Beth Neal ’20 is a three-year player, and current captain, for the Middlebury volleyball team. A neuroscience major with minors in art history and global health from Franklin, Massachusetts, Neal is also a member of the indoor and outdoor track & field teams.
Can you describe the remarkable internship you had last summer?
Last summer, I had the amazing opportunity to work with brain injury survivors, guiding each of them through unique exercise programs. The company I worked at is called Supportive Living, Inc., a non-profit group based around the Boston area. They have several residential and rehabilitation programs, and I had an internship working as a brain injury programming and research assistant in Lexington, Massachusetts.
Over the course of the 10 weeks, I was able to see incredible improvements in their motor function and in their attitudes. Nothing was more rewarding than seeing the huge smile on their faces as they talked about having the strength to do the things they love again or when they finally stood up out of their wheelchairs. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.
As a member of three varsity teams, how do you balance your schedules?
The first time I came to visit Middlebury, I went on a tour and my mom actually asked a very similar question. The tour guide, a member of the swim team, replied “we’re all smart here and she’ll eventually figure it out!” At this point, I know what works for me. If my schedule isn’t always packed, I won’t ever get any of my work done. I love being busy and I love being in season all year.
I’m always asked which sport I like more, but they couldn’t be more different. On one hand, I’m a member of a small women’s volleyball team that feels more like a tight-knit family. On the other hand, I’m a member of a giant co-ed team that makes campus feel so much smaller, but in the best way possible. An hour never passes where I don’t run into one of my track teammates, and I wouldn’t want it any other way!
When you have a free minute, what other activities are you involved with?
This year, I am one of the co-chairs for Relay for Life. I have been involved in the past, but I am excited to take on a new leadership role. We are very excited to introduce a new format this year and we are getting ready to host the second annual Relay for Life 5K during Fall Family Weekend!
I am also looking forward to watching ‘Impact Middlebury’ grow on campus, hoping to raise money and bring awareness to childhood cancer. I have been a member of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) for the last two years. In the spring of 2018, I was a volunteer research assistant for one of my neuroscience professors.
Why did you choose Middlebury?
On one of my visits to Middlebury, I was on my way to dinner with a few members of the track & field team and I asked them why they chose to come here. One of them responded with a smile, “the academics, the athletics, the chocolate milk and the views.” It may seem silly, but that conversation really stuck with me. I think everyone here, coaches, teammates, professors, peers, etc., recognize that student-athletes are here to learn, first and foremost, and I really appreciate the value that everyone places on their education. At the same time, Middlebury students appreciate the little things in life, like chocolate milk and sunsets. And there just isn’t anything better than fall in New England.
When did you become involved with sports?
I actually didn’t start playing volleyball or running track until my first year of high school. Competitive gymnastics took up all of my free time until that point. My dad always emphasized the importance of competing in high school athletics, so I gave up gymnastics and decided to give volleyball and track & field a try. I instantly fell in love with the fast pace of volleyball and the team culture of my track team.
I didn’t really think about continuing into college until my junior year of high school. Starting both sports later than most of my teammates, I wasn’t ready to give them up in just four years. I found that NESCAC schools gave me the perfect opportunity to not only continue with both sports, but to compete at a high level.
What is your #MiddMoment?
My #MiddMoment actually came during volleyball preseason this year. After one of our days with two practices, the upperclassmen had stayed late at dinner to catch up. When we walked out of the dining hall together, we saw the beginning of a beautiful sunset over the organic garden. Despite being exhausted, we immediately sprinted to the nearest car, piled in and drove down to the garden. We sat there, danced around, listened to music, and of course, took lots of pictures. Those nights are exactly what I dreamed of before I came to Middlebury.
Note - The inserted photo above to the left shows Beth working with one of the brain injury survivors in the summer of 2018.