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Beyond The Paw

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Beyond The Paw - Megan Bornkamp and Ally Lynch

Clemson Women's Soccer players Megan Bornkamp and Ally Lynch created a new mission in the search for every athlete's identity outside their jersey numbers and season stats. With Clemson athletes finally having the ability to write their own stories, these two are launching a new way for athletes to become authors of their own narrative. With Bornkamp and Lynch in the driver's seat, they are officially taking us Beyond The Paw.

Megan Bornkamp & Ally Lynch

Episode 1, Welcome to the Show: Listen & Watch 

“Identity” is a complex word. One we as student-athletes wrestle with on a daily basis. Our whole life, we have dedicated ourselves to our craft, yet our craft is not what defines us. And there has never been a more important time for student-athletes to share our stories about who we are as people, which is why Beyond the Paw was created. We are all, in fact, not the same. We are more than just athletes, and at Clemson, we are Beyond The Paw.

Almost anyone who has reached a point of success in their particular field of so-called expertise has always come to a moment of self-reflection and said, “but I am more.” This statement could not be more true for athletes. Serena Williams, Kobe Bryant, JJ Watt, Mia Hamm, Freddie Freeman, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and many other athletes have gone beyond their arenas to prove that they are more dimensional than just “an athlete.” Even though their athletic identity often helps them in their next endeavor, we are increasingly aware of the concept of athletes leveraging their platform. They start businesses and nonprofits, become authors, writers, artists and actors, and look for spaces to explore other ways to ultimately identify themselves further. No two athletes are the same, and by the basic principle of individuality, one would think this is an obvious statement, but it is often a lost reality for the athlete. They are polarized, stereotyped and ultimately all lumped into the same box. This is particularly true of college athletes, who are used to being stereotyped and unfortunately, professors, faculty and peers manifest certain prejudices regarding them. Some are positive, some are not, but these perceptions impact the athlete’s life daily. Our goal is to share stories that will show that we, as athletes, are all individually unique and complex.

In my senior year of high school, teachers encouraged me to sign up for a mock interview. We would meet with a respected member of the community and they would take us through a realistic preview of a job interview. I hesitantly obliged because I knew it would be a good experience for me, but I wasn’t sure how I would respond to the interviewer when they asked about my career goals. I’ve always dreamed of playing professional soccer, but what comes after that was a daunting thought that I tended to avoid at all costs. And on the day of the interview, my worst nightmare came to life. Basic questions such as, “what do you do in your free time?”, “what’s your work experience?”, and “what are you interested in outside of athletics?”, absolutely terrified me. Free time? Sleeping, eating, and doing homework. Work

experience? Babysitting on weekends I’m not playing sports. What are you interested in outside of sports? Watching sports.

At a certain point in this interview when I didn’t have a response the interviewer was looking for, I paused and started tearing up. I couldn’t answer basic questions about my own life. As athletes, most of our lives are spent on the field, in the gym, at training sessions, and under constant pressure to improve and perform. Like most, we have a drive and passion that is always our priority. But at what point do we take a step back to reflect about ourselves outside of the athletic realm?

When I went home that night, I couldn’t sleep. I was exhausted from my day, but those questions from the interview were still on my mind. At this moment, I knew I needed to define myself outside of athletics. While I may be a great athlete, I’m also caring, loyal, passionate, funny, and loving. But that’s not what most people think of when they hear my name. I know that I am more, and I know that I’m not the only athlete who struggles with this.

There is so much more to athletes than meets the eye. For that reason, we believe athletes need platforms and opportunities to expand their identity outside their sport, which is why Beyond the Paw was created because we are all, in fact, not the same. We have a unique personality, we have feelings, we have emotions, we struggle, we smile, we cry, we suffer, we triumph.

Athletes are human. We aren’t perfect, so it is hard to always be judged on our highlight reel or our imperfect stats. From each and every competition, as the wins and losses define us and the stereotypes characterize our being, we yearn for the chance to “be more.” Our identity is continually evolving while our self-recognition and awareness are constant. In my life, I have faced challenges and obstacles where I have needed support and room to be heard and seen. The importance of being valued is immeasurable and the most basic of human needs. One can imagine that it’s hard as an athlete to feel like you are succeeding in life if you are not succeeding at your sport. As you become more invested, especially as you get older and more is on the line, it is hard to not let the wins and losses control your self-worth.

Being an athlete at Clemson University, an academic and athletic school, is an incredible privilege. It comes with much effort, self-discipline and a will to grind. Every athlete at Clemsonhas sacrificed themselves along the journey. Still, when we hear the cheers from the fans as we don our orange and purple uniforms representing the university’s students and alumni, there is a duty to become that one-dimensional warrior on a mission. But, we are more.

With that said, we wanted to create a place and space for stories to be told. These stories can be anything from the highs of winning, dealing with injuries, the misconceptions of an athlete, life outside sports, to mental health. Every athlete brings unique skills and personality to the game with an authentic self and goal.

At the end of the day, we’re humans before we’re athletes. And that’s why we’re here. Our mission is to humanize athletes where they can truly define themselves most authentically and genuinely. At Clemson, we are Beyond the Paw.

Episode 1, Welcome to the Show: Listen & Watch