A look at Lauren Spring’s extracurricular calendar makes one wonder how she manages her busy life as a student-athlete at the Ohio State.
Let alone carry a 3.47 grade point average (4.0 last semester) or captain the Buckeyes women’s hockey team to unprecedented program heights this season, but how fitting that her hockey academy in British Columbia was called the Pursuit of Excellence?
“I can’t figure out how she’s wired,” Ohio State head coach Nadine Muzerall said. “I can’t figure out how to implement it to anyone else. She is a rarity, but she is just driven. Some things might not come easy for her, but I think that’s why she is driven to be successful.
“It’s infectious. People should be learning from her. She’s a really, really special kid.”
From teaching America’s youth to clothing the needy, it’s only fitting that Spring is one of five finalists for the Hockey Humanitarian Award, given annually to the finest citizen in college hockey. The winner of the award will be announced on April 6 as part of the men’s Frozen Four in St. Paul, Minn.
It’ll be something if Spring can carve out enough time out of her busy schedule to make the trip.
Spring’s schedule is atypical of a senior who only has two classes separating her from a degree in Physical Education and Health. Waking up at 5:30 a.m. daily to prepare for her student-teaching at a local elementary school, Spring leads five 45-minute physical education over the course of a day that goes from 7:30 a.m. to 2:15 p.m.
From there, Spring drives back to hockey practice for a 2:30 film session, a practice that goes until 4:45 p.m., and an occasional lifting session that goes until 6 before she goes home to pack a lunch, develop the next day’s lesson plan and tie up any loose ends.
“My school has been absolutely awesome about it,” Spring said.
But while Spring jam packs her schedule on a daily basis, it’s only the tip of the iceberg.
In the classroom, Spring was honored by SHAPE America – Society of Health and Physical Educators – as a Major of the Year award recipient. The award celebrates outstanding undergraduate students in the health, physical education, recreation and dance professions who are nominated by a faculty member.
“Her work ethic, enthusiasm, dedication, motivation, tenacity, and insight provide a wonderful role model for her peers,” said Dr. Sue Sutherland, an associate professor in the Department of Human Sciences, in a statement nominating Spring for the award.
Outside the classroom, Spring is a frequent presence in the Columbus community, organizes community service projects for the team, including physical education projects, trips to Meals on Wheels food bank events and helping run scoring tables at wheelchair rugby events.
Even with all that, Spring doesn’t let the city limits slow her desire to give.
In May 2017, Spring joined 10 other Ohio State student-athletes on a trip to Ecuador with Soles4Souls. Based out of Nashville, Soles4Souls advertises itself as “an organization that collects new and used shoes and clothes from individuals, schools, faith-based institutions, civic organizations and corporate partners,” and distributes the donations around the world and providing small programs designed to create jobs in disadvantaged communities.
Following that credo, Spring helped clothe the needy and meet with locals to help develop positive relationships.
“I’ve always wanted to do something where I could give back to people who aren’t in a position to be as fortunate as we are in America; I’m grateful for that and it’s one of the reasons why I wanted to join the organization,” said Spring of Soles4Souls, which has distributed more than 30 million pairs of shoes in 127 countries. “We wake up every morning and have 10 different shoes we can pick from. Those kids were wearing shoes that were homemade, worn by 10 different siblings or weren’t wearing shoes at all.
“To size that kid’s foot for the first time, wash their feet and give them a brand-new pair of shoes, to see how something so small could put such a big smile on somebody was an extremely rewarding feeling, and all it was was a smile … There’s really not a lot of words to be able to describe that and watch that.”
Spring got the niche for giving back from his parents. Her father, Don Spring. was a defenseman for Team Canada at the 1980 Olympics and also played with the Winnipeg Jets. Her parents taught her to be grateful, appreciative and to give back from her place of privilege, having the seed planted for her life’s work by volunteering at hockey camps to work with kids.
She also learned to be a pretty dedicated hockey player, having played in every game throughout her four years, an impressive feat duplicated by her workload.
“In my eight years coaching in the WCHA, it’s a rarity when an athlete can participate in all the games,” said Muzerall, who was a part of six national title teams as a player and assistant at Minnesota. “That’s a credit to her dedication, her commitment to staying healthy to make sure she’s at every game.”
That dedication never wavered, even when things appeared at its worst. Ohio State finished the 2015-16 season 10-25-1 and lost eight of its final nine. Its head coach – Jenny Potter – had her contract terminated five weeks before the start of the season. Muzerall was hired to develop a winning culture but didn’t have the benefit of an entire offseason to set the tone.
So after a 14-18-1 first season, Muzerall encouraged Spring and fellow senior captain Julianna Iafallo to help change the culture, encouraging the team to stay on campus during the summer and pushing her seniors to lead the practices, conditioning and team meetings when she couldn’t per NCAA rules. Spring decided to remain in Columbus all summer, so the program had at least one captain leading at all times.
The results have shown.
Ohio State finished the regular season 21-9-4, nationally ranked and having an eye toward the school’s first NCAA tournament appearance.
“She was able to be my right-hand man (last) summer because I didn’t have an associate head coach, I didn’t have an assistant head coach, I didn’t have a director of operations,” Muzerall said. “I was doing four jobs, so I really relied heavily on some feedback from Lauren because she was the voice of the team. She really helped shape our culture for this coming season and I very much believe our success is related to the culture we created.”
The journey, Spring admits, has taught her how to handle adversity and allowed her to prepare for challenges that will undoubtedly come after her hockey season is over. She’s applying to grad school and looking for a teaching job.
Whatever she does, her goal is clear.
“I want to be around kids and impact their lives,” she said, “And help teach them things hopefully within the classroom that they can take and use in their daily lives. As a teacher and an educator, it’s helping kids be successful in life.”