Student gains strength from struggling, even sinking a little

Posted on January 9, 2019

Senior Anna McCraw of Gaffney, S.C. flashes a smile as she poses near the Erskine Building.

After her first summer with the Forest City Owls, athletic training major Anna McCraw said she would never go back.

Enduring sleep deprivation as she worked fast-food shifts to make up for the unpaid internship hours, plus weeks of frustration and hurt as she was misunderstood and maligned, Anna kept at it for the value of the athletic training experience with the Owls, a collegiate baseball team in the Coastal Plain League based in Forest City, N.C.

That was Anna’s summer.

Not feeling the love

Anna, now a senior, describes her slog through the internship, which began just after she completed her freshman year at Erskine.

“I worked at Chick-fil-A Monday through Saturday, from 5:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.,” she said. “I would have 30 minutes to get home and change, and then a 30-minute drive to get to the field by 3 p.m. to help with whatever was going on that day at the field, whether it was game-day setup or stocking concession stands when the team was gone for an away game.”

On home game days, she had to be on the field by 3 p.m. and the games ran from 7 p.m. to “anywhere between 10 p.m. and midnight, give or take.” Afterward, she put the athletic training supplies in order and helped the other interns with stadium clean-up.

“Then, a 30-minute drive home,” Anna says. “To say I didn’t get much sleep that summer is an understatement.”

Even tougher than the grueling schedule was the humiliation of becoming a target for gossip and criticism. “No one else worked [an outside job] in the mornings, and the other interns did not like that,” Anna explains. “They were all required to show up at 10 a.m. each day, while I wasn’t getting there until 3 p.m.”

Anna’s schedule had been approved by the general manager, but it caused antagonism and even resulted in complaints to the owner of the team. Similar difficulties might well arise in a ‘real’ job setting, and even seasoned professionals face such challenges. The fact that Anna encountered them as a young college student in what could be called a ‘rehearsal’ environment made her experience no less painful.

Playing through her pain

“I was crushed,” she recalls. “Not only did I have a group of people who didn’t like me, but my reputation was being ruined.”

The combination of fatigue and emotional upheaval was hard to bear.

“Almost every night after the games were over, I would get in my car and sit and just cry,” Anna admits.

“I wanted so badly to quit. I didn’t want to come back the next day, I didn’t want to show up with a smile on my face, I didn’t want to work, I didn’t want to try to win approval from people who had formed opinions about me without really knowing who I was.”

But Anna did not quit.

“I went back, every day,” she says. “I did everything that I could, I helped in every way that I knew how. I was exhausted.”

She knew she had to push through to fulfill her commitment.

What she could not know as she moved through her difficult days was that an opportunity for clear resolution was coming. She could not imagine achieving anything significant during what seemed to be a summer of failure.

Anna at work with the Forest City Owls

Taking things in hand

Near the end of the summer, Anna, along with the other interns, received an email from the owner outlining the questions he would be asking them during their exit interviews. “I looked over the questions and took my time typing out a five-page response so no words got twisted during the interview and nothing was left out,” Anna says.

“When I walked into my exit interview, I handed one copy to the owner and one to the general manager. Let’s just say that there was a professional, strongly worded discussion that ended with my gaining the owner’s respect.” Clearing the air successfully, Anna and the owner were able to part as friends, and, she says, “He wrote me a fabulous letter of recommendation.”

So, a happy ending…but wait, there’s more.

In the spring of her sophomore year, Anna received a call from the owner.

“He told me that he had been searching and searching for someone to fill [a] position, but no one ‘fit,’” she says. The owner discussed the position with the general manager and they knew they wanted Anna back, this time in a paid position as a first responder.

“Athletic trainers are also first responders, but first responders are not athletic trainers,” Anna explains. Overseen by the team doctor, the first responder can perform first aid but refers any serious injuries to medical providers.

Despite an attractive job offer, and despite Anna’s strong interest in baseball, which had drawn her to the Owls in the first place, “the decision did not come all that easily,” she says.

“I took a lot of time praying about it before I accepted, but I am grateful that I did.”

Not only did she work as a first responder the summer after her sophomore year, she went back after her junior year as well.

Counting blessings

As Anna looks back on that first summer with the Forest City Owls, she sees the good that came out of it. “The two summers I spent as a first responder were completely different from my first summer—mostly because I had gained the respect of the team owner, and he trusted me,” she says.

“The last three summers that I have worked at Chick-fil-A and with the Forest City Owls are a great addition to my resumé. It’s not only the consistent years that I have returned to work in each of those places, but the relationships that I have built that speak for themselves.”

Anna’s rocky start with the Owls did not prevent her from pursuing understanding and reconciliation. “Having gone in as an intern at Forest City, and then returning the two following years for a paid position speaks volumes, but so does the relationship I built with the owner and the general manager while I was there,” she says.

The knowledge and skills Anna gained at Erskine were put to good use and increased during her internship and subsequent work experiences with the team.

“I learned how to communicate on my own with collegiate athletes and coaches, something that I had a chance to do at Erskine, but never to the extent I did at Forest City. I learned how to communicate with a tough boss, which will help me for the rest of my life.”

Musing about what some students have called “the Erskine bubble,” Anna says, “We always have a safety net while we are at Erskine, someone always there to catch us, even when we don’t want it. But, being on my own, I had to sink a little before I could swim, and for that, I’m so grateful.”

What’s next?

After Anna graduates in May—with a major in athletic training and minors in biology and health—she would like to work as an athletic trainer at a college close to her family. If that doesn’t work out, she would also love to serve as as a high school athletic trainer.

She is also considering going back to school “for physical therapy, a master’s in kinesiology, or to become a physician’s assistant,” she says.

“All these are options I have up in the air, but I haven’t fully decided yet.”

Thanks to what she has learned both inside and outside the Erskine bubble, Anna will be well prepared to take her next step.