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Our Stories: Rakitt's Roller Coaster Ride

Sept. 2, 2015

“Our Stories” is a feature that provides first-person stories from current Georgia Tech student-athletes on their journey through academics, competition, and life once their athletic careers are over. These young men and women represent the ideals of what it means to be a STUDENT-athlete at Georgia Tech.

These are their journeys in their words.

By Nathan Rakitt
Senior, Industrial and Systems Engineering major

Growing up, I thought roller coasters were the devil. As someone who prefers to be more or less in control of his surroundings, allowing myself to be launched upwards of 100 yards in the air, shot down to Earth at 60 mph, then enduring a twist or turn is not the way I envisioned “having a good time.” On my official visit to Georgia Tech as a wide-eyed, insecure high school senior, one of the first activities I participated in with the team was – of course – a trip to Six Flags.

Was I going to showcase my intense fear of heights and rollercoasters as the first impression to my potential future teammates? Of course not. I sucked it up and pretended that I had the time of my life. As a fourth-year member of the men’s tennis team here at Georgia Tech, I have encountered my fair share of roller coaster-sized highs, lows, twists, turns, dips, and dives in my tennis, academic, and personal endeavors.

But first, a little history…

My junior tennis career was relatively mediocre with a few high points here and there. I did pretty well in sectional tournaments but never really had much success at the national level. As a result, I only had a handful of college coaches interested in me by the time senior year came around. Kenny Thorne, the head men’s tennis coach here at Georgia Tech, gave me a call on July 1 in between my junior and senior years (the first day that college coaches can contact recruits over the phone).

Up until this point, Georgia Tech had never crossed my mind. It was too close to home, too successful of a tennis program, and academics were too difficult. We had a very casual, relaxed conversation. It was quite the opposite from the roughly half-dozen other college coaches I spoke with that day, where conversations were often the awkward, question-and-answer type.

One thing led to another, as the other schools on my list got scratched off one by one, Georgia Tech emerged as my top choice. As an in state student, Kenny had planned for me to be a walk-on (non-scholarship player), as I would be taking advantage of the HOPE scholarship. Things would change very quickly as it was around this time that my family relocated to Potomac, Md., just outside of Washington, D.C.

“If you want to change the world, you’re at Georgia Tech. You can do that.”

– Nicholas Selby

Going away to college, in the city where I grew up, with my parents all of sudden 600 miles away? I was on cloud nine. Georgia Tech became my obvious No. 1 choice, and I verbally committed immediately after my official visit. Unfortunately, that meant that I would be deemed an out-of-state student, requiring me to pay out-of-state tuition – an expense none of us expected. Since my sophomore year, Allen and Sandra Ecker have sponsored my scholarship, and I will forever be grateful to them.

Throughout the past few years here at Georgia Tech, I’ve been presented with several opportunities to grow athletically, academically, and personally. I’ve competed in almost every line-up spot, with my fair share of highs and lows at each position. Academically, I struggled in my first semester – big time. In my first exam at Georgia Tech (Calculus I), I received a 25. That’s 2-5. After spending countless hours complaining every day in (academic advisor) Trudy Wheeler’s office, I somehow pulled myself together and I’m proud to say that I’ve never experienced anything like that again.

Going into my senior year, Leah Thomas, the head of the Total Person Program and our sports dietician, approached me with the opportunity to become the president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Board upon current president Morgan Jackson’s graduation this December. Two weeks ago, I was officially voted in as incoming president, and have been working with Morgan ever since in an effort to make the transition in December as smooth as possible. Even with just a couple of weeks of training under my belt, I can already see the amount of time and passion that is required to succeed in this position. I look forward to spending these next few months following Morgan’s lead, until it is my time to lead others.

There is a quote that one of the SAAB members said in my first meeting as a sophomore: “Leaders do not create followers. Leaders create more leaders.” That is something that Morgan has done extremely well, as well as Shayla Bivins before her, and that is something I will continue to strive to achieve throughout this academic year. We have roughly 400 incredibly successful student-athletes, all of which have potential to lead others in various fashions.

Georgia Tech is truly a place with endless opportunities – from academics to career development, weight-lifting to leadership, athletics to creating bonds with others that will last a lifetime. Something that I’ve realized throughout my time here is that while these opportunities are all around, it is up to the student to take advantage and seize every opportunity that they can. Georgia Tech has it all.

As Nicholas Selby famously said in his freshman convocation speech in 2013: “if you want to change the world, you’re at Georgia Tech. You can do that.”

If you want to conquer your fear of roller coasters, simply embrace the journey and strap in for the ride; you can do that, too.

I did that.

I’d like to thank my family, specifically my parents, for providing me with unlimited support throughout this journey the past few years. They gave me the foundation for who I am today, and I couldn’t imagine going through life without their constant love, passion and belief.

My teammates. Every team I’ve been a part of for the past four years has changed drastically, and I wouldn’t change anything about any of them. Every member of each team has brought something special, and everybody is able to push each other on and off the court. There have been ups and downs every year, but there is simply nothing like the feeling of being a part of something bigger than yourself and representing Georgia Tech Tennis every time I step on the court.

Georgia Tech Athletic Association staff members. There are unfortunately too many to name every one of you, but there are so many that have made this journey memorable. Just to name a couple: Trudy Wheeler, for her ability to act as an academic advisor and psychologist simultaneously; Theresa Wenzel, for her willingness to improve my leadership qualities while challenging me to better myself and those around me, and so many more have helped me throughout these few years. Thank you.

Brad Horton, our volunteer assistant, is the team MVP year in and year out. He has an uncanny ability to connect with each and every member of the team, regardless of our backgrounds or personalities. Brad has devoted an enormous amount of time to meet with me to discuss everything from academics to my personal life to my mentality on the court, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without his passion.

Derek Schwandt, the assistant coach here at GT, has somehow put up with me for over three years now, and he deserves an award of some sort for doing so. He is extremely principled, visionary, and has a work ethic that is unparalleled. He continues to show up every day expecting 110 percent out of us, and has improved the mentality of our team in the process.

Finally, of course, Kenny Thorne. Simply put, there is no other coach like him in the nation. He cares so deeply about every member of the team; his ultimate goal is to ensure that we all have excellence and integrity on and off the court. I am very confident in saying that no other college coach could have developed my game in the manner that he has; he sees every day as a challenge, and every day he brings a fire and excitement for the game that is unmatched. Naturally he has a desire for developing tennis players, but his true passion is developing 18 and 19 year olds into young men prepared for the world in a matter of a few years. I have the utmost respect for him and his values, and I cannot begin to imagine where I would be without his leadership and guidance.

Support student-athletes like Nathan Rakitt today by making a gift online, or by calling the Alexander-Tharpe Fund at (404) 894-5414. Since 1949, Alexander-Tharpe Fund (A-T) has served as the primary fund-raising arm for the Georgia Tech Athletic Association, bringing in gifts and commitments in excess of $22 million annually for endowment, facilities, and current operations. 


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