Oct. 5, 2009
DEKALB, Ill. -
Imagine being a freshman in college. You are being introduced to the next level of life with more responsibilities and independence than you probably ever had during high school. You must figure out where and how you are going to live. You must figure out what you are going to do with your life and how you are going to do it. You must be a "freshman" for the last time in school. You must do all this amongst some 20,000 strangers that hopefully will become a few of your new best friends.
Imagine all of this on top of being on a collegiate volleyball team where you have to practice hard nearly every day, go through your daily conditioning and weight lifting routine, study film on your future opponents, go to the trainer to get weekly treatments, and of course, play volleyball matches that sometimes require days of traveling on a bus.
Imagine getting to play your first collegiate match at home in front of hundreds of screaming fans. You don't know what to expect because you've never been here before. You get yourself physically and mentally ready in the locker room. You run onto the court for warm-ups as your heart is pounding and your stomach is churning. As warm-ups are nearing completion, you are slightly out of breath and have a worked up a good sweat, but your nervousness and anxiety are still palpable.
Warm-ups are complete. Now, sing our country's national anthem.
For the multi-faceted Northern Illinois freshman Sam Grams, singing the national anthem is no problem as there isn't much she can't do. The Forest Park, Ill. native plays volleyball and basketball. She sings, plays guitar, saxophone, and piano. She held a 4.0 GPA through all four years at Fenwick High School. She helps out with the West Suburban Special Recreation Association and Special Olympics.
Singing the national anthem before her own volleyball matches is something that Grams has done dating back to her junior year in high school. However, she did not expect to continue her tradition at NIU, but that all changed in the locker room one day during preseason camp.
"We were waiting for [head coach] Ray [Gooden] to come into the locker room and we decided to say some interesting facts about ourselves," said Grams, who has sang the national anthem at every NIU home match thus far. "I told my teammates that I could sing. Then they asked me to sing and somehow the national anthem came up so I sang it. Then [assistant coach] Coley [Pawlikowski] asked me if I would sing it before our matches because I did it in high school. So I said I would."
Singing the national anthem before her first collegiate volleyball home match was definitely something Grams embraced.
"I was very nervous, but at the same time it was exciting," said Grams. "I like it because it gives me a job to do before every match that I'm proud to be able to do. Because I'm warming up before I go up there, when I'm serving, which is the last thing we do in warm-ups, I try to take some deep breaths so I'm not gasping for air while I'm singing. But even then, I'm still a little out of breath.
"The first few times I ever sang the anthem were a little bit nerve-racking, but I love it now. It's one of those songs that gives you goose bumps when you hear it. I think it's awesome that I get to sing it. The more I sing it, the less nervous and more comfortable I get."
Her musical talent and interest comes from her family as her mom and grandpa are both passionate about and play music.
"My grandpa loved music and got my mom started on the cello," said Grams. "When I was little, she would always be singing so I would sing too. As I get better and more comfortable, I would volunteer to sing a lot more in church and benefit concerts."
Grams has also grown to discover other instruments than her voice.
"The piano was the first instrument that I learned to play," Grams said. "I can't even remember when I started playing it was so long ago. I joined the school band in middle school and that's when I picked up the saxophone. I didn't do band in high school because it wasn't that big at our school, but I still would play the saxophone when I could. I learned the guitar more recently. In my freshman year in high school, my mom bought a guitar but was too busy to ever really pick it up. So I picked it up and taught myself how to play. "
Not only is Grams naturally gifted in music, she is gifted athletically as she was a co-captain of her sophomore basketball team as a freshman and didn't start playing volleyball until sixth grade.
"I was always a basketball player and I was always tall so my middle school coach kept telling me I should play volleyball, but I would always say no," said Grams. "Somehow though, she got me to play and I took off from there.
"I always worked really hard at basketball, but then I joined a volleyball club team and I really liked it, especially with people always telling me that I was pretty good at it," Grams said. "So then my junior year I had to decide between playing on a really good club team or playing high school basketball. In the end I decided that volleyball was the best way to go, even though I still enjoyed basketball."
Two years and a torn ACL later, Grams found herself in a Huskie uniform and discovered her career ambition.
"I was always fascinated with how the muscles in your body work," said Grams. "I have injured myself so much, mostly bumps and bruises, but when I tore my ACL my senior year I got to listen to my doctor explain a lot of interesting facts about my knee and that's when I knew I wanted to do physical therapy. I like that it's a hands-on profession because that's what type of person I am. So when I talk to [trainer] Chris [Joseph], I am able to retain a lot of that information because it's easy to pay attention with my interest in a similar job.
"I liked the location of NIU and I wanted to go somewhere that had a good physical therapy program. I also really liked the volleyball program so NIU was a great fit."
For being a freshman, Grams seems to be way ahead of the curve as knows what she wants to do with her life and possesses the talent and mental capacity to become a physical therapist. However, if by some random act she decides to change career paths, as many college students do at least twice, her multiple talents will still leave a world of opportunity.