College is a very special universe. On one side of the spectrum, there are the students who are solely focused on school. On the opposite side are students who focus on the party atmosphere. Everyone else fits within the spectrum. What the spectrum cannot measure is how well one student can balance school, partying and other activities.
However, there is one student who doesn’t fit within the spectrum. She’s an athlete, which has a spectrum all its own. However, she’s not just any athlete. She’s a student-athlete who finds time to work, be the president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, the Mountain West representative for SAAC and act as an assistant at a dental office. Nevada’s Julia Shelbourn manages to do all of these things and make it look effortless. In reality, a calendar dictates her life, but she wouldn’t have it any other way.
High school acted as a training ground for Shelbourn. She was a year-round athlete in volleyball, basketball and track while also participating in numerous clubs. She joined the Spanish and Future Business of America clubs and became the president of the National Honor Society her senior year of high school.
“I think [high school] was a stepping stone to what she’s doing now, to juggle a daily schedule, to get all of her classroom work done especially when she’s missing [a lot],” said her father, Gale Shelbourn. “I think the basketball athletes are special because they miss so much class. They have to learn things on their own. Her rigorous high school schedule really helped.”
Even though she was involved in so many activities, Shelbourn didn’t let her grades suffer. She put in extra time to make sure she knew and understood the material.
“She was always very focused,” said her mother, Dawn Shelbourn. “She was always trying to get that A in everything. I remember her going into her math teacher before school and after school to sit down and talk with him through problems so she could understand them. She wouldn’t give up until she got through so she understood the material.”
Business has become the norm for Shelbourn. She manages to be a student, an athlete and an employee all at the same time while keeping her grades up. Throughout the year, even during season, Shelbourn works at a dental office here in Reno as an assistant and is sometimes allowed to helped during appointment.
Shelbourn’s dream of being a dentist began when she was in middle school. It wasn’t until she was a junior in high school when she knew that dentistry was for her. Shelbourn was at a recruiting trip for basketball when during the middle of a game, an opponent elbowed her in the mouth while going up for a rebound. Shelbourn felt something in her mouth and tried to get it out. She spat it out to see half of her front tooth in the palm of her hand.
Meanwhile, the player who elbowed her was freaking out. Blood poured from her arm.
Shelbourn played the rest of the tournament without half of her front tooth. When she saw how her dentist fixed the problem she knew right then and there that dentistry would be her future.
“They just put it back in and that was the turning point for me. I really love arts and crafts and stuff so when I saw them put it back in and it was fine, I thought that was crazy.”
The most rewarding part of having a job is that she gets to get off campus. As a student athlete, Shelbourn spends most of her time either in the training room, Lawlor Events Center or in the library. Being able to get off campus allows her to meet and interact with other people.
“It’s great [because] I kind of get that other perspective,” Shelbourn said. “A lot of times we’re stuck here on campus as students and as athletes so when I’m not here on campus I get to communicate with people who have jobs and who are just living their day to day life. It’s fun because I get to be a part of that community. When you’re on campus 24/7, you don’t get that opportunity.”
Nevada head coach Jane Albright knew she was getting someone special when she signed Shelbourn to the team. Albright believes Shelbourn doesn’t just influence the basketball team but influences the whole student body with her ability to lead and follow.
“When I signed [Shelbourn], the superintendent of the public schools [in Wisconsin], not the principal or the teacher, wrote me an email and said [Shelbourn] was the greatest kid she had ever worked with in their school system,” Albright said. “You know you’re getting someone special. Her leadership and her followership are excellent too. I think she’s a great leader and follower, but I really think she influences the whole student body and the Mountain West because being the president of SAAC and stuff. She just gives it all in grades and everything. She doesn’t know how not to give it everything she’s got.”
Shelbourn is able to balance all of these activities because of one 12-month booklet. A calendar rules Shelbourn’s life. It’s become her keeper, and Shelbourn can’t do or plan anything without consulting it. If she doesn’t consult it, she risks events overlapping or promising herself to one thing when she has to be somewhere else.
Since she has a calendar, Shelbourn is able to plan her day meticulously. She knows she has to wake up at a certain time, go to work at another time and end her day in the library studying. Teammate Aja Johnson explains that she has never seen Shelbourn sweat because Shelbourn has her day planned to a T.
“That’s the thing about is that she’s such a professional and that she plans everything out so well that you never ever actually see her sweat,” Johnson said. “She always has a plan, knows what she needs to do, when she needs to get it done. I’m like ‘did you do that assignment?’ [She’s like] ‘yeah I did it two weeks ago.’ Julia’s just on it, and I think when you’re the president of so many different things and you’re so involved, you kind of have to be on top of everything. She just does it perfectly. She makes it look easy.”
Shelbourn may make things look easy, but she gets overwhelmed like any other student. She does a good job of hiding it, but her mother can always see through the facade. Call it a mother’s intuition, but Dawn Shelbourn can tell just by the tone of her daughter’s voice that something is wrong.
“I can just tell when I’m talking to her on the phone when she’s getting to a point of being overwhelmed because I have been there all of her life,” Dawn Shelbourn said. “Just the way she will talk about certain things over the phone to me or when she will call me at a time that I can tell the reason she’s calling is because she’s overwhelmed.”
Shelbourn loves being in all her activities. She knows that as soon as she stops enjoying something, it’s time to move on. What she doesn’t like is being pigeonholed into one persona. Shelbourn doesn’t want to be known solely as a student athlete. She wants the outside world to view her as a regular college student working for experience.
“A student athlete is what people see me as on campus, but when I’m in the dental office, I don’t want to be seen as that. I want to be seen as a normal college student who’s trying to go to dental school. When you add everything else in, it makes people focus on ‘wow you’re crazy busy.’ That’s not what I want. I want them to think ‘wow when’s she’s here, she’s giving it all she has.”
Nicole Skow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @TheSagebrush.