Archive for Thursday, December 11, 2008

Couch finds nothing ordinary about life at Citadel

December 11, 2008

Shanna Couch stood in the Atlanta airport wearing her Citadel uniform.

She was waiting for her flight back to Kansas City and eagerly awaiting a return home after being away at college her freshman year.

As she stood in the airport, Couch looked forward to going home, but was a little sad to be leaving all of her friends at the school.

A pilot approached her. He asked how she was doing and showed her the ring that all Citadel graduates covet, the one they receive upon graduation from the school.

The two talked, discussing everything from college plans to her freshman experience.

When he found out that this was Couch’s first year at Citadel, he encouraged her to fight through the freshman year of college.

“‘The first year is hard, but the benefits outweigh all you go through your freshman year,’” Couch said the man told her.

LIFE AS A CITADEL FRESHMAN

To begin explaining Couch’s college experience, it is important to illustrate the differences she is experiencing.

For a lot of college freshman, the first year is about freedom and having free time to discover the world through your own view.

Couch’s experience is different. The Citadel is an elite military school that only recently began admitting females.

There are 700 males in the Citadel freshman class. She is one of 40 girls in the class. Everyone is treated the same, Couch says.

The Citadel is run on caste system. Freshmen are known at the Citadel as knobs, in doorknobs, and must follow the orders of instructors.

Couch’s daily schedule begins at 5:30 a.m. with sweep detail work and typically ends with studying after midnight.

In between, the former Basehor-Linwood valedictorian squeezes in an 18-hour class schedule, formation drills and soccer practice. She has three hours of mandatory studying each night.

Televisions are not permitted in dorm rooms, and Couch says she wouldn’t have time to watch even if they were.

Lights are supposed to be out at 11 p.m., but people typically stay up late performing tasks and responsibilities, whether it is shining brass or preparing her uniform for inspection.

“If there was a student I know could handle it, she is the one,” said Kevin Vincent, Couch’s soccer coach at BLHS. “She may not enjoy all the discipline, but she will adapt and excel in that environment. She has. Her grades are great. I think she enjoys that atmosphere; while it is a challenge, she enjoys the challenge. She knows more about the end result.”

COLLEGE SOCCER

Some college athletes consider their college experience their sport with class mixed in, but the Citadel experience is almost equal parts class and school.

“It is more equal,” Couch said. “After all, soccer is paying my tuition. It can’t stay on the backburner, but the reason I am here is to get an education, and that is important.”

Couch battled injuries throughout the season, tearing tendons and ligaments in her right ankle midway through the year. The injury forced her out of a number of games, but she maintained a positive attitude.

She still managed to win an award for her dedication in the weight room.

“She did a great job and won a special award for being a hard worker in the weight room. She made the transition to the Citadel well,” Citadel coach Bob Winch said. “She is a great kid, and we are pleased to have her in the program.”

Winch said Couch was a hard worker with a tremendous attitude and would make a difference during the next four years.

“Shanna is a great person. At the start of the season, she suffered an injury, and that hindered her the rest of the year,” he said. “She put forth great effort even though she was not 100 percent. I look forward to seeing her healthy next year and what she can do with no limitations.”

Citadel was young this season with one senior and six freshmen on the team. It finished with a 4-13 record. Those around the program are excited about what they can accomplish in the years ahead.

“It didn’t go as good as a team as we hoped for,” Couch said. “Next year we should do a lot better.”

FREE TIME

In addition to soccer and classes, leisure time is also different.

Some weekends are open, and students have a midnight curfew. If a weekend is closed, then all of the cadets remain on base and spend time performing drill work and other activities.

In reality, there is not a lot of personal time at the Citadel. Rather, it is time spent adapting to the one heartbeat mentality that is the Citadel.

“It clicked really fast,” Couch said. “The first week is hell week. You are forced into a situation that you have not experienced before and have 10 people who help make sure your uniform fits right along with other tasks. Without your classmates, you realize you won’t get through it. You realize these are your friends that are going to be with you forever.”

Couch is majoring in health exercise and sports science and plans to graduate from the Citadel.

She is there to play soccer, earn an education and become part of the elite group of men and women to graduate from the Citadel while playing soccer and earning a degree.

She isn’t sure about whether to pursue a career in the military or to attend graduate school.

Regardless, the experience has taught her discipline.

“Things that used to seem like a big deal don’t anymore. It puts your life into a different perspective,” she said. “You meet good people and rely on them in a short amount of time. You can’t get through this school alone. I thought that I was very independent before I came to this school, but you can’t do that by yourself.”

RETURN HOME

Following the flight home, Couch returned home to Basehor for the first time in five months. It was tough to leave her classmates.

“It was weird leaving my friends,” she said. “I had been with them every day for the last five months. We can’t go off and leave campus. I am with them all the time. It was actually a lot harder than I thought it would be.”

April 25 is the day she is looking forward to. It is recognition day. She will no longer be a knob. She will be able to grow her hair out. She understands that day is a few months away, but realizes that she is changing as a person.

“It is a love-hate thing. You hate it, but you know it is for the best, and I love it,” she said.

Couch visited Vincent over break.

Initially, her short hair surprised him.

“For four years plus she had the long hair, it was just a different Shanna to see. She is still the same bubbly, caring person she has always been,” Vincent said.

The two talked about her college experience at the Citadel.

“It is different to hear her experiences than others; hers is so different,” Vincent said. “She talks about being checked everyday for appearance checks and getting five hours of sleep.”

Vincent said it is nice to see Couch go on and experience success.

“She has proven to herself and soccer people in Basehor that yes you can make that big jump,” Vincent said. “People think small-town Kansans have limited options, but she has shown you can make it big coming from Basehor.”

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