By Emma K. Shibley, For The Miami Student

Since late October, sophomore Abby Hermesch hasn’t had weekends.

Each Friday afternoon she packs up and leaves Oxford to join 43 of her favorite people and a veritable army of instructors somewhere in the Midwest to play drums in a gym.

She’s a second-year member of Rhythm X, an Ohio-based competitive percussion ensemble of college-aged kids from all over the country.

The ensembles spend months of rehearsal perfecting a seven-to-eight-minute show. The final product involves choreography, costumes, backdrops and props.

Rhythm X is just one percussion ensemble among hundreds from across the world that converge in Dayton, OH for Winter Guard International’s Sport of the Arts World Championships.

“It’s such an all-encompassing thing,” Abby said. “It’s a lot easier for me to get invested in [performing] because the show has a purpose and you’re portraying a theme. You can kind of put your soul into it.”

But those fulfilling, life-affirming moments don’t come without a cost. Abby often finds herself walking up the hill from Ditmer parking lot with blistered hands from playing the vibraphone morning to midnight and tired muscles from sleeping on a gym floor.

Those walks usually happen around 10 p.m. on Sunday nights in the cold. She worries about a big test coming up, probably the next morning. Sometimes she wishes she wasn’t doing Rhythm X at all.

“What am I doing with my life?” she thinks, panicked. “I’m not gonna get good grades, I’m not gonna have friends, I’m not gonna have a boyfriend.”

Maybe this isn’t what she’s supposed to be doing with her college experience.

Abby pauses, thinking, before coming back to the present.

“I don’t know,” she shrugs. “Trade-offs.”

Because, despite the tension between her life here and her life there, Abby loves Rhythm X — the music, the traveling, the medals, the people.

“Being in a place where you feel accepted and welcomed and like a badass and where you can be really good at something, that’s really important to your college experience,” she said. “That’s where you’re really gonna grow as a person and feel confident that you can be the person who you are.”

On Sunday, April 17, the competition season will end and Abby can return to her normal college experience until the audition process starts again in the fall.

But the WGI rulebook includes an age limit. Once she turns 23, Abby will have to say goodbye to this demanding, rewarding, hard-to-explain winter life. Until then, she plans to leave it all on the competition floor.

“I’ll never be too old to travel, to get a job,” she said. “It sounds so dumb to say follow your dreams, but … you only get these four or five or three years once.”