There are approximately 100 African American and other student-athletes of color this school year at the University of Minnesota. In an occasional series throughout the 2016-17 school and sports year, the MSR will highlight many of these players.
This week: Gophers defensive lineman Gaelin Elmore
His story, which is as unique as one might imagine, isn’t that special according to Gaelin Elmore.
Elmore, a University of Minnesota junior communications studies major from Somerset, Wisconsin, received the Wilma Rudolph Student Athlete Achievement Award by the National Association of Academic Advisors for Athletes (N4A) at their conference in June. The organization says they honor student athletes who overcome “great personal, academic and/or emotional odds to achieve academic success while participating in intercollegiate athletes.”
“I was surprised,” said Gaelin. “I was definitely shocked, yet really happy” receiving the award, said the 6’-6” defensive lineman in an MSR interview after a recent pre-season practice. “My story is unique but not special. My battles are not greater than anyone else’s. Everything happens for a reason.”
Homeless multiple times since age five. Ran away from foster homes because of abuse. Watched both parents get addicted to drugs. Separated from his three sisters and three brothers.
“There’s definitely some stuff [I haven’t publicly shared],” continued Elmore. “My best friend when I was in high school [died], and that really affected me a lot, affected me mentally, because it was the day before we played in the [state] championship game. That really changed my mentality in life.”
Despite the many obstacles and troubles that Elmore faced, sports became for him a safe haven, especially when he played football and basketball, sports in which he excelled. “I didn’t have to think about what was going on,” he recalled. “I could get away.
“[Sports] was the only time I wasn’t stressed. I had to be an adult while everyone else were still kids. My life forced me to grow up a lot earlier, and I had to do that at four, five, six years old,” he pointed out.
Elmore’s life eventually took a positive turn while in high school when his then-coach and his wife offered him their home as a place where he could live.
“Yes, I was shocked,” admitted Elmore of Coach Bruce Larson making the offer. “We didn’t have a great relationship at that time. He was just my coach for a season and a half. I didn’t know what to expect at first, and I wasn’t going to go there.
“It was one of the best things that happened in my life,” reflected Elmore, who was one of 16 Wisconsin Scholar Athlete award winners. This past season, he made the Big Ten all-academic team as a sophomore.
He chose Minnesota for college after being recruited by former coach Jerry Kill. “They were the first school that recruited me,” said the junior. “I had a great connection with [Kill]. He reminded me a lot of my high school coach, and that’s what drew me close to him.
“I thought [Kill] could help me grow as a person, as my high school coach did. My coach taught me to use my story to motivate rather than just playing.”
On his academic progress to date, Elmore reported, “I have 8-10 credits left” and then elective courses to take in order to complete his degree requirements. “I came in as a journalism major, so I wanted to do newspaper, radio, television, and things like that. I realized that communications [studies] is a lot of stuff, and I could go and tell my story, use it to motivate others.”
More importantly, Elmore realized that his life experiences, more than the average person might experience at his age, made him a stronger person as a result. “I can’t remember before all this stuff started to happen. I feel like no matter what happens to me, I am going to keep going.
“Stuff happens to everyone,” concluded Elmore. “I wouldn’t be the person I am if not one of those things didn’t happen.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.