Charles Bickford #53
Finding My Path
My experience at UMA started as many others that consider pursuing a degree along mid-coast Maine and that was by taking the initial step and setting up a meeting with Beverly Bayer at the UMA Thomaston Center, now the University College Rockland. After walking into her office in August of 1996 I said, “I want to become a registered nurse; can you help map out the courses I need to do that?” and that was the beginning of my UMA education.
Over the next 4 years I worked towards my goal and in July of 1999, when I was checking the mail, I was overcome by emotion as I received a notice from the Maine State Board of Nursing that I had finally achieved my goal of becoming a registered nurse.
6 years later in 2005 I decided to return to school to pursue my B.S. at UMA and in the process, I was asked to complete a returning student survey. After asking me about my nursing career, family, locale, goals, etc., she asked about personal interests/hobbies and happened to mention my love for basketball. Not more than an hour later coach Jim Ford called me to talk about the basketball program at UMA. I explained that I had played in Connecticut previously, failing to mention that it was 27 years ago when I did play.
That night I found myself driving 64 snowy miles to a practice in Belgrade to play against kids that were almost a third of my age and still had two good knees. I thought my basketball career was over after playing for Manchester Community College in the ‘70s and here was Coach Ford offering me a spot on the team. Between working full time, raising a family, and taking classes it was difficult to see how I would manage to make the hour commute to campus to pursue a second chance at a sport I loved. Coach Ford and the staff at UMA helped me find a way to balance it all and make going after this dream a reality.
Lessons from UMA
The greatest thing I learned while at UMA was to prioritize my goals and harness my passion to go after them. It was overwhelming at times balancing family and work while being a student-athlete but by staying focused on what was important I am left with memories to this day that I cherish because of the amount of work that went into making them.
While at UMA I also learned to strengthen my work ethic. I had only scratched the surface while in nursing school and I had to dig even deeper during my student-athlete-dad period as each day was critical in the following day’s success. I had countless favorable experiences while at UMA and some of my most treasured memories are the ones that I shared—not only with my teammates—but with my children, as they were able to see the fruition of my hard work and sacrifice when they came to cheer me on.
This is a time in my life that I can always look back on as a reminder of what committing yourself completely can yield and I try to carry this into everything I have done since graduating.
Coach and Mentor
After the first practice Coach Jim Ford opened a door that I thought had closed years ago for me, giving me a second chance to pursue a dream. At no point did he make my age an issue, and he treated me like every other player on the team and mentally being older than my teammates suddenly did not seem like an issue. He gave me the chance to prove the only limitations we have are the ones we place on ourselves and that if you completely commit yourself something amazing can come from it. I was 52 years old when I played basketball for the Moose and at the time I had a coach that was 16 days younger than me, and by the time I left UMA he was a mentor and friend.
To this day one of my fondest memories was when Coach Ford surprised me with a tribute during Senior Night, the last home game of the season. With less than 20 seconds into the game against Eastern Maine Community College, despite being surrounded by taller players who could outjump me, I grabbed an offensive rebound and quickly hit a short bank shot. My teammates jumped up, elated, as I made my way back to the bench. I came out after three minutes to high fives and hugs from both of my sons, 6-year-old Will and 9-year-old Jordan. It was a perfect moment I forever cherish.
Professional life after UMA
Looking back as someone who left high school facing a possible tour in Vietnam and an unknown future, I have to thank UMA for being the catalyst for where I am today professionally. 10 years ago, a former classmate from UMA told me about a position that opened up at the School of Nursing at Eastern Maine Community College. Teaching had never occurred to me, but I was intrigued so I applied to become a CNA instructor and accepted a position as a member of their faculty. I was an instructor there for 4 years and then took a position as the Director of the CNA Program at Waldo County Technical Center which was closer to home for me. Last week I graduated my 12th class of CNAs and I am proudly able to say there has been a 100% State Board passing rate since taking over the program.
There are instructors at UMA like Professor Seth Widgersen that I am grateful I had the chance to learn from and push me when I needed it. Professor Widgersen awoke something in me that I never knew existed: a passion for writing. He taught me to expect more from myself and to believe I was capable even when events in life made it seem impossible to overcome. I try to do the same with the students I work with today.
I am thankful UMA Coach Jennifer Laney encouraged me to be part of the Alumni Spotlight. We have become friends, through our UMA hoops connection and I'm now a big fan of her program! UMA is lucky to have such quality athletic administrators. Reflecting back on my time has brought back so many fond memories.