Welcome to The Art of Athletes, a blog series showcasing the underrated creative minds behind Pfeiffer’s athletes. I am so glad that throughout this year, I have been able to tackle this complicated but crucial conversation with my fellow Pfeiffer community members.
Since this is the last feature of the academic year, I wanted to take the time to interview someone on campus who is an athlete and an emerging artist. I also wanted to focus on a student commuter: knowing that commuters face different struggles than a typical residential student. In this interview, I will give you insight into Cristyan Cabrera's busy life and how he manages to find creative outlets despite a full schedule. As a result, I hope to open up the minds of the students at Pfeiffer and persuade them to find creative outlets even if time or responsibilities are an issue. I hope that you continue to be aware of the artists and athletes that surround you. Thank you for all of your support!
Tell us about yourself: your culture, family, and background.
Being from an immigrant family, my family values education and they expect people to go to school to become something big, like doctors or lawyers. Of course, this pressured me to go to college even though I always wanted to anyway. They also definitely pressured me into choosing a major dealing with the medical field, because they felt like it was what was best. This impacted me in the fact that I chose nursing and didn't even consider anything else.
In my culture, I get to experience talking to people who feel like they can't go beyond high school and often get married so young. Really, this is all stereotypical for my people. Most of them do those things, which is why I wanted to go outside of that and show them that they can beat those odds too. The fact that I do come from immigrant parents has impacted a lot of my decisions because of the pressure they put on me, especially being the first person in the entire family to go to college. They even joke with me and say, “You're going to college to help us put your siblings through college.” I have to laugh because, man, I have more siblings than I have fingers. I feel all of that pressure, but I know I’m not just doing this for me.
Cristyan and his family at Myrtle Beach.
Were there any discussions with your family about your future career choice? Has your major in college changed?
Currently, I am a history major, but when I first came to Pfeiffer I was a nursing major. My family pressured me into pursuing something that would make a lot of money. I wanted to make them happy so badly and did not want to let them down, so I allowed them to define what I did. Of course, nursing is an amazing job, but it’s not something I saw myself loving.
I decided to study history because of the history classes that I took with Dr. Morris. He is an incredible man. We vibed together, and when I talked to him about history or college in general, it felt like I was talking to another cool student. He made history seem so cool and it reminded me of all the history teachers I had in high school. I remember staying up watching history videos on YouTube during nights when I couldn’t sleep. It feels natural, and it comes easy to me. After I realized that all of the nursing and science classes were not making me happy, I went and talked to Dr. Morris and other faculty about my decision to switch. At the end of the day, the classes that I took helped me come to the decision.
"I wanted to make them happy so badly and did not want to let them down, so I allowed them to define what I did."
How did your family react to changing your major to history?
It was hard at first when I had to tell my parents, and I felt like I disappointed my mom. She understands it now and she sees how happy I am doing what I love. A lot of people come to college to get a job to only make money and not to be happy, but me, I’m following my dreams while also playing soccer. Knowing that I can do something that makes me happy is incredible. This history degree is going to take me places and I’m determined no matter how much more money I could have made being a nurse.
Cristyan reading one of his favorite history books, "For the Record: A Documentary History of America" by David E. Shi and Holly A. Mayer.
How has your family influenced your decision to play sports or dabble in art? How has the way you’ve grown up impacted your journey in general and in exploring art and sports?
I’m from Monjaras, Honduras and there we breathe soccer quite literally. It’s the only sport you see people playing and it’s all we talk about. I remember my uncles took me to their Sunday league soccer games and I don’t think I’ve ever seen players as good as them. They introduced me to soccer and to the teams that I enjoy. I’ve been in love with it ever since. Luckily, I’ve played every single year of my life. My family has always encouraged me to do what I love and love what I do so playing sports and trying to get into art seemed easy and encouraged by my family. Growing up and being told to understand and have an appreciation for everything that I am able to do has given me just that.
Walk us through a day in your life.
Well, pre-covid-19 was a little busy for me. With soccer, we began the spring season, which consisted of me waking up at about 4:30 a.m. and being at school before 6 a.m. to practice. Then I would go to class, and I never miss classes because I hate missing school work and wasting time that I know my parents pay for. After that, I focused on my school work for the week which consisted of a lot of readings, but I did try to separate that out. Then I would block off at least two hours to do extra workouts. I have a lot of love for my family so I try to make time for them at night as well. If I don't spend some time with my baby sister during the day, I don't feel as if my day is complete. When I did have a job, it was really tough to fit everything into my schedule. At times, I would find myself prioritizing some things more than others, and I really couldn’t find balance. Although I keep busy, I still feel as if I don’t have enough time to do what I would like to do.
Cristyan and his little sister Alexa at Dan Nicholas Park.
Part of what interested me in interviewing you was that not only are you an avid soccer player and emerging poet, but also because you are a commuter. What brought you to this decision to commute and how do you juggle so many different parts of the college experience?
Money is the sole reason why. I probably could have stayed on campus, but it would have put a huge dent in my parents’ bank account because they are paying for the first four years of college that I attend. I was not going to put that burden on them because they already pay more due to my legal status showing that I only have a work permit. It allows me to go to school, but I cannot get any financial aid. I knew I wanted to go to Pfeiffer from the first time I visited, but for someone like me that has DACA, public school wasn’t really an option because it's way more expensive.
Commuting is tough when you have school, a sport, a job, and then go home to take care of your family and do chores. I would go to school early, get out of practice, go straight to work, and then get home at 12 am every night and it was hard knowing I had to wake up around 6:30 or 7 the next morning just to get to school on time. Eventually, I decided that work was not important because I saved up money, but it’s still hard to be involved on Pfeiffer’s campus and with your teammates when you commute and are obligated to go back home at night.
Are there drawbacks? In what ways has commuting limited your college experience, and likewise, how has it enhanced your experience?
It definitely has limited my college experience. I think the worst part is I can’t be with my friends on campus. I’ll talk to them throughout the day and they will tell me all of these fun stories about campus and I just sit there and reply, “Yeah. I don’t really know what that feels like.”
During the day I’m at school and excited about my game later that day, but at the end of the game I know I have to go straight home, I can’t celebrate our wins or mourn our losses with my guys. It has limited how close I have gotten to players on the team, people who I’m supposed to be family with.
Don't even get me started on Pfeiffer Life. I can’t stay for events that I would LOVE to stay for, such as watching the presidential debates, because they are around 8 at night and I have to be home to help my family. While I find it really hard to be a commuter, it doesn’t change how I feel about Pfeiffer; I still feel welcome most of the time, especially with the people I’m around the most.
Commuting has for sure helped me build determination and my character. I have to go after things and work just a little bit harder than the average person who stays on campus. It’s really helped me understand that I can't be lazy and have to work for what I want. If I want to spend more time with my friends or get extra help in my classes then I have to go that extra mile of staying afterwards and explaining to my family how important that is. It has helped me gain that mentality of being motivated at all times.
"[Commuting] has limited how close I have gotten to players on the team, people who I’m supposed to be family with."
If you had the choice to do it again, would you choose to still commute to campus?
Honestly, I would not change a thing. If staying on campus was not so expensive, then I would reconsider, but at this moment, commuting has helped me mature and showed me I must work hard to get what I want.
Tell me what you find so rewarding in playing soccer? What’s your favorite part of playing soccer?
Playing soccer has been my relief for everything. No matter the problems or hardships I have faced, soccer keeps me focused and has continued to be something that makes me truly happy. While I'm playing soccer, I have no thoughts of anything other than to focus and try to win. It's almost like I escape reality.
Cristyan playing against Berea College's soccer team his freshman year at Pfeiffer.
Are there other arts and sports that interest you? What are you envious about regarding them?
I’ve always loved watching football and basketball. I always tell myself I could have been a great quarterback or a great wide receiver, and I wish I had the opportunity to play it, but I was so focused on soccer. Although I don't watch basketball as much as football, I still love playing it recreationally. I joined this one little league where all of the guys on the team just played around. I know I could have been decent at it, but man, I REALLY want to dunk. I’m 6’2 and I cant dunk, how crazy?
I wish I could sing. I sing my heart out in the car or in the shower, but my voice is absolutely awful. I took chorus three times trying to become a better singer, but it just wasn't it for me. Another talent I wish I could acquire was rapping skills as well. I want to show that I have actual talent and skill, but I cannot rhyme words and put them all together. Honestly, I just want to sing like Beyoncé.
Describe a time where you felt most creative. How would you define it and tell us your struggles that you had with it.
I felt most creative when I took the poetry class with Dr. Schwalm. I loved that class so much and it taught me a lot. For a person who never expresses how they feel to other people, this class really helped me in that aspect and made me build so much character. The biggest struggle I had with it was being able to express feelings with my words and say them out loud. I struggled to be honest and be myself within my poems. I’m thankful that Dr. Schwalm pushed me to get over that stage fright because it allowed me to be able to perform my work that I was super proud of. It was an incredible experience because once I wrote the first poem, I felt like I couldn’t stop.
Cristyan performing his poem, "APPLE PIE" at The Phoenix's annual poetry slam.
What about poetry speaks to you?
What speaks to me the most about poetry is that everyone's poetry can be different and have a different style or flow, but each poem has its own importance and value.
Where do you feel most connected or inspired creatively?
I use my creativity in a way that will help me and to keep me sane. When I have free time in my busy life, I enjoy writing and listening to music. Sometimes you will catch me writing lyrics as a joke that I eventually throw away, but I feel like it’s my escape.
I feel most inspired and connected with music. When I listen to certain artists, it gives me that motivation to keep pushing forward because I know there are people out there living their dreams. I can really relate to what they have been through and what they put into their music. Artists like Kanye West have that attitude of “if I want it, i'm going to get it” and I admire that. Or people like Kendrick Lamar who literally came from nothing to being one of the best MC’s of all time.
I know it gets hard for me sometimes, but when I listen to these artists I know I can follow my dreams and one day I will be truly happy with what I’m doing. I know one day I will get there because of what this music has made me feel.
Compared to where you were before and where you are now, where do you hope to see post-graduate Cristyan?
College Cristyan is a lot more humble than high school Cristyan. In high school, I was the man, and I got what I wanted. He was very different and immature. College Cristyan has gained maturity and has become focused on his priorities.
I hope that when I get out of college, I will have come to a decision on what I want to do in life. I know for a fact that I want to further my education whether that be getting my Ph.D and being a professor or going to law school. I know one of the two is what I want to do more than anything, but I'm hoping that it works out either way.
For a couple years, I’d like to teach high school and save up some money to be able to further my education. I want to be able to say that I made a difference for students like myself in high school. I want to be like all of the teachers that helped me throughout high school and made me feel important.
Then, I will start focusing on my personal career goals and get a job that's more sustainable and enjoyable. I want to help minorities who are struggling. They shouldn’t have jobs cleaning up asbestos and working in a restaurant their entire life, they deserve more. I strive to be that role model for them. I think that will fulfill what I was put on this earth to do.
What advice would you give to your younger self who wants to join a sport and develop an art skill, but has all these other priorities to juggle too?
I would tell my younger self that it will all be worth it in the end. I would tell him to give it his all and to never doubt that what he is doing is for the best. As long as he works hard, he can be great and will succeed in anything.
Cristyan running to throw the ball in while playing against Jesse C. Carson his senior year of high school.
Finally, do you have any advice for other athletes and artists who may not have enough time that they would like to dedicate to their passions?
My advice to other athletes and artists who struggle with time is that, no matter how busy or little time one has, if they are passionate about something they should do it whenever. Whether that be practicing for their sport or their art, it may seem like a lot, but eventually it will be worth it. Stay focused, work hard, and always have a positive mindset.
"Stay focused, work hard, and always have a positive mindset."
Have any questions or suggestions?
Email us: ThePhoenix@pfeiffer.edu