By Zach Bryant
What’s it like to live in a different country?
Go to school in a different country?
Live with people in a different country?
Who are different from you?
And act different than you?
Those were some of the many questions that went through my head when moving away from home in Oshawa, Ontario and to a college in America. My name is Zach Bryant, I am Canadian and this is my story.
Growing up my family was very athletic, very self-disciplined and above all else, we put family and friends first, over school and work. Being put into competitive sports at a young age, I was pushed to the limits by my parents and coaches. It allowed me to develop a drive that not many people possess.
Playing rep minor hockey and minor lacrosse, I worked hard to make my parents proud. I always enjoyed lacrosse more than hockey but always felt the pressure to pursue hockey more and take it more seriously.
Draft year for hockey passed, I went undrafted and admittedly, I was disappointed. Yet at the time I wanted to transition my focus to lacrosse and the only way of doing that was telling my parents that I no longer wanted to play hockey. This was a tough conversation to because I felt like I would be letting my parents down, especially my Dad. Hockey was the sport he loved the most. It was a scary moment but he understood and supported me.
After deciding that I was no longer going to play hockey I transitioned to lacrosse. When I started in lacrosse I was not a very skilled player, the only thing I had going for me was that I was fast. As the game grew on me, I began to put in extra hours of practice to make me a better player. Even when I thought I was at my peak, there were always areas of improvement that I could focus on.
After I finished in minor lacrosse, it was my dad who said to me that I had potential and could go far. He knew my talents and he didn’t want my education and athletic abilities to go to waste so he brought up the idea of possibly pursuing an NCAA lacrosse scholarship.
Going to the US and playing in the NCAA was all so foreign to me. I knew nothing about the process or where to begin. So, I slowly began researching and realized I had to complete the SAT as part of the application process. I began studying on my own, using resources offered online and was able to pass the test.
Next was showing off my talent.
In Ontario and other provinces, there are private traveling teams and private high schools that cost a lot of money but allow players to be exposed to NCAA coaches and teams. It also allows for the transition from high school to college, to go more smoothly. These programs I felt were expensive and I thought were only to satisfy the parent’s ego.
I tried out for one of these programs and realized that the cost to attend was out of reach. So we crossed that off the list and began researching other ways to expose my abilities to NCAA coaches.
We found various other tournaments throughout the country, that I could sign up for and “showcase” my talents. I ended up doing 4 of those tournaments and also making a highlight reel film to send to coaches.
Once I finalized the film, I began sending them out to coaches and shortly after, I began getting calls. To my surprise, the first call I got was from Penn State. I was in shock, to get a call like that from a big-time school, was an honor.
After a few more phone calls, emails and research about various schools, I was intrigued by Robert Morris University and what they had to offer. I went for an unofficial visit to the campus and immediately envisioned myself attending there. Going into my Grade 11 year, I knew that Robert Morris University was the school that I wanted to go to, so I signed my National Letter of Intent.
I finished up high school and when I look back, I am grateful for the lifelong friends I met, and the memories we made. As cliche as it sounds, it goes by quick. If you’re still in high school, cherish the moment(s) and don’t be afraid to be someone different. I didn’t adapt to crowds or groups and instead stayed true to myself. When I look back, I am thankful for doing that because it taught me a lot about myself.
The only thing that I wished I did more of during highschool was work on my physical health, meaning lifting and conditioning. Because in the first week of college? I was in for a rude awakening.
Moving away and beginning the road trip was very stressful.
The night before my departure I said goodbye to family and friends and it was a rollercoaster of emotions. Moving away from my family who I had never been away from for more than a week, was the toughest thing ever. We began driving away and I had so many questions buzzing in my mind. I just kept telling myself that it was never too late to back out.
We got to the border and I decided to step back and look at the bigger picture. I started to think of everything I accomplished so far in life. It was then I started to appreciate the idea of going to school away from home.
After a 7 hour drive, I officially arrived in Pittsburgh. And the first week of college? It was a huge eye-opener.
I had 3 days a week, waking up at 5:00 am to complete an hour lift, which was extremely tough. On top of that, I had a strenuous academic schedule I had to juggle as a Biology major.
I am not going to lie.
I was about to throw in the towel two weeks in, but I thought to myself that quitting was too easy and I had nothing to gain from it. I had to develop a different mindset that would allow me to enjoy the process and face adversity head-on.
Once I changed my outlook, I started to get the hang of things. Some days were tougher than others but I realized that the more negative I was, the worst the situation became.
During my first year, I put a huge emphasis on academics and was fortunate enough to be a 4.0 student (perfect marks). Our team had a very poor season record that year and it was tough to consider coming back. I eventually made up my mind to return and things only got harder year in and year out.
School started to become more rigorous and putting in time to get better in lacrosse became more challenging. Our team did get better and better every year and in my senior year, we won the school’s first lacrosse conference championship.
During my senior year, I tried to be the best in all areas of my life that I could be. I worked extremely hard in the classroom to receive the highest grades possible which by doing so, would allow me to achieve my dream of becoming an Optometrist.
During my senior year, I was drafted by Major League Lacrosse to the Ohio Machine which caught me off guard. In NCAA you are not allowed to be in contact with your drafted team until your season is over, so I was pretty lost and uncertain about this whole process.
After we lost the first round of the NCAA tournament I was contacted by the Ohio Machine to start the process of obtaining my American P-1 Visa, which would allow me to play for them. Eventually, the P-1 visa was processed and I was off to Toronto to play in my first professional game.
It was nerve-wracking at first. I questioned myself and my ability as I wasn’t sure if I was good enough to play at that level.
Throughout the year I slowly developed as a professional player and by the end of the short season, I looked back on the whole adventure and was glad I did it. It was an incredible experience, but I realized that it was not what I wanted to do in life.
I had always wanted to become an Optometrist. So, I began the application process to get into Optometry school and as you read this, I am currently attending Optometry school.
Whether you are a young athlete, an up and coming athlete, or an athlete hoping to go the NCAA route, I wanted to share some tips to consider as you continue along your journey:
- Don’t be afraid to talk to your parents about your outlooks and goals
- Strive to be the best in everything you do, school and athleticism
- Be humble
- Be yourself
- Don’t let no be the final decision
- Have fun and enjoy the process
- Don’t take any opportunity for granted
- Don’t forget where you came from- appreciate everyone who has helped you along the way
- Create an identity and ask yourself “ How would you like to be remembered?”
Try to keep these in the back of your mind when you’re going through your journey, which I hope for all of you, will help you be as successful as you possibly can.
Good luck to all of you,
PS: Side note for parents: Don’t let your ego overshadow and ruin the talents of your kids. Be supportive along the way.
Image credits Creator: Elliott Brown Credit: Elliott Brown/Media Images International Copyright: © 2018 Media Images International LLC