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UTEP athletes find love on and off the field

Photo courtesy of Aaron Jones
Aaron Jones tries to find time with girlfriend Nicole Lindsay while preparing or the NFL Draft.

For college athletes, dating can be a difficult task. When you are an athlete dating an athlete, that task can become even more difficult.

The grind of a full school schedule combined with workouts, study hall hours and meetings can take up an immense portion of a UTEP scholar-athlete’s time. It can be difficult to spend quality time with a significant other. In talking to a variety of athletes from different sports and settings, it becomes clear that despite the difficulties of a packed schedule, relationships can actually enhance the college experience and even produce better results for athletes.

Bri Barreiro, a soccer player for UTEP, is in a relationship with softball player Miranda Gutierrez.

“It’s certainly difficult to find time when the both of us aren’t tired,” Barreiro says. “Often times, working out can be our main time together, but we love it and it’s something we both enjoy.”

For star running back Aaron Jones and his girlfriend, soccer player Nicole Lindsay, distance can be a major issue. Currently training for the NFL combine, Jones is at a workout facility in California with some of the top NFL prospects in the country.

“Certainly distance can be a problem,” Jones says. “In El Paso, things were a little easier from a dating perspective. We were both in the same city.”

Jones said that when a couple is far apart, communication is key.

“We don’t talk every second of the day,” Jones said. “We both have busy schedules and understand that support is the most important part.”

Sterling Napier, a football player heading into his senior season, is married to a New Mexico State track member, Alex Napier. Although they attend rival schools, Sterling says that they do not let their competitiveness get between them.

“We both have an edge, and get pretty riled up around our games (against NMSU and UTEP). We never let it boil over to the rest of our lives, and keep a friendly household during these rivalries,” Sterling Napier said. “Happy wife, happy life.”

The Napiers live right on the border of Texas and New Mexico, providing a near equal driving distance for Alex to go to NMSU and Sterling to make the trek down I-10 to El Paso.

Spending time together comes almost naturally for married couples doing everyday tasks, but what about couples who are still in the dating phase?

For Barreiro and Gutierrez, their time together, when not working out, often consists of doing the same things as most college students.

“Often times our dates include staying in and watching movies or doing homework,” Barreiro said.

Gutierrez says that she and Barreiro just try to make the most of their time together. “Sometimes it’s a simple lunch date with her (Bri), that takes away from the stress of the week and makes everything better,” Gutierrez said.

For Jones and Lindsay, physical dates are not as frequent anymore due to the distance.

“It was easy when we were both in El Paso, but with me being in California and her in El Paso, it’s a little trickier,” said Jones. “I’ve come to appreciate when we FaceTime and talk more, as it gives me a break from the grind to relax and talk to her.”

Jones was in Houston for Super Bowl weekend and said he was very happy to see Nicole again.

“After being separated for a while, it’s great to see her in person,” said Jones.

For the Napiers, the duty of playing sports with different seasons at different schools can create a feeling of distance in its own right.

“Certainly in season, we often times are apart frequently,” said Sterling. “During the crux of football, I’m at school from 6 a.m. to 6 or 7 p.m. If it’s an away game, I may not even be home from Thursday to Saturday night.”

So how do the Napiers make it work?

“We understand each other’s schedules,” said Sterling Napier. “We know how demanding it can be, and support one another as best we can.”

Gutierrez notes that at the end of the day, their support for one another is unparalleled.

“We’re at each other’s games as much as is possible,”  Gutierrez said. “Sports are draining and take a toll, but knowing that you have a fan that you care about at every game makes the process easier.”

Jones said he and Lindsay are always looking forward.

“As I prepare for the NFL, she’s been with me every step of the way. Those little displays of support mean the world to me,” said Jones. “I look forward to getting to FaceTime her at the end of the day when I’m tired and drained.”

In the case of the Napiers, their marriage is running smoothly despite the rivalries with their schools.

“At the end of the day, she knows I support her immensely and I know the same for her to me,” said Sterling Napier. “It’s all a fun rivalry at home. We bust each other’s chops when it comes time to compete, but at the end of the day, I’m her biggest supporter.”

Motivation is key, and it’s a consensus that having someone to lean on for support makes all the difference in the world.

“Brianna has motivated me and inspired me in so many ways, and I can honestly say that I’ve never been happier,” said Gutierrez.

The consensus from these athletes seems to be that dating—or marrying—another athlete can most definitely be a positive thing. Having the support system of someone to love is a big help in college and as an athlete.

It appears that it is even more important when that person can understand first-hand what it is like to compete at the Division I level day in and day out.

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Augie Touris, Contributor
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UTEP athletes find love on and off the field