Character Through Sport

April 26, 2012

Michelle Dillingham ’12
Michelle Dillingham ’12 dives for a save. (Photo by Jim Hogue)

When Michelle Dillingham ’12 was 12 years old, she thought she knew it all. In fact, she’d be the first to tell you that it probably took several years before she discovered that she might have something to learn from the people around her.

One of those people was Joe Raymond ’84, the Winter Park girl’s club soccer coach she met more than a decade ago and the man who eventually became one of the most influential people in her life. Dillingham went on to break every soccer record Raymond ever set in his Rollins Hall of Fame soccer career, which goes to show you that she, in fact, did learn a lot from her mentor, but it runs much deeper than simply becoming one of the College’s best goalkeepers of all time.

“Sometimes people’s greatest obstacle is themselves,” said Dillingham, a psychology major who was raised by a single mom. In a lot of ways, Raymond filled the void of a supportive father figure. “Joe has been, more than anything, the person who has pushed me when I needed to be pushed but also the person who could be very calming and supportive.”

When Dillingham was 15, Raymond assisted her through the process of gaining a scholarship to Trinity Preparatory School, a high school Raymond thought could challenge her academically as well as athletically. In her senior year, he encouraged her to pursue an academic and athletic scholarship at Rollins, where he has played the role of assistant soccer coach for more than 20 years.

What followed was a four-year college soccer career that resulted in Dillingham breaking every goal-keeping record in Rollins soccer history. While she’s no doubt proud of that achievement, Dillingham knows that the real rewards haven’t come in the form of trophies but in the development of her character.

“Everyone has an idea of their own limits, and questions what they are capable of,” Dillingham said. “For me, sport shows you how far you think you can be pushed and then pushes you further. You can do more than you think you can. Over many, many years, the excuses started to diminish and what emerged was a happier person.”

This spring, Dillingham had the honor of introducing her mentor as he was inducted into the Rollins College Sports Hall of Fame. “I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for everything you have done for me. I would not be here without the support of you and your family, your belief in my abilities on and off the field, and the occasional tough love, no matter how much I argued against it,” Dillingham said in her speech. “Very rarely do you meet people who change your life, and you have done that for me.”

Raymond is quick to return the accolades. “Michelle is the type of person who steps up to challenges and strives to be the best she can be,” said Raymond, who has mentored many athletes in addition to Dillingham. “I can look past the B.S. and see the desire and the commitment. I’m not going to drag anything out of anyone. I give them the opportunity and they either take advantage or they don’t. Michelle definitely took advantage of all the opportunities that were presented to her. We put her in an environment that gave her the opportunity to excel and she did.”

In a few weeks, Dillingham will graduate, leaving Rollins and her incredible soccer career in her rear view. There’s little sadness in her departure; she’s ready to give up all the traveling and looking forward to feeling more grounded. But there’s also the sense that she got what she needed to get from soccer, from Rollins, and from Raymond, and that she’s ready to stand on her own. “Sports teaches you to just ‘shut up and do it’ and strangely enough, life is a lot easier when you take that approach.”

By Kristen Manieri

Office of Marketing & Communications
For more information, contact

Copyright © 2012 Rollins College, 1000 Holt Ave., Winter Park, FL 32789  407.646.2000

News Archives: