Devoted D-III athletes dive into their relationships

Student-athlete couples share how they make it work and Valentine’s Day plans

At a large table in Coates Library, Elizabeth McLaughlin, sophomore accounting major from Houston, Texas, and Eli Greene, sophomore finance major from Sugar Land, Texas, sit close to one another. The two, who have been in a romantic relationship for nearly 18 months, finish each other’s sentences as they answer questions about how they began dating and how they keep their romance alive. McLaughlin and Greene, in addition to being a committed couple, are both two-sport athletes that run cross country and long-distance track and field. They met on Fall 2021 move-in day, connected in a computer science class and have not been apart since, whether on or off the track.

Elizabeth McLaughlin and Eli Greene pose for a picture after a track and field meet at Trinity. (Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Mclaughlin)

“I think we are so lucky … and it’s so fun to have your best friend on the same team as you. You always have someone. I mean, your whole team is going to cheer you on, but you don’t always have someone that’s going to cheer for you even when you’re doing terrible. And [your partner] is always going to be proud of you no matter how bad you do, and that’s really nice,” McLaughlin said.

Echoing McLaughlin’s sentiments, Greene said that it was difficult to focus on the team as a whole at meets because he was often more focused on McLaughlin.

“We’ll always be able to watch each other and have that support. … And no matter what happens during a race, whether it’s really bad, we’ll have each other to fall back on and then we’ll have someone to celebrate with when we do really good,” Greene said.

The two support each other for the big races and every day in between, before, during and after practices. Over extended breaks, McLaughlin and Greene have met up in Houston and ran together to hold each other accountable.

“We really keep each other motivated over the breaks because — oh, my God — it’s so hard to keep doing your runs when you’re not with the team. [So] we meet up and run together a lot. And we always text each other like, ‘Hey, have you done your run yet? Like, go do it.’ So that makes a big difference,” McLaughlin said.

When they are not working out or traveling to meets, they usually can be found together watching movies and eating popcorn, studying or doing their favorite activity — escape rooms. As Valentine’s Day nears, the couple said that they would be celebrating by eating out at Whiskey Cake Kitchen & Bar on the northwest side and bowling.

“Obviously, we’re in college, so we don’t go out on dates a lot because it gets expensive. So Valentine’s Day is an excuse to go out to a restaurant,” McLaughlin said.

“It’s really nice because … it’s more than just a special treat. It’s like we get to really spend everything [on Valentine’s Day],” Greene said.

Sitting at the same table, two days later, was another athlete couple — Yasmin Subawalla, senior political science and economics double major, and Ethan Boyer, senior finance major. Boyer, a wide receiver on the football team, and Subawalla, a short-distance runner on the track and field team and former soccer player, have unique experiences as student-athletes of different sports with different seasons (Fall and Spring, respectively). Over the course of the questions, their connection was palpable, as they listened to each other’s responses intently, engaged in lighthearted banter and greeted several friends that came up to say “hi.”

Seniors Yasmin Subawalla and Ethan Boyer embrace in the outdoors, where they often spend time together. (Photo courtesy of Yasmin Subawalla)

The couple, who began their relationship in the depths of the COVID pandemic, met by chance in a macroeconomics class on Zoom. Boyer said that it was like fate that they had shared the class together, as it was one of only two classes they both were required to take for their majors. They talked throughout the fall semester of 2020 and began their relationship officially on a trip to Enchanted Rock in January 2021.

Their nature trip sparked a love for hiking together and with close friends.

“[Hiking has] kind of become a little tradition for us and our friend group that we do every year,” Subawalla said. “We were like, ‘Okay, we have weekends off. We’re not allowed to do things like indoors or in close contact for too long. Let’s go outdoors. Let’s go on a hike.’ So we’d go to Canyon Lake or we’d go to a park.”

The couple has become accustomed to making and changing plans to see and support one another. They described trying to navigate the practice, game and meet schedules in order to support each other as a balancing act.

“I’d say the nice thing is that it means we’re both able to show up to each other’s athletic events,” Boyer said. “Like she was able to come to my football games in the fall. I’m able to go to her track meets in the spring, so that dynamic does work out really well.”

The couple agreed that their communication has helped them to navigate their relationship as student-athletes while in-season, but also in spring 2022 when they were both abroad. During Subawalla’s semester in London and Boyer’s in the United Arab Emirates, she said that they figured out how to stay connected while honoring the other’s experience.

“I think we’re a little bit more practiced of navigating the system stuff, [like] figuring out how to stay in contact and share stuff, while also giving each other space because it’s a new experience. You want to have the time to learn. You don’t want to be attached to your phone the whole time that you’re going through, you know these new experiences and, you know, living your life. So I think we got a lot of good practice navigating that,” Subawalla said.

Even though Subawalla is in the middle of her track season and Boyer is just starting his spring football season, they said that they still plan to celebrate Valentine’s Day together. It will be their first one in person since the 2021 winter storm when Subawalla and Boyer ended up stranded together in Boyer’s apartment after the roads were too icy and Subawalla’s apartment lost power and water.

“After dating only a month or two, we were still on our best behavior,” Subawalla said. “Like now I think we’ve been together for long enough that it’s like we’re able to do our own thing in the same room separately, so we always laugh about because it was the only Valentine’s Day we had together in person.”

For Valentine’s Day, Boyer said that they would probably make chocolate-covered strawberries and go to a restaurant, commenting that his laid-back approach would probably drive Subawalla and her urge to plan every moment up a wall. This character trait of Boyer, however, is what Subawalla gushed about when asked about the couple’s favorite memory together.

“As per usual, I was stressing and was like, ‘Things are not going to plan,’ and Ethan was like, ‘We can just wander around.’ … I really appreciate him being like, “Well, we can still just walk around town and do this and enjoy that.’ [And] it ended up being a great time,” Subawalla said.

The experiences of both couples show that even though the responsibilities of being a student-athlete are many, romantic relationships can still thrive with support, communication, common interests and a willingness to figure it out.

“And ultimately you know, if you want time, you’ll find a way to make time,” Boyer said. “So we take the opportunities when we can to do little things.”