Hope everyone had a restful weekend.
I recently spent time with some fellow Winnipeggers (that is, individuals hailing from Winnipeg, Canada, such as myself :)), and was reminded of a favorite Winnipegger of mine – John Urschel. Urschel was an offensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens, and started playing football in high school, during a time where he already had developed a love of something different – mathematics.
It’s seemingly rare in professional sports to find a player equally accomplished in another field, largely because of the dedication and time that sports training can take away from academics (and vice versa). But in 2013, Urschel taught calculus at Penn State, earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in mathematics, and won the equivalent of the Academic Heisman, called the William V. Campbell award. A few years ago, he published an article called "A Cascadic Multigrid Algorithm for Computing the Fiedler Vector of Graph Laplacians." [I have a degree in maths too, and could barely get through the abstract of the article]. Urschel has loved mathematics since he can remember, and recalls going through puzzles and logic teasers incredibly quickly as a small child. At 22, he taught an undergrad class while completing his graduate school credits at Penn State, prepared his thesis, finished his master’s degree, and was still able to make the football team’s workouts. And the guy is Canadian! :)
Urschel retired in 2017, and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in math from MIT. He retired shortly after a major study published an article on the existence of CTE, a debilitating brain disease, in the brains of 110 of 111 deceased former NFL players who donated their brains to research. While not specifically citing this as a reason for his retirement, it likely played a role. For his part, Urschel states that he just “stopped liking football as much as he liked math.”
What I love about Urschel is that during the prime of his career, he remained unwilling to choose. That in the face of two incredible interests, two incredible talents, and two incredible drives, he chose neither – this despite the fact that he fit in with neither group as a result. He is living proof that no matter how much our skill sets may vary, it behooves us to nurture them all – you never know where you might end up.
For those interested, I enjoyed this article on where he is now: https://hmmdaily.com/2018/09/28/john-urschel-goes-pro/.