It’s My Athletic LIFE

How important are athletics to a university? The amount of revenue generated by the football programs at Alabama and Ohio State, or the basketball programs at Indiana and Kentucky is astounding. But beyond the dollars, there is an inherent identity that comes with supporting a college. The uniform colors and the team mascot are oftentimes more recognizable than a university’s crest or logo. Would you recognize the University of Michigan’s school crest? Probably not. Would you recognize their unique helmet design and the maize and blue uniforms? Absolutely.

Research indicates that applications increase at institutions in the years immediately following a national championship in a sport that garners significant television coverage. For example, in 1982, Georgetown University played against the University of North Carolina for the national championship in basketball. Everyone who remembers this game does so because a little-known freshman named Michael Jordan scored the game-winning basket with just a few seconds remaining on the game clock. What most people don’t know is that applications to Georgetown more than doubled the next year. This upsurge in applications did not come from aspiring basketball players; they came from regular students.

While Life University may never play in the Final Four against North Carolina in basketball, we compete in numerous sports that are receiving national attention and television coverage. Competing currently in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), LIFE has plans to expand its athletic programs to the point where we can become a member of the NCAA. Competing at the NCAA level would allow our teams to play against prominent and well-known universities across the country—something LIFE already does in rugby.

Competing at the highest level will not only bring Life University national attention, but also a higher profile to Chiropractic. Public awareness of Life University, and by extension, Chiropractic, is not the only reason we put an emphasis on our athletic programs. Athletic competition builds character and teaches life lessons such as teamwork, integrity and optimum performance. Human potential is virtually unlimited when the body is functioning properly. At LIFE, we are able to show how chiropractic care, combined with state-of-the-art training, conditioning, nutrition and wellness make our student-athletes achieve incredible performance, with minimal injuries.

In 2010, The New York Times ran a feature story about LIFE’s rugby program, telling readers about our prominence in this emerging sport. The main point of the article focused on our commitment to training, discipline and chiropractic care for our athletes. Using the science of the human body to achieve top performance is a model for athletic programs everywhere.

This is a powerful message that the chiropractic industry has been trying to spread for more than 100 years. Through a nationally recognized athletic program, Life University hopes to lead the chiropractic profession to new heights of awareness and prominence.
LIFE on the Pitch
At Life University, we play rugby, and we play it well! Started as a club sport in 1980 among a group of international students, our rugby program is now recognized as one of the premier programs in the country.

Rugby is an international sport, second only to soccer in worldwide popularity, and it is the second-fastest growing sport in the United States. In 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, rugby will become an official Olympic sport. There is also talk of rugby becoming an NCAA sport in the next few years and Life University will be ready when that happens.

Rugby is played in two different formats: 15s and 7s. The figures represent the number of players on the field for each team. 15s is the traditional way of playing and it is how the Rugby World Cup is contested every four years. 7s is a newer format, and this is the format that will be on display in the Olympics. 7s is much more conducive to television coverage because of the faster play and higher scoring. LIFE competes in both formats.

Our undergraduate 15s team has only been in existence for three years now. In our first year in 2011, we made it to the quarterfinals of the national championship tournament. In 2012, our second year, we made it to the semifinals of the national championship tournament. We enter the 2013 season ranked No. 1 in the country, ahead of huge universities such as the University of California, Berkeley, Utah, Brigham Young University and San Diego State.

Our undergraduate 7s team has only been in existence for two years. In our first year, we won the inaugural USA Rugby Collegiate National Championship and the prestigious Las Vegas Invitational tournament. Our first year culminated in earning a bid to compete in the Collegiate Rugby Championship (CRC) in June 2012. The CRC was broadcast live on NBC, and it is where our national identity came to the forefront.

After blitzing through the group stage of the tournament, LIFE played against Arizona in the semifinals, which were broadcast on NBC. As the LIFE players took the field, a “quick facts” graphic appeared on the television screen about Life University’s founding, location and enrollment. The announcers said, “Life University is known for its chiropractic degree. If you want to earn a chiropractic degree, Life University is the place to go.” You can’t buy that type of publicity!

At one point during the event, LIFE President Dr. Guy Riekeman saw four young men in a different section of the stadium who had their shirts off and among them had painted L-I-F-E on their chests. Riekeman introduced himself and asked them what quarter they were in at LIFE. The young men responded that they didn’t attend LIFE, they were just big fans of LIFE.

Our presence at the CRC didn’t end after that weekend. In fact, our branding and identity continues to grow. When our team plays away games, sometimes on the other side of the country, spectators who are not LIFE students or alumni will be sporting a LIFE Rugby T-shirt.

Last year we had to qualify for the CRC through our victory in the Las Vegas Invitational. After our performance at the 2012 event, the tournament organizers were so impressed with LIFE’s commitment to rugby, its stellar play on the pitch and its incredible fan support, that they have invited us back for the 2013 event. Tournament Director Donal Walsh said, “We’re excited to have LIFE back in 2013. They showed last year how committed they are to the growth of the game. It was a real eye-opener for us and our partners at NBC that while some schools are not as well known, they can compete and play great rugby.”

Playing in the nationally televised event is a great feather in the cap of Life University. However, we look at it as an incredible opportunity for Chiropractic. It won’t just be Life University out on the pitch competing and gaining national attention; it will be Chiropractic on display. That is why we want to invite all chiropractors to come to Philadelphia May 30−June 2 and attend the CRC.

Even if you went to another chiropractic college and would feel disloyal cheering on LIFE, that’s fine. Come out to cheer on Chiropractic! If LIFE’s rugby team is getting national attention, it means our profession is getting national attention. We already had the largest fan base in attendance last year—imagine the exposure Chiropractic could get if the entire profession packed the stadium.

At Life University we play rugby, and we play it well. Rugby, and by extension Chiropractic, is already getting national attention. LIFE is to rugby what Alabama is to college football and what the Yankees are to Major League Baseball. Just think of the possibilities when rugby becomes an NCAA sport and is in the Olympics in 2016.
Basketball at LIFE
Basketball was the first sport that LIFE adopted after creating its athletic department in 1990, and their first season in 1991 marked the beginning of a long run of dominance over NAIA competition. Along with making the postseason tournament in each year of play, LIFE has won 3 NAIA national championships (1997, 1999, 2000) and finished as runner-up once (1994). In the last four years, LIFE’s basketball program has made the finals of its conference tournament, and they won it as recently as last season.

It’s not hard to see why the program has been, and continues to be, so successful with the joint effort of great coaching and institutional support. LIFE’s basketball team is obviously equipped with all of the resources you would expect from the world’s largest chiropractic college. Along with a coaching staff that promotes vitalism, LIFE has a team chiropractor, athletic trainer and strength and conditioning coach who also promote a vitalistic lifestyle that provides LIFE athletes with a distinct edge over their opponents.

They also have an innovative, state-of-the-art facility that is located in the same building as their gym, called the LIFE Sport Science Institute (LSSI). LSSI’s faculty and staff work in partnership with LIFE’s athletes, using Chiropractic and integrative sport science strategies to deliver optimum human performance on and off the court. This facility has worked with elite athletes, which include the U.S. Olympic weightlifting and wrestling teams.

After playing in a preseason exhibition against Georgia State University, a Division I opponent, LIFE’s Head Basketball Coach and Athletic Director John Barrett said that the Georgia State players commented on the strength and endurance of LIFE’s players. “They said that our athletes’ strength and endurance were greater than any others they had played against.”

The question some may ask is what specific value Chiropractic has for the student-athletes on the court. “The most important thing for our basketball team is having chiropractors involved in everything we do,” says Barrett. “We do everything any other team does to help injured athletes, but we are also doing the preventive care that is Chiropractic, which turns student-athletes on to a health care system that is superior to anything that they have experienced before coming to LIFE.”

Chiropractic’s main objective is to help people reach an optimum health level through a proactive regimen. The success of LIFE’s basketball team is in large part due to the preventive nature of chiropractic care that both helps to prevent athletic injury, but also promotes nutrition, exercise and discipline both on and off the court.

One of the University’s goals when establishing a basketball team at LIFE was to promote its vision and mission through the dynamics of competitive sports. LIFE’s basketball team is an extension of Chiropractic in that its philosophies mirror that of LIFE’s eight core proficiencies. Communication & Relationship Theory/Skills is one of these core proficiencies that provides the foundation for professional success, social contribution and cultural change. LIFE’s basketball team stresses an emphasis on communication, which is vital in the game of basketball in order for the team to have success. From building chemistry both on and off the court with teammates to listening, accepting and applying information and skills gained from the athletic staff, it is important for every member of the team to do their part. Every member must communicate effectively in order to maximize team synergy and provide them with a spark that most other teams do not have.

Another of LIFE’s core proficiencies that is promoted through the basketball team is Belief Systems & Performance, which is highlighted through student-athletes’ trust in their coaches, staff and teammates to come together to reach the common goal of success on the basketball court. The discipline needed to achieve this goal is equivalent to the discipline that students at LIFE need to maintain good study habits, maintain health and wellness in their personal lives and build successful relationships with colleagues while at school and in the workplace.

“Athletics helps you market and brand your university,” says Barrett. “You have a situation with undergraduate students who are paying their way to go to school here who are here directly because of the basketball or rugby programs. We have more than 100 students at Life University who are involved in intercollegiate athletics with more to come.”
Women’s Cross Country at LIFE
In its first year since being brought back to LIFE after a 10-year hiatus, the women’s cross country team at Life University is off and running behind former five-time collegiate All-American and director of the Sport Health Science master’s program, Dr. Catherine Mary Faust. Although Faust had only three student-athletes on her squad, and only two who competed this year, it was a highly successful debut for the program with both runners earning all-conference honors and one, Mishea Peltier, winning the TranSouth Conference Championship meet to earn a trip to the NAIA National meet in Vancouver, Wash.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, LIFE had powerhouse track and cross country teams, with the men’s and women’s teams combining for 12 NAIA championships. LIFE’s historical success with the sport is not the only reason that LIFE chose to bring cross country back; it’s also because of the numerous aspects of wellness that the sport promotes in LIFE’s Wellness Portfolio. LIFE’s Wellness Portfolio uses a vitalistic philosophy expressed through six aspects of well-being: Physical, Emotional, Social, Intellectual, Environmental and Spiritual.

Cross country applies all of these aspects of wellness in the preparation, initiation and reflection involved in the sport. Clearly, running long distances in as quick a time as possible is physically demanding, requiring strength, endurance and flexibility. Runners also gain a sense of accomplishment when they see their hard work in practices pay off in better times at meets, resulting in an emotional boost that motivates them to continue putting in the extra effort.

Additionally, Faust directly sees how much the camaraderie of being on a team helps the young women both socially and spiritually. “The team is like an extended family,” says Faust. “They are all very grounded and have great character, so they are able to hold each other accountable in all areas of life.”

While student-athletes face multiple obstacles in training for their sport, LIFE’s challenging curriculum puts more on their plates than most. Studies have shown that exercise correlates positively with cognitive abilities; therefore, cross country’s implementation of both aerobic and anaerobic exercise is a great stimulus for student-athletes’ intellectual health.

Also, a unique aspect of cross country is the variable of the environment at which practices and meets are held. The accessibility to nature gives runners a chance to connect with the natural world and gain a better appreciation for the environment in which they live. LIFE’s high standards of wellness are just one way that it is taking the lead in the vital health care revolution, and it is evident that the women’s cross country program is on the pathway to success in upholding those values.
Wrestling at LIFE
Integrity & Citizenship is one of Life University’s eight core proficiencies, and it holds their students, staff, faculty and alumni to high standards of character both on and off campus. This is one of the most important things for chiropractic students to learn before starting their own practice, which is highly customer-service driven and requires the utmost professionalism and respect to earn the trust of clientele.

 When LIFE was deciding to add a new sports program into the Athletic Department, they wanted a sport that could display these characteristics through a competitive lens. Different from most team sports, wrestling is highly individualized, putting competitors on a stage in which there is no one else to blame but yourself for a disappointing performance.

“Wrestlers must have integrity and discipline when preparing for a match, because if they don’t, it will show,” says LIFE Head Wrestling Coach Michael Miller. “In wrestling, much like in real life, if you’re not putting in the work, you will be exposed.”

LIFE chose to add wrestling to the fold because it is one of the up-and-coming sports in the nation, especially in Georgia youth leagues and high schools. LIFE is one of only three colleges to compete in wrestling at the varsity level in Georgia, and the only one in the metro Atlanta area.

“LIFE is an emerging sports program right now, and we’re excited to be on the ground floor of wrestling in Georgia,” notes Athletic Director John Barrett. “At a health-conscious university, a sport like wrestling makes perfect sense because it encompasses physical fitness, nutrition and work ethic.”

Although competitive success is desired, it is first and foremost Coach Miller’s objective to develop the young men in his program to be well-rounded human beings with good academic and social skills. This fits right in to the standard that LIFE upholds for its entire community, so Miller should not have much trouble getting his team to buy into the concept.