Student athletes face their own set of challenges in college - out-of-town games and hours spent in practice, on top of studying and attending class and the 1,001 other tasks of university life. But those with the mettle rise above and succeed anyhow.
Christian Ridings, a senior from El Dorado, Ark., is majoring in Physical Education with a Health minor. He is also a recipient of the El Dorado Promise scholarship.
Christian Ridings is one such student. A senior from El Dorado, Arkansas, Ridings has majored in Physical Education with a Health minor and plays on the Ozarks soccer team. He is also a recipient of the El Dorado Promise scholarship, a program established in 2007 through a $50 million commitment by Murphy Oil Corporation to El Dorado. The scholarship allows graduates of El Dorado Public Schools the opportunity to earn college degrees tuition-free.
"I knew up front I liked Ozarks because of the size of the campus and the location," Ridings said. "I love to do outdoor stuff and there are endless opportunities here for that. I like to have a close-knit group of friends and be on a first name basis, and although it’s kind of cliché, I knew I wouldn’t just be a number here."
This feeling extended to his classes as well. "I was looking at a couple different schools initially," he said, "and one of the main things that sealed the deal for me was how friendly the teachers were here, because I knew I’d have to put in a lot of effort academically, so I knew that would be a big help being able to email the teachers or even being offered the teacher’s own cell phone number. That was huge to me."
Ridings had the big picture of what he wanted when he arrived at U of O four years ago, but it took a little while to work out the details. "I knew I wanted to play collegiate soccer and didn’t want to give it up," he said, "and I knew I wanted to get a good degree that would be backed up with a solid reputation. I’d like to continue to pursue soccer after college - I’m looking at a few Premier Development League semi-pro teams - but whether the pro dream happens or not, I’ll be okay because I have this quality degree."
He changed his major one time. "At first I thought I wanted to be a math teacher and maybe coach," he said. "But the more classes I took, the more I realized I didn’t care for math as much as I’d thought. So from there I was taking a couple of random classes and stumbled onto Physical Education, something I really enjoyed. And I’m not tired of it yet. It’s funny. You think you know, but you never know. And then you figure it out."
Like all student athletes, one big challenge for Ridings is being on the road so much. "You might leave on a Wednesday, not get back till Sunday night at midnight or later, and maybe you have a test Monday morning at 8 a.m.," he said. "I think at a larger school that would’ve been much much harder, but here the edge was taken off by the atmosphere with the teachers. I’ve had teachers email me the homework assignment, or an outline of what they went over, or the PowerPoint of the chapter. It’s really helpful, to say the least."
Ridings’ future plans also include grad school. "I’m looking at the University of Arkansas’s Kinesiology Exercise Science program, among others," he said. "I would really like to be a personal trainer for pro athletes, actors, models, anyone willing to hire me! By going that route, I would get the right certifications for personal trainer at a graduate level, which would be better than lesser certifications."
He’s already pursued that work on a personal level. "I’ve set up nutrition plans for friends," he said. "I’ve set up percentages for their carbohydrates, fat, and protein intakes, their daily calorie, everything to keep them within a nutrient balance. I’ve also helped friends set up workout regiments for them, not just strength training but cardiovascular as well."
Ridings says the biggest thing that has surprised him about college was the amount of effort he found himself putting toward his studies. "It’s not like high school, where you can breeze through," he said. "A teacher recently told me he felt 80-percent of learning is outside the classroom, and in transition from high school to college, that’s 100-percent true. I think I went from maybe looking at the book in class and maybe studying for the test, to spending easily 25 hours outside the classroom a week. But that’s the commitment you have to have if you want good grades. And when you do something you enjoy, choosing the classes you enjoy, it’s not really work, it’s an enjoyable thing."
Ridings is a proud son of El Dorado and grateful for the scholarship program that brought him here. "It’s been a huge huge benefit," he said. "I think the Promise scholarship has really created a pathway for people lacking the means to improve their situation, to do whatever they want with their lives. I think it is also going to bring people back to that community. I think those same kids going off to school will come back because it’s their hometown and the Promise scholarship made it possible. I know it did for me."