From early-morning clinicals to afternoon practices to late-night study sessions, the grind truly never stops for Tristan De La Rosa ’18.
He doesn’t live the average college life, but Tristan is no average college student. Being a successful nursing major and a successful football player have one commonality — they both require countless hours and tireless work. At Valpo, though, there’s a second common thread that connects these two very different groups. That’s Tristan, who pulls off the rare juggling act of majoring in nursing while competing in Division I football.
“I enjoy it; it’s not a burden at all,” Tristan says. “I’m a very religious man. It was an epiphany that nursing is the calling for me, and it’s been a blessing ever since.”
Through support from coaches and faculty members alike, Tristan is able to maintain a rigorous course load as well as his status as a valuable member of Valpo’s defensive line.
“Nursing is a big demand on your time,” Valpo head coach Dave Cecchini says. “When you’re already dedicating 20 hours of your week to a sport in season, which Tristan does in the fall, it creates an even greater challenge, because his time demand away from football is that much greater. Tristan does an outstanding job juggling all of those different aspects of his life, and he’s been able to successfully navigate that. That’s what I’m most proud of, because that’s not easy to do.”
Tristan draws inspiration from his late grandmother, who passed away from leukemia because of what Tristan describes as poor health care providers. As a student in Valpo’s College of Nursing and Health Professions, Tristan strives to make an impact in the health care field and to save lives.
The calling to save lives goes back to the summer after Tristan’s freshman year at Valpo. His father Bill, who had previously survived a battle with skin cancer, had developed a stomach ulcer. Although his father was reluctant at first, Tristan encouraged him to go to the doctor. Bill received a CT scan and found out that not only was his gallbladder full of stones, but he also had kidney cancer, which doctors were able to detect and remove.
“He’s been cancer-free for about a year and a half now,” Tristan says. “He’s my ticking time bomb; I’m always worried about him. That’s what pushes me the most. I told him and my mom to give me six months of work after I graduate, then I’m taking them to Italy. I want to get home as fast as I can to see them and be with them. I know he’s a fighter, and that’s what has made me fight through everything I’ve been through.”
Tristan faced an obstacle of his own this past season as he battled through a knee injury to play in 10 games as an impact player on Valpo’s defense. After the fact, he learned that he tore his ACL at the beginning of the season and played on it the entire year.
“I knew it was going to be a great season, so I had to fight through it,” Tristan says. “I think my biggest inspiration was Brandon Doepke ’17. I saw him devastated by injuries two seasons in a row, and every day I saw him motor at practice. I saw him improve each day, and I knew I had to play with him.”
Tristan sat out Sunday practices before the team off day on Mondays as his body needed two days of recovery following a week of work. Otherwise, he made sure he was ready to play and battled through each week of practice.
“When JJ Nunes ’18 went down with an injury, I knew Kye Hall ’18, Kellan Hughes ’18, and I were the grandfathers of the defense,” Tristan says. “We were the only veterans left. I didn’t want to let them down.”
And Tristan sure didn’t let his teammates down, playing with a determination to succeed no matter the pain endured in the process.
“He’s tough as nails,” Coach Cecchini says. “He’s the strongest guy on our football team, and he’s one of the toughest, if not the toughest. He plays a position where he is probably involved in more actual contact than any position on the football field. He’s been our rock in the center of that defensive front for the last few years.”
In the classroom, Tristan has thrived with the assistance of several members of the Valparaiso University faculty.
“I love my teachers,” he says. “Professor Lynette Rayman is amazing. Every teacher I’ve had has been a joy. I’m so blessed to be in our nursing program. Professor Cynthia Felton has been a huge help and very accommodating with working around my football travel schedule. They’re all there for me, and they want to see me succeed. That’s another reason I work hard; I don’t want to let them down.”
Valpo’s nursing program is far from easy, and Tristan believes that’s just the way it should be.
“You don’t want to see someone as a nurse or doctor that doesn’t care and is just picking up a paycheck,” he says. “That’s why it’s so intense. Valpo is a University where we’re going to be stars because we’ve been through a tough program. We have a lot of students who are going to do really well in the health care field.”
As he returns to campus to prepare for the fall season, Tristan knows bouncing back from offseason knee surgery won’t be easy. Then again, nothing has been for the Valpo student-athlete.
“My lifestyle has always been, ‘If it doesn’t hurt, it isn’t worth doing’,” Tristan says. “If it’s not hard, it’s not worth doing. It will be my senior season. I’m done after this, so there’s no other option. I’m not scared of the pain.”