For the second story of this series, Nina Gayleard volunteered to take us through how faith, family, sacrifice and discipline have impacted her path into the ‘real world.’
There’s not much more to introduce about Nina, she does it all and explains it beautifully. Enjoy…
“I tried to think of an interesting way to introduce the fact that I am a master’s student studying Communication Management at Towson University, but this will have to do. To understand how the Super 8 apply to my life, it’s helpful to introduce what I’m doing now and how I am involved in academia as a whole, as it is a large chunk of my short and long term goals.
I am pursuing this degree to learn as much as I can about the communication field before I undertake my thesis to garner more firsthand research experience. As a first-year master’s student, I’m grateful to already be quite involved with the university. I received a full-time graduate assistantship working as a Media and Communications specialist for Towson’s Counseling Center. I am also volunteering as a research assistant for a psychology and law professor, helping him with his current study. Lastly, I am a marketing/PR intern with Chick-fil-A for the fall semester.
But let’s back up a bit. Growing up, I most definitely characterized myself as an athlete. I always did well in school, but soccer was a true passion and I sought out to play at the highest levels. My brother and I would spend countless hours in our backyard, drilling techniques and skills over and over again. At one point, I was playing club soccer at the highest level while also competing for my high school. I once calculated that I spent about 700 hours playing soccer with Dulaney’s varsity women’s soccer team during my four years at the school, and that didn’t even factor in any of the hours for my club team – which would often consist of late night practices after finishing high school practice – or any hours I had trained leading up to high school. With my multiple sprained ankles and dislocated knees, soccer was never all smiles and rainbows. But when I would hear my teammates cheering me on, believing in me during the last sprint of the day, I found that I was better able to believe in myself, too. The belongingness that I felt amongst my team each year brought me that ever elusive euphoria that all humans search for. I had gained another family away from home. While some practices seemed to last forever, in retrospect, 700+ hours were not enough.
The mental aspect of a sport had never been a concept I fully grasped until my senior year at Dulaney. By the end of high school, after insane amounts of time training myself to uphold a certain level of discipline, when coach said, “Get on the line,” to foreshadow the seemingly endless sprints we were about to do, I did not feel afraid anymore. Without my teammates backing me up, without soccer pushing me to physical limits I didn’t know I could reach, I would not have been able to mentally develop into the inwardly tough person I am today.
Towards the end of high school, after a string of tough injuries that left me sidelined during most of the large college recruiting tournaments, I began to lose focus on playing at the next level. I don’t think my passion for the game dwindled, but I started to see how the skills I had learned in my sport could translate into something else, creating a path that felt like it was one that I carved on my own. I started to realize that I was talented in other areas, and that being an athlete didn’t have to be the only identity I held. And I will always be an athlete. What you learn through high-level competition during your formative years does not leave you. But after junior year of high school, when I scored in the 97th percentile on my PSATs, I realized that I had more than a knack for school. Learning not only came easily to me, but it was fun, so I plummeted into higher education with everything I had.
Later on, I would find that it didn’t always matter if you tested better, if you worked harder, if you were more knowledgeable. Oftentimes, people will still accredit your successes to other things because they can’t comprehend someone else succeeding. Senior year of high school, peers stated to my face that I got into the Honors College at UMD and they did not because I am Hispanic and they are not. They did not take into consideration that I was in the top 5% of my graduating class at a nationally ranked public high school. They did not take into consideration my soaring SAT scores and my 42 earned college credits from AP classes. This was hard to comprehend as a high school senior, and I definitely let it get to me more than I should have. I was allowing my self-worth to be decided by others’ opinions. Moving forward, I learned not to let others discredit my accomplishments, because in the end, their opinions do not matter. As long as you are being true to yourself, working your hardest, and living your life with integrity, other people cannot strip away anything you’ve earned. I also vowed to myself that I would not act towards others as those peers at my school acted towards me. I don’t need to discredit another person’s accomplishments in order to feel like my own are sufficient, and it is much more fun to celebrate their successes with them- that just equates to more celebrations.
If I had to describe my undergraduate college experience in a few words, it would honestly be “put your head down and work.” I took above the maximum allowed credits each semester, 20, until my final semester, in which I relaxed a bit with a mere 15 (this is a joke). Doing so, along with my AP credits from high school, allowed me to graduate in 2.5 years, saving my family a lot of money in the process. Along the way I made time to enjoy myself and create some lasting friendships, too, but I never lost sight of my long-term goals to continue on in higher education. That was my priority.
My family is a huge part of why any of this was possible. Though my parents often have no clue what I am talking about if I discuss the research I’m doing or what I am studying, they never fail to listen wholeheartedly and support any decisions that I think are right for me, all the while supplying guidance and love. In all honesty, I didn’t realize how incredible my family support system was until I – as a young teen breaking out of my small hometown bubble – started seeing how much others struggled in this department. When I recognized the fact that I never felt a lack of love or attention or support because my parents, brothers, grandparents, aunts and uncles were always there to provide those things for me, I identified that this was truly my biggest privilege in life. Nothing I have done could have been accomplished if I had to spend my time and energy searching for these basic human needs that so many others are not often blessed with. I studied psychology in undergrad and learned a great deal about the importance of a secure attachment style, which, when simply put, describes a healthy mode of attachment of children to their caregivers. Securely attached kids feel like they can depend on their caregivers, and because of that known support, they also feel able to venture out on their own and explore, knowing that they will have someone to fall back on if the exploration goes awry. That is the perfect definition of family to me.
I have to admit that I am the kind of person that derives joy from meeting professional and educational goals, but I still need to check myself and step away from the glory of a “title” to ensure that I’m not sacrificing other aspects of life that I also value in the process. I am incredibly focused on wellbeing, which is holistic at its core. For me, it includes success in my educational and professional pursuits, but it also includes taking necessary breaks away from those things so I can mentally regroup.
Sometimes, I take on all the responsibility of seemingly everything in the world, disregarding the fact that I know I have my family, friends, and partner to fall back on. For me, this is where faith comes into play. As a scientist and researcher at heart, it can be exceedingly difficult to trust in something without data. But then I try to consider some basic knowns at the core of the scientific method. Nothing can be “proven.” We can only suggest, show, and infer, and every hypothesis with support is therefore just something that is not disproven. All that is to say, I am able to put my faith in God because it is too implausible not to do so. Maybe that is not the view of faith that others would want me to have – others pressing for a blind following of shared beliefs, but that’s just not who I am. I needed to come to conclusions on my own about God after observing and learning about the world around me. And so, it is too implausible to me that people just happened to evolve into these hyperintellegent and self-aware beings without a plan laid out for us to get here. People are so incredibly complex, and I know that the complexities and beauty in our species has to be a work of art of something greater than us. I try to tap into spirituality during long walks or during yoga, feeling my soul and body connect as I dive into the scary but comforting feeling that everything is so much greater than just me. It is both humbling and terrifying, and that’s okay!
Right now I feel like I am in a continuous state of the grind – working full-time and taking more than the recommended number of graduate courses for a full-time student (though typical of me) – all the while trying to stay sane. But that is how I thrive and feel most alive. I love pursuing my passions, I love learning, and I love pushing myself to new limits, testing to find where my boundaries are in different realms. I think back to my years of soccer training and how my current mindset still mirrors all that the sport taught me. With a lot of hard work, a lot of discipline, and a lot of sacrifice, you can make varsity soccer as a freshman. You can become captain as a junior. You can make the active choice to give up a life of sport for another pursuit because you are multifaceted, and you can continue to succeed down that new path too.
After I’m finished with this round of graduate school, I plan to pursue a law degree and PhD simultaneously in a joint degree program. Call me crazy, but I can’t wait, and I know I will have my family, faith, and athlete-minded discipline all present to back me up.”
Thank you, Nina. To follow for more, you can find her at @ninagayleard on Instagram.