Lick Athletes: Striving for Excellence

Last issue I interviewed three Lick athletes: Joshua Caldwell ’18, Aidan Lisker ’16 and Nate Joseph ’17. My intent was to highlight members of our community who dedicate a large portion of their time and energy to sports. This half of the article continues to explore how students manage to balance school and sports.

Straddling the physicality of sports and the creativity of art is circus. Ron Oppenheimer ’16 has been “playing” this sport since he was eight. Although circus is an unconventional career, Oppenheimer has never doubted that he wants to be a professional circus performer, a goal he discovered by chance when he decided to give circus a try — for there was no boy’s gymnastics program at his sister’s new gym.

Seeing his first circus performance was eye opening; Oppenheimer realized he could actually do something as fantastical as circus for a career. Aside from the unconventionality of circus, there are also risks that he has to take into account when planning for the future. He is very aware of the dangers of his sport.

“I have friends who went to a circus school, started working and within a month of working they injured their back and had to quit; all they do is coach now. They have nothing.”

Ron oppenheimer

Ron Oppenheimer and his hoop partner Annie Fraser at Oracle Arena. Photo by Santiago Mejia

Oppenheimer’s persistence has enabled him to stay dedicated and focused. Last year Oppenheimer moved from Circus Center to Acrosanct in order to continue with his longtime coach, master Lu Yi.

The move meant that Oppenheimer had to give up taking dance two days a week. Rather than giving up this passion, Oppenheimer joined the Dance Ensemble course at LWHS; he fits in ballet and tap on Sundays. His reason: “I couldn’t go on without dancing.”

While many feel that all their training is only worth it once they get to perform, Oppenheimer loves the training. The learning is what makes the performing worth it.

Oppenheimer cites a key maxim in circus: “You get three chances, if you mess up a hard trick, you try it again for a maximum of three times. The focus is on the art, and the strive for perfection is nowhere near as unwaveringly strict as gymnastics can be. Circus emphasizes that everyone makes mistakes, and that messing something up once doesn’t mean you can’t do it.”

Ballet is considered by some people to be one of the most competitive sports. While for most athletes team playing is an important part of the experience, ballet can have the opposite ethos and foster hostility between dancers, something of which Lilah Beldner ’17 is very aware.

“[Ballet] is definitely not a team environment. It’s super competitive and even when people are being friendly there is always an underlying hostility.”

It can be really easy for Beldner to get discouraged, but the thought of what she can do and become keeps her going.

“My goal is to be a professional dancer and to be in a professional company. I can’t imagine wanting to do something else; my whole life has been working towards this goal.”

Lilah Beldner at the top of the Lyon Street Steps. Photo by Catherine Karnow

Lilah Beldner at the top of the Lyon Street Steps. Photo by Catherine Karnow

Beldner’s mother also danced ballet as a young girl and was on the path to becoming a professional dancer when she was badly injured in a freak accident and couldn’t continue to pursue her dream. This is the reality of ballet. “Your body is really hard to control, especially what’s happening internally and sometimes random things can happen,” said Beldner.

Last year Beldner got Achilles tendonitis, an injury that forced her to take four months off from ballet. While for some people, that may have been a time to catch up with schoolwork and relax, Beldner saw no silver lining; she saw the downtime as detrimental to her improvement.

“If you don’t do it [ballet] everyday, your skill goes down so much and I still feel like I haven’t fully recovered from that experience.” The recovery process was arguably frustrating and she spent a fair amount of time missing school for physical therapy.

However, the risk of injury doesn’t diminish the joy Beldner feels dancing. Last winter, Beldner was asked to perform in one of her dance teacher’s productions of The Nutcracker.

“I got to dance all day, every single day, every show and five roles. Performing is so rewarding. I didn’t even realize how much fun it was until I got the chance to do it. When I perform, I’m not really thinking about anything, the steps are already in my body.”

Jessica Cusi ’18 joined the Lick-Wilmerding varsity volleyball team as a freshman in September of last year.

“It was intimidating at first. I only knew two people before I came to Lick and I met a few at open gyms. It was scary being the only freshman with all these upperclassmen around me. The first couple of practices the coaches and the players were really welcoming. [As far as playing] I wasn’t nervous or anything. I just had to get used to the coaching style and how things are done at Lick.”

Cusi’s attitude towards playing volleyball has consistently helped her to persevere in the sport.

Last Spring, Cusi and her club team, Vision Volleyball Club, headed to the Colorado Crossroads Tournament, a qualifier to get into nationals.

Jessica Cusi playing in a Lick Varsity volleyball game last year. Photo by Santiago Mejia

Jessica Cusi playing in a Lick Varsity volleyball game last year. Photo by Santiago Mejia

“It was a championship match and best of three. My team won the first set; we lost the second; whoever won the third set got first place. I wasn’t doing my best. I could feel that mentally I wasn’t there. I had to push through and think, Ok I can do this, I’m not afraid to make mistakes. I need to take risks and not be afraid of doing anything. I had to have the mentality of not letting the ball hit the floor. I wasn’t afraid to get bruises or burn my knees or arms.”

Cusi’s mindset is even more impressive considering what she has to give up for volleyball. Cusi drives an hour to Los Gatos where she plays at her club, whose Vision 14 Gold team won silver at the 2013 Junior Olympics.

When asked if there has ever been a time when she questioned why she was playing volleyball at such an extremely competitive level, Cusi’s answer was quick and sure: “No, never.” Her conclusion: “I’m not going to stop and give up.”

Cusi believes that when playing volleyball, you should “Play like it’s your last game. Not everyone knows when it’s your last chance to play; you could sprain your ankle or wrist in the middle of the game or tear your ACL and never play again. So I think people should take advantage of each practice or tournament or game they get to play.”

Last spring, Logan Pierce ’15 tore his patellar tendon during track season. Not recognizing the injury for what it was, Pierce played through the pain and didn’t discover the extent of the injury until the beginning of his senior year, his last year as an athlete at Lick. Although the injury has affected his ability to compete with his team it revealed who Pierce is not, he is not a quitter.
Pierce started running in sixth grade at Marin Country Day School, “The track team at Marin Country Day was kind of a joke. We didn’t have a track program, just a couple of days where people would miss the whole day of school and run a pseudo track meet against other schools.” After coming to Lick he spent his freshman year playing basketball, cross- country and track, continuing his tradition of being a three- season athlete. For the next three years Pierce stuck to the athletic programs at Lick, getting in as many sports as he could.

Logan Pierce running in the BCL Championships at Kezar Stadium photo by Gary Gee

Logan Pierce running in the BCL Championships at Kezar Stadium photo by Gary Gee

Due to his injury, Pierce missed out on this year’s cross-country season, spending his time in physical therapy. He then participated in the basketball season only to re- injure the tendon and have to sit out for the final season of the year, cross-country. However, he found a way to be with his team while staying off his knee, Pierce took up the role of a mentor, “Throughout the cross country season I went to every practice and was there giving moral support to other runners. I went to every meet and I cheered on people. I helped to run the meets whether that was setting up the finish line or setting up the courses when we took the bus to Golden Gate Park and Lands End.” Pierce’s unwavering dedication to a sport he couldn’t even compete in Pierce credits to his junior year cross-country season.

“I started out as a mediocre runner and halfway through the season I was running with the faster runners.” Towards the end of the season Pierce was running with the JV team. “For the championships races there is a varsity race which regardless of age is the top seven runners. Leading up to that race I wasn’t in the top seven and I ran the JV championship race.” Winning his JV race, Pierce bumped off one of the varsity runners and became the fourth fastest runner on the varsity team. His pride seems to lie more in how much he grew as a runner, rather than the event itself. He comments proudly, “I started out as the 15th or 20th runner and at the end of the season I was one of the fastest runners on the varsity team.”

This spring’s track season saw Pierce’s role as a mentor evolve into that of a coach for the jumpers. “When our coaches are away, I help run workouts and I go to all the track meets and help organize the different jumpers into their events and get them ready.” Understanding the impact of being injured, Pierce encourages as many people as he can to gain wide experience and to try new events. Pierce’s final reason behind his dedication to the Lick running teams is that “Throughout the three years that I did run for Lick I had so much fun with the team and had so many friendships with people and that’s what made it easier to continue going to practices. I felt that I was part of something larger than myself. I’m a team member. Its not about myself.”’

To read the first half of this article go to the hyphen or
see the April 2015 print issue.

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About Amelia Levin-Sheffield

Amelia is a junior at Lick-Wilmerding High School and writes for the student newspaper, The Paper Tiger. She also manages the Style section and is one of three co-managing editors of the on-line LWHS community news source, Hyphen. Amelia is a voracious reader and started writing in second grade after getting a flash of inspiration from a gnome sighting in the hollow of a tree in her backyard.

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