Nathan McLaughlin found himself during his time at Seattle University.
A member of the cross country and track teams, the redshirt senior is seeing his time at Seattle U finally come to an end. It’s made him start reflecting on his time there.
“I’m entering a time in my life where school is ending, cross country is ending, I just ended my volunteering at the hospital, a lot of my friends have left the area,” McLaughlin said. “So I’ve had time to reflect…and think about this experience.”
McLaughlin didn’t always know he would end up at Seattle U. He went to Puyallup High School, not too far from Seattle, and was looking at a few different colleges.
But then, he visited Seattle U.
“Visiting the campus, it was really, really pretty and kind of just seeing the program and how my coach wanted to grow it, and how I wanted to be part of a growing program, that’s what drew me here,” McLaughlin said.
He also believed – and still believes – that Seattle U would provide him with valuable opportunities.
McLaughlin wanted two main things out of his college experience outside of making sure he would be running competitively.
The first: he wanted to pursue a career in health care.
That hasn’t changed. As a science major, McLaughlin is planning on taking the MCAT after he graduates at the end of fall to potentially continue his education in the field.
“This area has a lot of hospitals with a ton of access to physicians or volunteer opportunities or job opportunities,” McLaughlin said.
The second draw to Seattle U was the diverse, liberal community.
This has continued to help shape who he is as a person.
“I absolutely love being in this area,” McLaughlin said. “The school is very social justice-oriented, and over the years I’ve strived to understand that better and to be more aware of those situations.”
McLaughlin is overwhelmingly grateful for that opportunity.
He truly believes that his time at Seattle U – athletically, academically, and personally – has influenced him in a positive way.
“It's really opened my eyes to my own internalized oppression growing up, and also a ton of different backgrounds…allowing me to not only grow in myself, but also grow in understanding others,” McLaughlin said.
He is open in talking about his personal battles, having come to a sense of understanding them over the years.
McLaughlin is half Filipino and half Caucasian, and growing up, balancing that identity was a struggle for him.
“Throughout my life, being a person of color, I definitely wanted white features and I really disliked my features that were not white,” McLaughlin said. “I struggled a lot with that, and identity, and who I was.”
He also wrestled with balancing his faith with his liberal opinions. He grew up loyal to his religion, and still sees that as an important aspect of his life. But McLaughlin is also involved in the LGBTQ community and knows that his faith doesn’t always perfectly match his own belief system.
“Being a Christian was really challenging with what sort of conservative barriers do I have to jump and what difficulties do I have to navigate,” McLaughlin said. “It’s something I’ve struggled with, but I’m much more confident now.”
McLaughlin credits Seattle U with helping him gain confidence.
“If I had gone somewhere else, I don’t think I would’ve been this confident in my identity,” McLaughlin said.
Not only is he more comfortable with himself, but he’s more comfortable talking to others about what struggles and injustices they’re experiencing.
“Being a student-athlete here, being a student here, has totally helped me be who I am right now,” McLaughlin said. “So that whole identity, and then battling faith and battling athletics and the stigma. All these things are huge to who I am right now and I think Seattle U has totally opened my eyes to the love, the acceptance and the social justice that is necessary in so many people’s lives, especially my own life. I feel so much more confident in who I am as a person.”
The social justice piece at the university is a draw for many students, and it has had an impact on McLaughlin.
But, his time in the cross country and track programs has also shaped him significantly.
“This program is really good at making you become a better person,” McLaughlin said. “It really challenges your mental strength and your commitment to things. That’s probably one of the biggest things you can take away. For me, almost five years of competitive running, miles on concrete, dirt, grass, all these things. That’s a pretty big commitment and that’s something I’m proud of.”
McLaughlin also credits cross country with teaching him about integrity. With that, determination and hard work have come into play so that he can achieve his best performance.
“Your muscles hurt, your lungs hurt, there are all these going on, and you can’t fake that,” McLaughlin said. “It’s really about maximizing your own potential and making the most of the day…there are so many days where you feel bad, and you feel tired, and we maximize those times.”
Although McLaughlin said he doesn’t think this season was the best he’s had at Seattle U (he admits that he struggled with mental toughness and motivation mid-season), he still enjoyed the team aspect.
It’s what kept him going.
“You enjoy the team dynamic, the struggle, the solidarity that is founded in that, and just hanging out outside of it, whether it’s studying or whether it’s watching a movie,” McLaughlin said. “All of these things are incredibly valuable, and a lot of people don’t have that experience of being able to be a part of a team you know you’re always going to be a part of while you’re in college.”
McLaughlin has had a lot of fun being part of this program. From pre-Thanksgiving dinner, to Christmas parties, to pre- and post-season gatherings, he wants the group to remain close-knit.
He said he loves that community of teammates and hopes to see everyone thrive athletically, but also enjoy their time at Seattle U.
McLaughlin also hopes to see the program continue to propel forward.
“I think this program has a lot of potential,” McLaughlin said. “There are a lot of people brought in who have so much potential to do really cool things, and I think that’s how the program is headed. We had our second-best finish ever at (NCAA) Regionals without the famous Erik Barkhaus, and that’s something we/they deserve, is to leave a huge competitive race and say, ‘wow, I did that,’ and, ‘wow, this is a product of not just me, but years and years behind me of building a program, and our coach, and the workouts that we do.’”
Athletically, McLaughlin wants to watch the program succeed and build on the past.
But when he reflects personally on his time in college, it’s less about athletic achievement specifically and more about what being a student-athlete and a member of the Seattle U community did for him.
It was almost like an enlightenment period.
McLaughlin said he feels blessed to be in a place where he’s surrounded by people with open minds, and those who can think critically about themselves and issues around them.
He appreciates the conversations around relationships, hierarchies, and institutions he’s had and heard.
“I personally want to be remembered as someone who can have those conversations,” McLaughlin said.
In doing so, McLaughlin wants to discover new ways of thinking and feeling. It’s what he believes he’s started doing while in college.
“I’ve seen what my body can do and what it can’t,” McLaughlin said, laughing. Then, more serious, “I’ve seen formation of my own identity and confidence within that, and expanding upon knowledge scientifically as a science major. Those aspects are something I really want people to take away –Embrace that idea that you’re discovering so much about yourself in this Seattle University community that’s unique to here, and you’re really growing as a person.”
McLaughlin asks questions back during conversations, wanting to get to know people and learn about their lives.
His smile rarely leaves his face except for in the instances when he stops to delve deeper into the conversation. He’s a self-proclaimed introvert, but will talk intelligently and in-depth about his experiences and things he believes in.
It’s an inspiring quality.
“I am proud of this, but I don’t like bragging about it,” McLaughlin started. “I was voted Most Inspirational twice in my time here. I think that does show I don’t need to be a leader who commands the field vocally, or who has to be in charge necessarily, but leading through example or doing what I do, and maybe others will notice.”
McLaughlin has come into his own at Seattle U. His identity has been shaped and his confidence has risen. Social justice, academics, and athletics have all come together to form the perfect combination of personal growth.
There is something poetic about his story. His transparency and authenticity are captivating.
With a sort of calmness, he feels very at peace with his collegiate athletics career and his time at Seattle U.
“Looking back, this is the perfect choice,” McLaughlin said. “In the end, this is where I’m supposed to be.”