Life is not a race, but a journey.
It has taken me five years. Five. But finally, I have done it. I have graduated from college!
For those of you who may not know my story, it started at UNC Chapel Hill, on the red brick paths and under the blue skies of the land of Carolina blue. After two years, I ended up transferring here, to the U of Arkansas. Why? Well, it is difficult for me to even explain it to myself. We will just call it numerous reasons unknown, which added up to not improving in the vault and suffering in the classroom. Now it is May of 2015 and it has been a few days since I walked across that stage (in high heels that could have sacrificed my vault career with one mal-placement of my not-so-graceful-in-heels feet onto a pebble) and accepted my diploma – a bachelor of arts in broadcast journalism – from the University of Arkansas.
“Life is not a race, but a journey,” is as true of a statement as it gets. Transferring was a much more difficult decision and process than initially choosing a college was, but let me explain something that I have never expressed before in words. Out of high school, I got a call from Arkansas (Coach Compton) but immediately wrote the school off because it didn’t have a full scholarship for me and it also was 15 hours away from my home in Greenville, SC. Now, why would I choose to go to Arkansas when other schools, close to home, were offering me full and almost-full rides? At the time, I didn’t understand the strength of the Arkansas program. If I had, then maybe I wouldn’t have written it off because of distance and money. But in the long run, the stars aligned. Two years into my career at UNC, I found myself struggling. I couldn’t figure out what major I wanted to be in, I wasn’t improving in the vault, and emotionally I felt like something was missing. I knew I was a much better student and vaulter than what my performances were showing me to be. After expressing my struggles to my loving family, they helped me make the decision to transfer. But you ask again, why Arkansas? Why would I want to go there now, after completely writing it off out of high school? Well, for one, I was no longer a 17-year-old girl swayed by how fun my official visits were. I had been in college for two years and knew what I wanted to do: succeed in the classroom and become a conference and national champion…possibly become good enough to pursue a professional career after college. I could not transfer within the ACC because I would lose a year of eligibility – something I was not willing to sacrifice.
After doing some research and finding out information about whether scholarship would be available to me at Arkansas, I made the choice. Arkansas or bust (as my dad put it.) They had a scholarship for me because they had just graduated two of their best vaulters. The door opened and I walked through it briskly (not to say I wasn’t nervous, I was just ready for change, and I charged for it head-on.) If I could have seen into the future, I would have known at the time to not be afraid to make the change, because I was headed for greatness.
Adjusting is nowhere near the word to describe what I had to do to get used to Arkansas. Culture shock? No, not really. I was very used to farm animals and fields – something I grew up around from taking horseback lessons and being the animal lover I am. But everything else – the training, the new team, and the more intense coach – took some time to acclimate to. Academically, the stars aligned and I quickly found my calling in the classroom, which is an entirely different story in itself…
At UNC, I was an EXSS (Exercise and Sports Science) major. This was after initially signing up as a bio major and quickly changing that after suffering through the introductory class. You would think that with my love for animals I would adore the subject, but I am terrible at memorization. I quickly learned that to be a bio major, you have to be a whiz at names and processes. That just isn’t my strength. After taking some EXSS classes, I just wasn’t happy with it. I didn’t quite know what I wanted to do with it.
One day, after a frustrating class, I went home and found one of my roommates editing video on her laptop. I knew she was some kind of film major, but I had never really thought much of it. I sat down next to her as she moved clips around on her Mac. I watched with wide eyes as she cut away at the clips, mixing audio and moving bits and pieces of her story into place. I found it fascinating and fun. I wanted to learn how to do that. She told me about being a film and productions major at UNC, and I learned more by researching it and talking with some professors.
Soon after discovering my interest in video and editing, I got a new laptop. It was a Macbook Pro that had this program that came on it called “iMovie.” It was the first editing software I had ever messed with. I started taking some video on the webcam of my computer. Naturally, I danced in front of the camera doing goofy things, and cutting together funny clips to a Dixie Chicks song. The next thing I knew, I had a three-minute video that I was pretty proud of. Yes, it was just a video of me being the giant dork that I am, but it killed 6 hours on the evening of Valentine’s Day when all of my roommates were out with their men. So, of course, the video is titled “What Single Girls Do on Valentine’s Day,” and you can still find it on YouTube. I have no plans of taking it down.
That was the very first video I ever made. After that, I started taking shots with my phone and piecing them together. I also play guitar, write songs, and sing, so I opened up another new program to me – Garage Band – and recorded one of my songs. I then proceeded to make a music video for it. Yes, it is pretty weird and maybe a little creepy, but I left it on YouTube because I am also proud of it. I had never been shown how to shoot or edit, or how to record and mix music, and I – to this day – still think it is a pretty cool amateur video. You can find it on YouTube by searching “Venom and Thunder, Sandi Morris.”
Anyway, I continued to use my computer and phone to make various videos from cat videos to pole vault montages. Not long after discovering this love for video I decided to transfer. If I had stayed at UNC, I was going to change my major to Film and Productions, a major under communications. But now what? I was heading to a school that didn’t have that. What was I to major in at Arkansas?
The first day I stepped on the Arkansas campus I approached my new advisor and said “ok. I love video and editing. Please tell me there is some kind of major here that encompasses that.” The moment he said the words “broadcast journalism” I immediately became a bit hesitant. I had never pictured myself on camera or interviewing people. All I knew was I liked to shoot stories and tell them through angles and cuts. That was the extent of what I knew I was good at. I looked at him and asked if there was any other kind of major, such as the one at UNC, which I described to him. Nope, there wasn’t. Broadcasting it was.
It amazed me how quickly I loved it.
I have always been a strong writer, and the classes quickly demanded us to be able to write news stories and edit together audio for mock radio shows. Soon I got into the upper level courses where we have to go out, find and shoot our own stories, then come back and voice them over and edit them together. It was very hard work. The most difficult part for me was learning how to interview people. At first, I spent too much time writing out questions and fumbling with the camera equipment when I got to the interview. I kept at it and soon got a handle on the basics. Now, I feel comfortable walking up to anyone (after doing my research on the story) and starting and interview. It’s simply a conversation – lead by me.
You can catch my new broadcast resume reel on my website at Sandimorris.weebly.com if you are interested in seeing some of my work.
So, academically, I quickly found my calling, and am extremely happy with the outcome. I have found something that binds together my love for track and field along with my love for journalism and video.
But adjusting to training, now that was an entirely new ball game. I remember one of the first practices I did under Coach Compton. We did something that he called “Warm-up B grass vaults.” It is a type of circuit where you run the length of the field with poles doing a drill every few steps where you plant the pole tip into the grass and do a proper takeoff, then spin the pole back around and prepare for the next “grass vault.” Well, you do the length of the field 8 times, and at each end you do a combination of arm, abs, and leg workouts. Half way through I remember looking at a teammate and saying “are we close to being done with this workout?” She looked back and replied with a smile “um. This is the warm-up….” her voice trailed off as we stood up and grabbed our poles to continue this new…. “warm-up.”
Almost three years later, and who knows how many Warm-up B’s later, I find myself on a plane to Starkville, Mississippi for my last ever SEC Championships. Looking back on all of this, it was worth it – the struggles, the adjustment, the worries, and the sweat. There was even blood. I am pretty sure my blood is still on one of the 13’7” poles I used during one hell-practice where I ripped open my left arm on the pole and smothered it in my DNA.
I may have wiped out on the track a few times, too… (pretend I didn’t have the typo “while” instead of “wipe” in this Snap Chat pic…)
Sometimes, when traveling to a meet, I get this tingly feeling in my stomach when I think about competing. It’s a good feeling – a confident one. I am getting this feeling now, and just know that this Friday is going to be a good day. My goal is to have a good, clean day, and make bars on first attempts. I want to shoot for a new PR, along with a new collegiate record. I can’t see into the future, but I can feel it… Friday will be my day. After all of the insanity of SEC’s are over, I will be back with more thoughts on this meet, NCAA’s in June, and my soon professional vault career.
Thank you to anyone who may be reading this. Supporters are what keep me going. I couldn’t do this without you.
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