Written by: Shane O’Toole, Polymer & Color Chemistry Junior
Entering college is always a blur of excitement, fear, and uncertainty for all freshmen. I had no idea what it was exactly that I wanted to do, or what to even expect of the “college experience.” All I knew as my bags were packed, was that I was going down south for school to study Polymer & Color Chemistry while being a part of NC State’s athletics program. My freshman year at North Carolina State University, I never dreamed that my field of study would intertwine so harmoniously with my passion and love of athletics. Now if you had asked me what Polymer & Color Chemistry was when I first arrived on campus, I would have smiled and simply admitted that I had no clue and that you had the wrong guy. If you ask me now I would still smile and honestly say it’s a little bit of everything, but has such a huge impact on everyone’s life every single day. For the first two and half years of my career at NC State, I was number 47 for the football team playing safety and corner. Following that, I was able to finish my athletic career as the bull pen catcher for the World Series contender baseball team. Athletics has always been a huge part of my life but I never truly appreciated what my major encompassed until I was able see its applications to everyday life, and the impacts it makes to the athletic field.
Learning about synthetic and natural fibers, as well as dyes, pigments, plastics and more, has revealed what a huge role the plastic and textile field is in athletes’ lives, regardless of the level they play at. In sports, it’s always about getting that extra edge; lighter material, stronger fibers, moisture wicking abilities, skin tight feel; anything that can make you that one step faster to allow you to accomplish your goals and win. I started to see the transitions from what I was learning to what I was wearing or using almost instantly as I progressed through my major. The lightest cleats, the most durable performance shirts, the tightest, most flexible, and comfortable jerseys, the strongest helmets were items that I was wearing while contemplating what had gone into making these amazing products.
The best part about plastics and textiles in the athletic field is that there seems to be almost no limit as to what can be imagined and produced to increase performance. When I told most people what I was studying, as well as playing for the school, they looked at me like I was insane and as I advanced in my courses I realized simply that they were right. Undertaking this challenging major while practicing for 5 plus hours a day is not a walk in the park. Unlike many college undergrads, though, I had the opportunity to live out what I am studying and what I ultimately love. With innovative companies in this field like Under Armour, Adidas, and Nike, the field is always open to being faster, stronger, and better. Even though my athletic career has now ended, I can take use experiences, in conjunction with what I have learned in the the Department of Textile Engineering, Chemistry & Science, to improve performance-based equipment in the athletic field. I may have hung the cleats up but I’ll always be a proud member of the Wolfpack and a student of the Wilson College of Textiles at North Carolina State University.