For our final Valentine’s Day edition of Student-Athlete Alumni Spotlight, BelmontBruins.com checks in with Ester and Matt Fiedler.
Ester was a two sport athlete at Belmont from 2006-2010, competing in volleyball and track and field. In volleyball, she played in 169 sets and was a member of the 2008 NCAA Tournament team. While in track, she earned All-Conference honors in the javelin in 2011 and currently holds the school record in the javelin. Matt was a member of the track and field team from 2006-2011. He won the A-Sun title in the decathlon in 2011 and was a two-time All-Conference performer.
Why did you choose Belmont?
Ester: I had already mentally decided to go to a different school to focus on academics when Deane called in December of my senior year. However, as soon as I stepped on campus in Nashville for my visit, I knew Belmont was going to be it. The city, the teammates, and the campus--it all drew me in & I had such an overwhelming sense that Belmont was the place for me. Not only would I get the chance to challenge myself academically in the Honors Program, but I’d also get to play Division I volleyball (and later throw Javelin for the Track & Field team)--everything I could want from an undergraduate degree.
Matt: I, like most kids, originally came to Belmont wanting to pursue music business. I didn’t know much about the school and thought it was a bonus if I could study music and run track. After a few meetings with Coach Langdon, he agreed to let me walk onto team my freshman year.
What is your fondest athletic memory at Belmont?
Ester: Breaking the school record in the Javelin. My weight coach, Josh McMillian, had encouraged me to try throwing the spear during fall of my junior year. Lo and behold, I ended up loving it & broke the record that spring.
Matt: My fondest memory as an individual competitor was winning the decathlon my senior year. It started / ended before the rest of the meet so there weren’t a ton of people in the stands but everyone I cared about – my coaches, my teammates, and my family, Ester (my then girlfriend and now wife) – was there to celebrate with me as I crossed the finish line.
Who had the biggest influence on you during your athletic career at Belmont?
Ester: Colleen Nilson. She was a senior when I was a freshman, but lucky for me, she didn’t let our age keep us from becoming close friends. Colleen demanded our best on the court -- she pushed us all to work hard, but loved us no matter what happened. She’s a true competitor in every sense of the word (her awards & athletic accolades speak for themselves) and I love her for it. She came back all the time after she graduated for games, senior night & just because. She listened to us complain about preseason each year, and made sure we weren’t taking any of it for granted. I lived with her freshman year when I met Matt, and she provided us the encouragement we needed to start dating--she’ll forever take credit (rightfully so) for the success of our relationship. I lived with her again in Chicago a few times, and then had her as my maid of honor at our wedding. I couldn’t be more thankful for her role in my life in athletics, post-college and beyond. It’s something special when you can say you’ve been on the line together for punishment shuttles, dragging each other over the finish line, and then have these same people stand up in your wedding supporting you in the next era of life.
Matt: My teammates, hands down.
The reason I wanted to do track at Belmont was largely because of the relationships I had formed with my teammates in high school.
Track is a funny sport… it’s actually kind of miserable when you think about it. But because of that, the bonds that are formed with the people you share the track with are really special. A lot of sports liken their experiences as going to war or going to battle with their teammates and I feel the same is true with track. That sounds more macho than it actually is though.
My teammates from Belmont are still some of my best friends and have had a lasting impact on my life. They’re people I’ll always share that special bond with and will be people I’ll always care about. My family is a part of their lives and their families are a part of our lives. I don’t have many other friends like that.
It’d be unfair to fail to acknowledge my coaches as well, particularly my individual coaches (Josh “Team / Richard” McMillian, Kevin Yeager, Cameron Harvey). I spent more time with these people throughout my career than I think any of us would care to admit but I have a great deal of respect for them. They really did teach me the value of hard work.
What is the most valuable thing you gained or learned from your time at Belmont?
Ester: The opportunity to push myself in multiple areas of my life beyond what I thought I could handle. I’ve found that going to those uncomfortable lengths & learning how to harness the stress that arises to actually be a motivating factor, has exponential rewards. I’m thankful that I had people at Belmont who supported me through these times, and encouraged me when I needed it.
Matt: Probably the opportunity to prove myself.
I was an average track athlete when coming into Belmont. My marks were decent but I wasn’t going to lead the team to any kind of championship. Coach Langdon gave me a chance and believed in me enough to let me try. He was the one who encouraged me to try the decathlon. I had no idea what I was getting myself into but he thought I could do it.
I wasn’t really training to impress anyone… I was always competing against myself. Track gave me the opportunity to prove myself to myself. It taught me that, with enough hard work, I can accomplish a lot and I can compete with the best of them. It’s never easy learning something new from scratch but I had to do it, 10 times over. I learned a lot about myself in the process.
The whole process helped me gain a sense of confidence that I don’t think I would have otherwise. I’m confident in my abilities and I’m not afraid to work hard. That’s something I’ve learned is incredibly valuable (and necessary) in the real world.
What advice would you give to current members of the volleyball and track teams?
Ester: Push yourself. Invest in people. Put in the extra hours. You won’t regret hard work. This is a unique time in life that you have the time, and energy to explore yourself & take full advantage of being at a fantastic university surrounded by top-notch people. Soak it in. Go to Frothy Monkey a lot. Love on the city. Lean in to the hard parts.
Matt: Have fun.
It’s not worth it if you’re not willing to have fun. Competing is great; winning is great, but none of that matters if you hate what you’re doing. I was lucky enough to have a really solid team around me. We had some great people and coaches and we had a blast with each other. Trips were fun, meets were fun. Even practice was fun (most times). Having fun doesn’t always mean you’re taking it less seriously, but it loosens you up and, in most cases, will allow you to compete at a higher level.
Who was your favorite professor? Why?
Ester: Dr. Jeff Cornwall. Despite his affiliation to the Green Bay Packers (I’m originally from Chicago & a true Bears fan), he played a pivotal role in my development as a student. His class my senior year opened my eyes to see the possibilities in using my strengths & talents to craft a life + work that I’m passionate about.
Also, Dr. Kristine LaLonde was the Director of Honors Leadership Studies while I was in the program and a fantastic professor. I so appreciated the care and intentionality she put into developing the “whole student”, giving us space to discuss and explore ideas & concepts as maturing adults.
Matt: Jeff Cornwall. He’s the best. He taught me a lot of important lessons around entrepreneurship and is someone I still call regularly. Plus, he’s got a pony tail.
Also, Beverly Alleyne is awesome too. She taught the accounting class that Ester and I met in. We saw her many times after finishing her class and she always greeted us with a smile on her face and remembered our names.
Where do you live now?
Ester and Matt: Boulder, Colorado
What is your occupation?
Ester: I am the Partner Happiness Lead for a company called Calorie Cloud. It’s a platform and set of programs that converts the abundance of calories burned here in the US into lifesaving food for undernourished kids. We currently have two ways we “recycle” the calories -- an adult Workplace Wellness Challenge, and UNICEF Kid Power which focuses on getting kids in the US active to save lives. My role is to work with potential client companies, get a challenge set up with them, coordinate the challenge once they approve it, and follow up afterwards to share the impact their calories have--I love it.
Matt: I co-founded a company called Vinyl Me, Please in 2013 and do that full-time. I’m the CEO so my job is a lot of leadership and management. We’re pretty lean so I’m doing a lot of the day-to-day work as well.
Tell us about your family.
Ester and Matt: We married in 2013 and had our first child last July! Her name is Kinzie James and she has 2 (furry) brothers named Wilco & Wrigley (lab mixes). I just adore them.
Tell us how you met your spouse at Belmont.
Matt & I met in accounting class with Beverly Alleyne. Because of athletics, we had missed the class that put people in groups for a project so we got put in the same group.
Matt: “You’re on the volleyball team, right?”
Ester: “Yeah! You’re on the track team, right? And from Chicago?”
From there, Matt shared that he had started training for the decathlon, which I thought was crazy because my dad had competed in the decathlon in college & beyond and I never thought I’d meet another decathlete in my life. I then saw an opportunity to impress the super cute guy from Chicago & told him that we had a pole vault pit in our backyard at home. He didn’t believe me, so I pulled up Google maps, zoomed into my house and proved it. He was shocked. We started studying together after that, and although it took a few more months, we started dating that summer. Crazy to think back to that time and look at our beautiful daughter now.
Matt: Ha, I love this story...
I was registered to take Integrated Accounting second semester of my sophomore year. For those of you who aren’t familiar, Integrated Accounting is a total beast of a class (2hrs, 3x / week for the whole semester). It was a core class for most majors so it was a big class in one of the nice rooms in Massey.
I and a few other athletes were out of class due to games/meets/etc. one Friday when the teacher had assigned a group project. The next Monday, she wrangled all of us who were out and put us into a group. She gave us the assignment and then left us to work with our group.
I didn’t know anybody else in the group too well but I knew one of the girls was from Chicago (where I’m also from) so we struck up a conversation.
I was wearing a Belmont Track & Field shirt and she asked if I was on the track team. I told her yes and she asked me what event(s) I did. I told her, excitedly, that I had just started training for the decathlon.
I’ll interject and say that the majority of the population does not know what the decathlon is (I barely did either, come to think of it) so I expected the conversation to stop there. But it didn’t.
“Oh, that’s so cool!” she said. “My dad ran track in college and he did the decathlon, too.”
“That’s awesome! Where did he go to school?” I asked.
“He went to SMU. They were 2-time national champions and he competed in the Olympics in 1988!” she continued.
As you could imagine, any chance I thought I had with this girl immediately went out the window. Thankfully, we were forced to work together and our relationship grew from there.
What dating advice would you give to Belmont student-athletes?
Ester: Make sure you know who you are, first and foremost. Use college to explore what “you” looks like and enjoy it! Find someone who supports, encourages, challenges & inspires you on a daily basis. Matt and I were (and still are) best friends before dating & I think that has played a pivotal role in our relationship. I love that we have shared college memories and friends -- our wedding was so fun because of it!
Matt: Hahahaha I hardly remember what it’s like to date in college so I’m probably not the best person to ask… but I’d suggest finding someone you can have fun and be yourself with. Those are the best kinds of people anyways J