Photos courtesy University of Memphis

One of the constant struggles for an athlete has nothing to do with his or her performance on the field. It’s deciding when it’s time to compete and when it’s time to pull back and heal. That can be a complicated and difficult issue for amateurs and professionals alike.

That’s why Tiger high jumper Noah Agnew can sympathize with NBA stars, who because of injury, sit out a game or two during a long grueling campaign. He and his teammates are faced with that same dilemma, because the track and field season can be a seven-month sprint, too.

“Having two seasons isn’t the easiest way to go – you really don’t get too much time off, which can be tough on the body,” Agnew said of both the indoor and outdoor seasons. “That’s why we’ve got to be careful. We’ve got so little downtime; what begins as a small pain in January may become a serious injury in May. So, for sure, it’s about taking care of yourself and having the right diet.”

In baseball the situation is comparable to a pitcher who continues throwing even with a sore arm and ends up on the disabled list, or worse, facing season-ending surgery. College athletes don’t face nearly the same pressures as professional athletes, but you get the message. A small injury might terminate a season or even a career.

University of Memphis track and field team member Noah Agnew

University of Memphis track and field team member Noah Agnew.

So, needless to say, athletes have to walk a fine line. “You’ve got to get your treatment and prepare yourself for the next day,” he said. “You can’t show up for competition sore or broken down. You have to be in peak form, take care of yourself first and foremost, and get your rest.”

That’s also where mental toughness goes a long way in keeping athletes in shape for the short and the long haul, he says. “A lot of coaching staffs teach mental toughness, because there’s never a time when an athlete is 100 percent without issues. With mental toughness you can tell the difference between a serious injury that must be treated versus a little pain that requires rehab work with a trainer.”

Another factor is the time constraints of the season. Time spent with the doctor or training staff takes time away from working out and preparing for competition – time you can’t get back, he added. And since the Tiger track schedule is packed with home and road meets every weekend through May, time away from the track isn’t the smartest choice.

Migrating down South wasn’t the easiest or the expected choice for the Chicago native to make for his college career either. But it’s worked out. “Memphis is a strong program, and it’s continually growing,” he said. “It wasn’t No.1 on my list. But when I came down here, I just fell in love with the city and the program.”

What’s one of the best ways to recruit someone to the city? A trip to Memphis’s’ finest – one of the many barbecue restaurants in town. If that didn’t totally convince him, the camaraderie he felt for the coaching staff and athletes sealed the deal. “Every one of them was a nice, genuine person, and that’s something you sometimes lose on a recruiting trip, because everyone’s concerned with flaunting their stats and telling you why picking their college will be for the best.”

The Memphis approach was more balanced, and it made a difference to him. While the Tiger goal was to sell the university and the program, they banked on him falling in love with the city, too.

“I liked their whole approach,” he said. “I gained a better connection with the school and the city than anywhere else I visited.” And he was honored and surprised that a school so far away showed interest in him.

Noah Agnew

Noah Agnew

But most of the interest remained closer to home. He scored notices from Iowa, the Naval Academy, Illinois State, as well as contacts from one Big 10 conference school and a few universities closer to Memphis. “I had a drawer full of letters from random places all over,” he said.

But at the end of the process, it was Memphis-bound for the Chicago freshman. A double major in Spanish, he hopes to teach English or history overseas – preferably in high school. His goal is to go abroad this summer and earn college credits, so he can teach in a Spanish-speaking country.

“I’ve always been interested in foreign cultures and travel,” he said. “I grew up in a Hispanic area, been to Mexico, and I loved it.”

First, he’s got some work to finish his freshman season. His year ends with the conference and NCAA championships in June. And most importantly… staying strong and healthy.