Erin Neely and her Balancing Act of Athletics and Academics

February 8, 2018

When you’re an elite varsity athlete studying to be a doctor at a major Big Ten university, the balancing act between academics and athletics can be perilous. But for many Spartans, the intensity only heightens their determination—and ability—to succeed. Such is the case for freshman diver Erin Neely, a pre-med microbiology major from Grand Rapids, Michigan.

“Nothing compares to the feeling of power you get from just flipping through the air!” said Neely, who has learned how to expertly balance her time between class and the diving board. This balancing act is why Neely is an NCAA athlete who will be going pro in something other than sports.

According to Neely, diving is all about the adrenaline rush. She described herself as a child who was very energetic –– always bouncing off the walls.

“I just traded in the walls for a diving board,” joked Neely.

(Story continues after photo.)

Photo courtesy of Cassi White, MSU Athletic Communications Student Assistant

Photo courtesy of Cassi White, MSU Athletic Communications Student Assistant

Neely had an excellent diving career through high school, earning multiple state championship titles. Neely finished first at the Michigan state championships  her sophomore and junior years and was named Diver of the Year and and an All-American in 2014 and 2015Unfortunately, in her junior season, she injured her shoulder and needed surgery. The recovery from her surgery kept Neely from competing during her senior year of high school, but she knew that she wasn't ready to abandon the sport.  Thankfully, she did not have to.

She was recruited to dive for Michigan State University’s Swimming and Diving team, and says she chose to continue her diving career in college because she likes being part of a team and having something that distracts herand channels her energy.

“They have become my family,” Neely gushed about her teammates. “I honestly don't think I could ask for a better group of people to spend my many hours in the pool with.”

But diving in college has proven to be no easy task. The former high school National Honors Society member had to learn to balance the elevated coursework needed to be a medical doctor with the intense commitment required of athletes at major Big Ten universities.

She says that organization is her biggest tool in balancing class and practice.

“I'm talking calendars planned ahead for the whole semester with everything color coded,” she laughed. “It makes my life a whole lot easier to be able to visualize what I have to coordinate. I try not to procrastinate, but we all know that happens. I try to use any free time that I have working on academics.”

(Story continues after photo.)

Photo courtesy of Cassi White, MSU Athletic Communications Student Assistant

Photo courtesy of Cassi White, MSU Athletic Communications Student Assistant

And, of course, Neely also had her physical struggle to overcome: Due to her shoulder surgery, it had been almost two years since she had competed when she came to MSU.

“After so much time off, returning to competition with only a few months of testing out my new bionic shoulder was a little nerve wracking,” Neely explained. “I was worried to do some of my divesthat I might injure myself again.”

Thankfully, Neely’s shoulder is healthy and said she had a great first season diving for MSU. Neely will next be competing with her swimming and diving teammates at the Women’s Big Ten Championships in Columbus February 14-17.

“I have an incredibly dedicated group of divers, both academically and athletically,” said MSU Diving Coach Eric Best. “Erin fits right in. She’s great to work with, and I always feel like I get 100 percent effort every day in practice."

“She can be too hard on herself sometimes because of her desire to do well, but that is a lot better than someone who I have to push in practice every day.”

It seems that Neely’s desire to do well, as observed by her coach, is the reason she is able to balance the difficult curriculum of her microbiology major and her diving so well.

“I would say my determination and my stubbornness are why I stay on track,” she mused. I've always been very focused on what I want, and I aim to get it.”

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