by Eric Gollannek
For Alyssa Neumen, ‘Michigan movement’ has always been a team sport. She’s lived the role of student athlete since elementary school, first as a gymnast and then as a founding member of the Rockford lacrosse team. She went on to excel on the women’s lacrosse team at Grand Valley State University and as a recent graduate, she’s continued to keep herself in the game, serving as an assistant coach for the women’s team this year. Her role in building traditions at Rockford and GVSU embodies the values of care as does her work supporting and advocating for student athletes as a coach and mentor.
Alyssa’s active living story, not surprisingly, starts close to home; her family always placed importance on the student athlete experience. While Alyssa spent eight years deeply immersed in gymnastics, it was her dad’s influence that led her to lacrosse. Her dad grew up in Long Island and played lacrosse there prior to resettling in West Michigan. As a 6th grader in Rockford, she found herself in the right place at just the right time as lacrosse took off as a ‘new’ sport in Michigan. She earned her spot on the 7th-8th grade team as a young athlete and enjoyed the experience of playing on the first state championship team for Rockford! As the sport has taken root, it’s become a family affair. Her mother (Sarah) and father (Mark) are both immersed in the sport with Mark serving as the JV coach for Rockford and Sarah running the middle school program. All four of her younger sisters have also played on the Rockford team: her sister Erica is currently on the team at GVSU; Becky recently graduated after playing for Rockford; Brooklyn currently plays for Rockford and is committed to play at UNC; and Alexis (in 6th grade) currently plays for Rockford.
Though lacrosse has experienced rapid growth in popularity in Michigan only recently, lacrosse is an ancient game, played for hundreds of years in the Great Lakes region by ‘First Nations’ people, especially among the Iroquois. The sport took shape in its modern form by the late nineteenth century across a territory overlapping that of the historic areas of the Iroquois confederation: northern New England, Quebec, and Ontario. Often referred to as ‘the fastest game on two feet,’ women’s lacrosse is a game of finesse and teamwork. Alyssa describes it as a blend of basketball, hockey, and soccer with notable differences in physical contact between the men’s and women’s games.
Nevertheless, the intensity of year-round elite level play can take its toll and a back injury in high school impacted Alyssa’s ambitions. After her recovery, she found a home at Grand Valley where she enrolled as a Biomedical Science major with an eye towards medical school. The program is one of the most rigorous at GV and she balanced that with lacrosse. “College was extremely challenging as a student athlete,” Alyssa says. “I always wanted a career helping people but by my junior year I didn’t see becoming an MD as my next step.” She completed her Biomedical Sciences degree along with an Anthropology minor this past spring and took stock of her life’s journey. “I always thought life moved in a straight line but I’ve learned it’s not so straightforward.” With her passions for public health, mental health, and nutrition, she sees a future for herself as a coach and mentor “giving back to the student athletes and helping players on and off the field.” She could also see herself as an administrator in an athletic department, continuing her work in “building up a tradition of excellence” in women’s sports.
Alyssa credits her time at Gazelle with giving her balance between lacrosse and a broader view of healthy lifestyle in her community. Her sister Erika recently joined the Gazelle Sports team, ‘making movement across the Mitten’ even more of a family affair. Learning the culture of running and helping a broad spectrum of customers has helped her in her own running goals. “It’s helped me explore running for enjoyment rather than as punishment,” she smiled. Alyssa has marathon training on her list of personal goals, building on her two-time success in the Bridge Run. Thinking about her compact schedule as an assistant coach, she observed that “If the weekends line up right, I think I can run the Gazelle Girl half marathon this spring.”
Reflecting on her journey and asked what wisdom she shares with student athletes and customers alike, Alyssa didn’t hesitate. “Enjoy the process,” she says. It can be easy to get locked into a goal or outcome, but it’s often the ride more than the destination that creates our most lasting memories and accomplishments.