“You mean Susie Sunshine?” “Are you talking about Smiling Susie?”
That’s what you typically hear in the Kenyon Athletic Center when you mention Susie Gurzenda, a senior on both the Ladies field hockey and lacrosse teams. Irrepressibly enthusiastic, awash in positive energy, and given to affixing the word “super” to adjectives, Gurzenda is more than a breath of fresh air. She’s a cyclone of sportsmanship.
Athletes are often described, first and foremost, in terms of their physical attributes. Gurzenda possesses both speed and brawn. But her all-smiles attitude easily outshines everything else. Her coaches call the Somerset, Pennsylvania, native a “true team player,” “always the first to help,” and “one gem of a human being.” Other coaches, outside of the two sports she plays, have tried to recruit her based almost entirely on character. She has all the ingredients for sound team chemistry and, to many coaches, that’s just as valuable as quickness and strength.
“Sportsmanship is just something I try to focus on,” said Gurzenda, whose upbeat attitude has a perceptible impact on her peers. “I may not be the most skilled person on the field, but I try to make up for that with sportsmanship. I’m just grateful to be out there and to be able to play . . . and that’s my way of showing it.”
Don’t mistake her sunny disposition for softness. Gurzenda is an aggressive, quick defender who’s perfectly capable of pestering an opponent into making multiple mistakes. She’s earned playing time in every game since her first season, and she’s raked in a handful of team awards. Here’s a closer look at some of the things that make Gurzenda impossible not to like.
Stick with what works
Aside from the variety of uniform numbers she’s worn, Gurzenda does not care much for change. She’s used the same stick and fit into the same cleats for the last six years. She also wears the same sports bra each game. Prior to Gurzenda’s arrival at Kenyon, her younger sister, Frannie, gave her a purple tie-dyed sports bra and told her she would make friends if she wore it. It’s become standard gear now for Gurzenda, who says she wears it “not necessarily to make friends, but to remind me of the friendships I’ve made at Kenyon.”
Tanzania to teach schoolchildren in and around the city of Arusha. It was there that she developed an interest in becoming an economics and international studies major. Last year, she returned to Africa, landing in Kenya to learn Swahili and to study international development and public health, fields she hopes to pursue after graduation.
Good hair day
Known as the team hair-braider, she takes time before each game to outfit teammates with functional and fashionable hair styles. She says the one-on-one time gets her focused and allows her to reflect on the reasons she is playing collegiate sports. Depending on demand, appointments are sometimes necessary.
A line crossed
Gurzenda has plenty of confidence in her game. Her comfort zone, however, is decidedly on defense. “I’m terrified when I get anywhere near the offensive side of the field. There’s an immense amount of pressure to endure and creativity needed to take the ball and somehow get it into the back of the net. I’m very impressed by those who can do that. I’m not that kind of athlete. I’m more effective reacting to the situation in front of me.”
Carry the team
Traditionally a menial chore for first-years, the job of carrying water bottles is something Gurzenda still does. She takes a bit of ribbing because of it, but has a perfectly good explanation. “We all play and work together on the field, so why shouldn’t we all take care of each other and work together off the field?”