Jill Shippee On Building UNCUT & Telling The Stories Of Student-Athletes Around The Country

Taking a look at your college career, you've won numerous awards, been an All-American, been All-ACC, and had a lot of success, but looking at some of the challenges that you faced, what would you say is the biggest obstacle that you've had to endure as a student-athlete and how did you get through it?

Jill Shippee: Yeah, I think every year in college has definitely presented its own struggles. I think I could do a highlight reel of challenges for every year and the struggles that I've had., but I definitely think last year was my toughest year. Right before COVID hit, our indoor track season started in January and I actually tore my hamstring after our second meet. So I was out for a little while and was really struggling with being able to come back. I just kind of put a bandaid on it and let it go to see how long it would last. I also knew looking a little bit down the road, the Olympic trials were supposed to be in June. This was January 2020 so they didnt even know what's going on. So it was a really big struggle for me to say, "All right, I know my team is struggling right now they need the points. Do I push through with the torn hamstring in indoor track season and then just get it taken care of afterward? Or do I take care of it right now sacrifice the season right now?" So that was like a big moral battle that I fought for a while. Obviously, coaches are going to say one thing and athletic trainers are gonna say another but it's really just like you and like what you value the most. I decided that I could definitely contribute to the team in more ways than just like points on the track. If I was still injured then I could attend ACCs and cheer everyone on then be back for the outdoor championship. So I decided to get taken care of right away without any question of what my longevity was going to look like that season. Then COVID hit so it erased all the issues honestly. As heartbreaking as COVID was, it was kind of like, "Alright, I know, I'm not letting the team down, I know things are going to be okay." Then going home with COVID and having to do all my rehab on my own was hard. We didn't have the facilities. We couldn't see our athletic trainers or doctors. That was really tough for me to navigate all that by myself. It really instilled this like self-accountability and this like discipline that I probably didn't have before. To be able to do all that at home with nobody watching and no resources was challenging. All I had was a rubber band to do my exercises with so I think definitely last year dealing with that and also COVID was definitely my biggest struggle of college so far.

When I think about going through injuries, a lot of it is mental as much as it is physical. So looking at the rehab that you had to go through from a mental perspective, what was that recovery process for you?

Jill Shippee: So this was like my first major injury. I was really lucky in high school. I kind of had an MCL thing, but that was super easy to fix. Since this was my first major injury, I didn't really know how to cope with that or know what to do. Luckily I had some awesome friends, roommates, and teammates that supported me but it really does come down to how you handle those lonely moments. I remember Saturday mornings when the team was away, I would be rehabbing by myself I would go on the underwater treadmill for like an hour and just do my exercises and stuff and it was really lonely. The worst part was that I was so detached from the team. I wasn't going to practice. I was just going to rehab and then on the days when I would want to rehab outside of practice, I didn't have time to do both so it was like just feeling detached and being removed from the day-to-day structure that you had previously before being injured. That was really what I struggled with the most. So I'd definitely say feeling so lonely and detached from your day-to-day life pre-injury. Then also just like knowing that your steps behind everyone else were probably the things that I struggle with the most and mentally outside of just the physical aspect.

I want to talk about UNCUT as we mentioned before we hopped on and you being a co-founder of the platform, can you dive into how it came about and what the long-term vision is for the platform?

Jill Shippee: Yeah, we started talking about it in the fall of 2018. A group of us met in November at a restaurant and just like kind of spitballing ideas. A friend that I'd had a class with had approached me and asked if I was interested in talking to him and another friend about starting this media platform for student-athletes. I was like, yeah of course. So they explained their rough ideas. It's also interesting how so much of the mold of what we had has shifted and been remodeled into what it is today. It was the three of us and then we brought on two of our other friends who work more on the media, journalism side of it. The five of us started filming stuff that following summer and spring. And then in summer 2019, I was working at an internship and trying to train for international competition and also doing UNCUT stuff, so that was a crazy summer for me, but it's been very interesting to see it evolve and grow. We started it as a platform for student-athletes to share their voices, their stories, and their opinions on things outside of sports. We do a lot of work with mental health, injury struggles, but also student-athletes doing things outside of their sport. We highlight a lot of student-athletes who have found success after college or after sports have ended and stuff like that highlighting the whole athlete, not just the stat sheet. Now we've also grown to eight universities. We have a couple more launching in the next month or so. It's been really fun bringing that platform to other schools for other student-athletes to enjoy as well.

In what ways has the platform kind of opened up your eyes to some of the other obstacles and challenges as student-athletes face aside from your own perspective, being a student-athlete?

Jill Shippee: Yeah, for sure. So we started this my sophomore year. I was still kind of new to the whole student-athlete thing and hadn't really seen too much. But after working on it, I've seen so much and my favorite thing is before COVID hit, we did all of our in-person filmings and I loved hearing the stories firsthand. I don't know much about cameras, and I couldn't really work the microphones. That wasn't really my thing. I was just there as an athlete relations ambassador, but hearing those stories firsthand was amazing. I keep thinking back to an ACL tear story that we did. We sat down with four very good student-athletes to talk about their experience with an ACL injury and coming back from that. And that was probably one of the most emotional ones I've been a part of. Seeing how invested those student-athletes are and seeing how much a huge part of their life is and then having that taken away. That was such a deep, deep episode that we had filmed. And hearing student-athletes talk about struggles with depression, anxiety suicide thoughts was crazy because as a student-athlete, even though you're surrounded by it every day, you never really know how many people are struggling with it so deeply. A lot of student-athletes are prideful. We have so much confidence, and we don't want to expose ourselves like that. With us offering this platform, it allows athletes to be vulnerable and share their stories unfiltered which is something that we're really proud of. So it's been very emotional for me to see other student-athletes become emotional like that.

What advice would you give your younger self coming in as a freshman to UNC? Obviously, you've done amazing things in your time there but is there anything that you wish you would have done differently or wished you would have known coming in as a freshman?

Jill Shippee: I think a lot of D-I student-athletes come in thinking, "I was the best in my high school, or I was the best in my state." I've seen it happen so many times where everyone gets disappointed when they come in freshman year and you went from being this big fish in a small pond to being now a small fish in a very large pond. So that was me during freshman year. I was a little overwhelmed and was struggling to find that success that I had my senior year in high school. I found myself looking up track statistics, what everyone was throwing, what everyone was doing and I wasn't really focusing on myself. I struggled so much comparing myself to others and comparing my progress and what I was doing to what others were doing, and it was so mentally and emotionally exhausting for me to keep up with that. It took a toll on my physical ability. In the back of my head, everything was going on, like what are other people doing. What is everyone else doing? Who threw what this weekend? Was that a record or whatever? But being able to channel that after my freshman year ended and started to approach it, saying it doesn't matter what other people are doing because I know if I do what I'm capable of it doesn't matter what anybody else is doing. Just learning that lesson of running your own race. At the end of the day, comparing yourself to others isn't gonna help anything. You can learn things from others, but you can't sit there and analyze what others are doing and compare it to yourself. So that was the big thing. For me, I would tell any incoming freshmen that what you're doing is so detached from what everyone else is doing that you just need to kind of focus on yourself. And if you get yourself right, then everything's gonna be good.

They always say comparison is the thief of joy, right?

Jill Shippee: Yeah, absolutely!

Lastly, what does happiness mean at this point in your life?

Jill Shippee:  A couple of friends and I were just talking about how old we feel and how mature we've gotten, and how everything has shifted, but I'd say happiness at this point is just honestly like having good connections with good people. I'm big on the people you surround yourself with provides you the most happiness and what you choose to do is a big component of how happy you're going to be so I think the biggest thing for me.

I love it. Well, thank you for your time, Jill! Looking forward to seeing your success in the future.

Jill Shippee: Well, thank you so much.

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