March 2, 2014
By Victor Diaz `15
Being the best isn't easy, but it's something that Michelle Brown is used to. A senior track runner for the Irish, Brown was a high school standout, earning All-American honors four times in the 400-meter dash and setting the New Jersey 400-meter state record twice.
Brown has brought that same winner's mentality to Notre Dame, overcoming what she believed to be a slow start en route to a sensational junior campaign for the Fighting Irish last year.
"I would definitely say just from my coaches, and from my parents, and from myself that we all had this clear picture of what I was going to do, just as a freshman," says Brown, describing her struggles when she first arrived on campus in 2010. "Since I didn't find that success right away in my freshman year, I was kind of mentally beaten down."
However, she has since come a long way and has returned to the dominance she experienced in high school, receiving a plethora of awards including first-team All-American honors for the distance medley relay.
While the perseverance that Brown has shown is impressive on its own, it is important to remember that she was able to accomplish all of this not only as an athlete, but also as a full time student trying to keep up with her academics and have a fun, normal college experience all at the same time.
This can be a difficult balance to strike, since the demands of being an elite track runner are grueling, and the amount of restraint and discipline that she exercises on a daily bases is more than the average college student can begin to fathom.
"As far as the actual workout goes, we work out at 3:30 every single day, and Monday and Wednesdays we lift at five," Brown describes. "But besides that, we really have to take into account how much we sleep. We have to get at least eight hours a night, or else we're going to be exhausted for our workouts, and make sure we eat. Our diet is very, very important, so getting a good breakfast in and making sure you're fit for practice is really important."
For most college students, getting eight hours of sleep comes at the expense of breakfast or vice versa. For Brown, having both in the same day is routine. And all of this comes on top of the tremendous responsibilities that are a part of attending one of the top academic institutions in the country.
"Obviously, we are student-athletes," Brown says. "We have to think about our academic commitments. We always say that should come first."
While it can be tempting to put homework on the back burner, especially when you have such a time-consuming second commitment like Brown's, she has found a good support system in her teammate that helps her keep on track academically.
"When we travel, we always all get together and we study," she explains. "We do our homework and make sure that that's all out of the way, so that the rest of the night we can just focus on our competition tomorrow. It's definitely hard, but you get used to it, I would say."
No one would disagree with Brown that finding the perfect balance between student and athlete is hard, but it appears that she has found the illusive secret to making it all work.
"Definitely you need to multitask," she says, "and have great time management skills. After freshman year, you start to get the hang of it. You get your schoolwork done as soon as possible so you can go to sleep early and you can get all your meals in."
While much attention is given to the student-athlete dichotomy, people tend to forget the fact that these athletes are also college kids. With all the demands that come with being a D-I athlete on top of being a student, it is difficult for student-athletes to find the down time to have a regular college experience. However, over the years, Brown has come to appreciate the special kind of college experience that comes with being a D-I athlete.
"I would say that it's a different type of social atmosphere," says Brown, explaining how she tries to keep some normalcy to a hectic life, "just because I think that for normal college students, you're just looking forward to going out at night. When you're a student-athlete, you have to think about how it's going to affect you for practice on Monday."
Being responsible on the weekends while still finding a way to have fun can be tricky, but the more laid-back weekends that her lifestyle demands don't seem to bother Brown.
"When I was a freshman, I would say that I was eager to get to know people outside of my team, so I wouldn't seclude myself. But now that I'm a senior, I love the kind of balance because I know what I'm passionate about, and that's track. Since this is my last season, I want to end it on a good note," Brown says. "I don't mind because I'm kind of over that whole scene, and I'm really putting on all this hard work for my last season, and I don't want it to go to waste."
And so far it hasn't gone to waste. Brown won the 400-meter event a few weeks ago at the Meyo Invitational, setting a new record for herself and what was at the time the fifth-best time on the D-1 list. This weekend at the ACC Indoor Championships, she qualified for the finals of both the 200m and 400m dashes. She was also the first leg of the 4x400 relay team that won second place for Notre Dame.
As her final indoor season comes to a close, Brown is already looking forward to the spring season and setting her personal expectations high.
"I definitely have more things that I want to do during my spring season, so I guess I'm just going to go into it with a great attitude and hope for the best, and take every meet seriously," she says. "I just hope I find a new PR, make it to nationals and become an All-American again."