the family at home, BYU athletes recognize the blessings and benefits of marriage that help them in all aspects of life.

Lindsey Nielson, a senior on the women’s cross country team, believes her marital status only does more for her when it comes time to race.

“The pressure of being a wife, a student and an athlete is pressure that we put on ourselves,” Nielson said. “My husband helps me out a lot with this because he helps relieve the pressure of it all and he puts it into perspective for me.”

Spouses of BYU’s married athletes serve as extra fans, as training buddies and as motivation to excel in performance. They offer support, provide confidence and relief and help with the host of errands that have to be done. And in some cases, they help athletes earn screams and applause from thousands of energetic fans.

“I had the opportunity at the beginning of the season to dunk over (my wife) and then kiss her,” said Josh Sharp, a junior forward on the men’s basketball team. “Yeeehaw!”

Whether they serve as an assistant at the basketball kickoff event “Boom Shakalaka” or for an inspirational boost in a crucial game-time moment, spouses of athletes are more involved in the success of BYU’s athletics department than perhaps any other similar group across the country.

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