Each year at the Max Weitzenhoffer Scholar-Athlete Breakfast, held yesterday, the University of Oklahoma’s student-athletes are recognized for academic success with a variety of awards.
One such award, the Athletics Council Achievement Award, recognizes a unique aspect, honoring graduating student-athletes who have overcome great personal, academic and/or emotional odds to achieve academic success while participating in intercollegiate athletics.
This year, three Sooners – Lauren Alexander of women’s gymnastics, Drew Krittenbrink of baseball and Raymond White of men’s gymnastics – were named recipients of the award for overcoming significant hurdles in life.
Lauren Alexander (Women’s Gymnastics)
Her favorite quote is Walt Whitman’s, “Keep your face always toward the sunshine – and shadows will fall behind you,” and it is the motto by which Alexander lives her life.
Before coming to OU, Alexander suffered two ACL tears – one about a month after she gave her verbal commitment and the other a year later, not long after she signed her letter of intent. After her first semester as a Sooner, she elected to give up her scholarship and step away from the sport of gymnastics.
She did not stay away for long, and a year and a half later, she decided to return to the team. She was named the 2013 Big 12 Event Specialist of the Year and earned a spot on the All-Big 12 team.
“They were really welcoming, really encouraging,” Alexander says of her team. “Obviously, I was a little hesitant to come back because that’s a weird situation to be in. They welcomed me back with open arms. They’ve always been so supportive and so encouraging. It’s just a really great thing to have a family like that around you all the time that will support you no matter what.”
This season, she suffered a third ACL tear and officially retired from competition since she is a senior. Yet she continues to cheer on her teammates. Additionally, Alexander faced another hurdle as she lost her father earlier this year.
Alexander shares she was honored that those selecting this award thought her story was inspiring. She was also a little surprised when she found out she won since everyone has different issues they face in life through which they have to persevere.
As for advice for people facing similar struggles, Alexander suggests to “just keep your head up.”
“There are good days and bad days, but it always gets better,” Alexander says. “Just persevere.”
Drew Krittenbrink (Baseball)
His freshman year, Krittenbrink walked on to the Oklahoma baseball team, only to be cut following the fall season. Still, he never gave up on wearing the Crimson and Cream.
Eventually, he worked his way back to the squad but saw limited playing time. He then faced another major life hurdle as his mother passed away early in his career.
This season, under new head coach Pete Hughes, Krittenbrink has been given opportunities to contribute to the Sooners, making 18 relief appearances so far.
“I’ve been playing baseball my whole life, ever since I was a little kid. That’s always been my dream to come here and play at OU, so it’s really just the drive,” Krittenbrink. “I’m really competitive, so it’s just the drive to finally make the team and be a contributor to the team.”
Krittenbrink is honored to receive this award and thinks it is a testament to the hard work he has put in to make his way back to the playing field.
“Going through some adversity like that, I just got great support from my family and from my baseball family here at OU. It’s been a good ride, as good as it can be,” Krittenbrink adds.
To others who may be working their way back into a lineup or dealing with the loss of a family member, Krittenbrink encourages them to just keep working hard.
“If you lose someone you love, think of what they would want you to do. Use it as motivation,” Krittenbrink says.
Raymond White (Men’s Gymnastics)
Late in his junior season, right before the conference meet, White received some terrible news – his father was in the hospital. Soon after, his father, Raymond White Sr., passed away.
The journey since then has not been easy. White credits his teammates and coaches who have been a strong and valued support system. For example, right before the funeral, team captain Presten Ellsworth texted to ask if he could have bracelets made for the team in memory of White’s father.
Receiving the Athletics Council Achievement Award “means a lot” to White, but he is thankful for the fact his team was there to back him up the entire time.
“All of the text messages and the phone calls checking up on me and my family, and then their families as well, came together to help me and my mom out in that time of need. That was just amazing and unbelievable,” White says.
At last week’s NCAA Championships, White helped the Sooners to a runner-up showing after competing on the pommel horse, floor exercise and vault. Earlier this season, he took the individual Mountain Pacific Sports Federation title with his floor exercise routine.
White encourages others dealing with losing a loved one or facing other issues to keep their chin up and look for the silver linings in the situations. Most importantly, he says it is key to remember about the support systems one has.
“Never forget that your teammates will be there for you,” White says. “That’s what we’re here for. Oklahoma is really good at making not only teams but families out of its student-athletes. That’s just something you can’t get rid of.”
A year later, White says he knows his dad would be proud of the way he has persevered through the loss.
“I think he would tell me that he’s probably the most proud father in the world right now, that he is just so happy for me and can’t wait to see me do great things in life,” White adds.