For Kelly McLaughlin, a sophomore forward on the women's basketball team at Miami University, Thanksgiving Break meant foregoing time at home with family to practice the sport that has come to dominate her schedule with people she says make it worthwhile.
The lives of college athletes differ greatly from the typical college student's life. College athletes' dedication to their teams shines through daily practices, weight lifting sessions and rewatching game-day film -- all while still striving to perform well academically. This is the reality for many college athletes.
What many Miami students don't recognize about their student-athlete peers is the dedication to their teams that goes beyond operating on the normal academic schedule.
At Miami, athletic teams like basketball and hockey remain in Oxford or are on the road for both Thanksgiving break and J-term to compete or practice for the remainder of the season.
Seven members of Miami's women's basketball team remained in Oxford over Thanksgiving break to practice before their game against the University of Louisville on Nov. 26. Those who lived in Ohio and Indiana were allowed to go home for Thanksgiving, but were expected to be back the next day for practice.
McLaughlin - whose commute back home to St. Louis was too far away - was one of the seven who remained in Oxford. Although she missed being with her family, McLaughlin found joy in having some time to practice her sport.
"Even though we can still call our families, we're here for basketball and that's our focus right now," McLaughlin said.
This year, mothers of those athletes who had to remain on campus traveled and assisted the team's coaches to prepare a Thanksgiving meal for everyone to enjoy. The spread included turkey, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, green beans and other dishes that provided a small taste of home that the girls were missing.
Those teammates who remained in Oxford over Thanksgiving break this year participated in various community service projects, as has become tradition over the past few years.
They also spent their time helping organizations and groups such as the Kiwanis Club of Oxford, which is dedicated to serving the local community through various service and fundraising projects. The girls created care packages and organized canned goods for individuals in the Oxford area.
"We always try to help and do some community service when it's quiet here in Oxford," Miami's women's basketball head coach Megan Duffy said. "We try to bring awareness that we're not just relaxing and hanging out. We're still in training mode, to give back and help."
Some families travel on the road to support the team throughout the season. McLaughlin's family often makes a five-hour commute to watch her play and show their support for the team.
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"My mom and dad try to make it to really any game they can," McLaughlin said. "Just having their support means the world to me."
The women's basketball team only gets Dec. 22 through Dec. 25 off for winter break, then members are required to return back to Oxford to prepare for their nine games in the MAC conference that occur over winter break. Some games require the team to travel as far as Florida and Alabama.
The team also stays in Oxford over the summer to catch up on classes and condition for their upcoming season. Although much of their time is spent away from home, the team has found a second family amongst themselves which eases the difficulty of being away from home.
"We see each other at our worst and at the best," McLaughlin said. "We've all bonded so much over the hope of a great season. I mean, they're my family, so staying here in Oxford over Thanksgiving wasn't that big of a deal because I knew I would be with my second family."