A great athlete and an even better scholar. Concordia wrestler Michael Noonan, 24, was awarded the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship to attend Oxford University next fall where he will be studying zoology as a graduate student.
Noonan recently sat down for a conversation with The Concordian to talk about the upcoming season, his future and some of the stereotypes surrounding athletes.
What was the first thing you did when you found out you won the scholarship?
I screamed, I was pretty excited. I was in the car with a bunch of friends so we all cheered and I went home right away and told my parents and they were pretty ecstatic.
What are you most looking forward to at Oxford?
Obviously the education will be great, but just living on campus at one of the best universities in the world will be amazing. It will be a different country, more European, and I’m just excited for the whole lifestyle of being on campus and in a new country.
So what will you be working on primarily when you go to Oxford?
I’m going to be working within the zoology department on the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit. It’s a research crew that does research on endangered species.
Do you have a thesis or anything specific in mind yet that you want to achieve?
I have a thesis in mind but it still has to get accepted. But I would like to work on studying fish passage at dams.
Has it been a challenge to balance school and athletics?
Yeah, for sure. We train twice a day, once during the day and once at night so that doesn’t leave much time in between for classes and homework. I actually had to take a reduced course load and finish university a year later to fit it all in.
Some athletes struggle academically, what advice would you give them?
There’s certain times when you can focus on your sports and your social life and there’s also times when you really need to sit down and focus on your academics. Exam period for example is a time when you really need to set your priorities on school.
Have you ever had to deal with the perception or stereotype that athletes are just “dumb jocks?”
Yeah I have. Even the guys on the team, we don’t talk about school or grades or anything so this really surprised a lot of them. It’s definitely a stereotype that’s out there, but once I start to talk to people they sort of realize it’s not that true.
Do you think it is a fair stereotype, whether or not it applies to you?
Definitely not. Some of the most intelligent people I know are athletes. One guy from our team is actually at Brown University writing a textbook now. We have engineers and a lot of very smart people on our team.
Do you think it will be more difficult to focus on wrestling this year knowing what lies ahead?
Yes, I think it will be because in the past you had this huge future ahead of you whereas now I’m limited to just this one year before my career here is over, so it’s going to be tough. On top of that I recently had ACL surgery so dealing with that on top of it will be difficult.
What are some of you goals for the season?
Well, first things first is to get back into the season. Because of the surgery I need to push myself hard to compete again. Then I really want to win nationals.
Because it’s your last year do you think this season will have maybe a sense of urgency that wasn’t there in the past?
Not urgency, but it is very different. I look at it with more of a sense of calm and knowing. When you’re young you kind of have this fear of all the guys being older than you. Now, though, I’m sitting here near the end and I’ve sort of seen it all. I’ve seen things come and go and I think that I can deal with whatever happens better than a lot of other people can.