April 19, 2000
by Jane E. Pater
Sometimes it takes a little time away from something that you love to realize the integral role that it plays in your life. Irish senior Mike Pfeffer understood the impact lacrosse had played in his life while spending the 1998-99 school year studying in Rome, Italy as part of Notre Dame’s Architectural Program.
Despite taking full advantage and making the most of all the opportunities that his experience had to offer, (from traveling around Europe to enjoying the fine cuisine), Pfeffer missed the companionship and competition of being a member of the Irish lacrosse team.
He experienced a certain void in his life. For the first time since he was a youngster, he was away from the sport that had been so much a part of his existence. Lacrosse had always provided a release for Pfeffer, practice was a way to escape from the demands and pressure of studying.
Although he looked for outlets, conditions in Rome made it difficult for him sometimes to even work out.
“Going running was even a problem sometimes,” Pfeffer recalls. “Many people smoke and there is a lot of pollution in the city. A couple of times, I went running around the Circus Maximus. I ran around eight times because that was how long the chariot races used to be.”
Without a daily release, Pfeffer took advantage of his extra time, enjoying the culture and his surroundings. After adjusting to life in a different country during the first semester, he fell into a routine the second half of the year, living the life of a typical Italian.
Experiencing a different lifestyle distracted Pfeffer from missing lacrosse, but the sticks in the corner of his room were always a reminder of what he had to look forward to upon his return to Notre Dame. “I knew lacrosse would still be there when I came back,” he says. “I knew I still wanted to play.”
Upon his return in the fall, Pfeffer admits to feeling some apprehension about rejoining his team. He also questioned somewhat what his mental and phsycial stamina would be. The summer he returned home to Wilton, Conn. served as a buffer between his experience studying abroad and returning to school. Being at home for a couple of months amongst his friends and family prepared Pfeffer for the new season and allowed him to readjust to the American way of life. Seeing former high school teammates helped ease the transition as well.
Pfeffer returned to Notre Dame eager to reunite the two parts of his life that had always restored balance: lacrosse and architecture. “For me, architecture and lacrosse have always fit together really well,” Pfeffer says. “Architecture alone is great, but I don’t think I could do it without lacrosse. Lacrosse is the perfect outlet for the stress that builds up. Strange pair, those two. “I always have a lot on my plate,” he adds with a smile.
Despite having a six-credit class that conflicts with practice three times a week, Pfeffer has learned to bargain with both his professors and his coach in order to strike a balance that works for all involved. The willingness to make up missed class time after practice allows him to continue to pursue his two passions.
Adding to his pressures, Pfeffer also has switched to a new position. He has gone from being a long-stick middie to strictly a defensive specialist, a postion he hasn’t focused solely on since his high school playing days.
While the period of adjustment has been a bit longer than he anticipated, being back as a member of the Irish team has been the most important aspect of his return. His teammates and coaches welcomed him back as if he never left.
“I am really proud and excited to be part of this lacrosse team again,” Pfeffer says. “Nothing has really changed. One of the best things about this year’s team is that we’re all so close. Whether you’re a starter or reserve is irrelevant, the most important aspect of the whole experience is being part of the team.”
Pfeffer already is looking forward to joining the team again next year. Because he did not play his junior year while studying abroad, he has another year of athletic eligibility which he will likely be granted while finishing up on his undergraduate studies in the five-year architectural program.
Although anxious to play again next season, he’s not, however, looking ahead to next year as there is plenty more lacrosse to play for this Notre Dame squad.
While few student-athletes have had the opportunities to enjoy the full gamut of experiences that Notre Dame has to offer them, for Mike Pfeffer, it’s just been part of the game.