Reflections of a(n in denial) Senior Student-Athlete

Today marks one of many last “firsts” in my soccer career.

Last first day of preseason. Check.

Last first full field scrimmage of the year. Check.

Today: My last “first” home exhibition of the year.

When you start recognizing these things, as I’m sure many of my fellow seniors will agree, it can quickly propel you into a state of mind that can be labeled (politely) as reflective. (Others might call it panic, bitterness, sadness, denial….) And so, reflect I will.

When you’ve been doing something as long as myself and my fellow teammates, you come across your fair share of folks who question your mental state for being so committed to something so taxing. They wonder (sometimes internally, other times to your face) “What is wrong with you? It’s just a game.” They stare at torn knees, busted ankles, bruises, scars, and schedules a high-achieving CEO would admire and they ¬†continue to inquire, “Is it worth it?”

Well, I can say there were more than a few times that I may have wondered the same thing. When I was 10 and my best best best best best friend was having a sleepover and I had to tell her I couldn’t go because I had a soccer tournament, I wondered “Is it worth it?” I wondered again as I willingly (okay, okay, semi-willingly) woke up at 7 a.m. in the Spring (our off-season mind you) to knowingly enter into torture (alright, others call it conditioning, whatever). Again the skepticism creeped in as I sat in the hospital with my third concussion in three years. As I watched teammate after teammate suffer torn ACL’s, concussions, broken bones, their words echoed in my head:

“What on earth is wrong with you? It’s just a game. Is it worth it?”

Yet, here as I sit counting down the hours to my last “first” exhibition, it is not doubt or skepticism or regret that dominates my emotions. Instead, it is thankfulness. Because when the trophies get lost, the memories begin to fade, game scores and statistics become simply numbers on a page, and when I finally hang up my cleats and my gloves for the very last time, there will be one thing that endures forever: the relationships.

Soccer brings people into your life that you would most likely never have had the chance to meet otherwise. Whether it be due to geography, or personalities, or any other normal circumstance that interferes with relationship beginnings, soccer takes fate into its own hands. I have friends scattered across the country thanks to the beautiful game. Up and down the East Coast I’ve got girls who I can say I had the fortune of playing with. From Michigan to Florida, my crazy expansive web of soccer friends and acquaintances spans time zones and generations, as does any girl you ask who’s been at it long enough. It has brought me lifelong friendships that without it, had infinitesimal chances of ever beginning.

Another amazing thing about being a part of a team is that just about every year, you’re bound to get somebody new. Whether it be one person or perhaps a big group of freshmen, you find quickly that not getting along only lasts so long when you’re trying to accomplish the same goal. Whether you truly like them or not, you learn to respect each other, and eventually, maybe against both of your better judgment, you find yourself willing to do anything for them. This is what makes a team, a team.

Sports are unlike any other groups that you could imagine. Sure, every “team” has their bonding exercises and trust falls. They have their social time and their serious time. But I bet most people in an office couldn’t tell you a time when one of their coworkers sacrificed the well-being of their body for them. Or a time when they witnessed their “teammate” in a moment of pure joy, or pure defeat.

Tears. Blood. Sweat. Victory. Defeat.

These are what make athletic teams more than teams. These are the bricks that have built the families that I have been a part of for the past 18 years of my life. These are the ties of sisterhood impenetrable to time or to distance.

And these families, the girls who I have met over the years — the ones who I have celebrated with, cried with, fought with, struggled with, lived with, learned with, and oh yeah, played with — each and every one of them are the individual reasons that remind me that I’m not crazy.

They are the reminders that no matter how much I have given to the game — physically, mentally, emotionally, temporally — it has given me thousandfold more.

So, I guess there are plenty of things wrong with me (why I else would I blissfully throw my body in front of balls flying 40+ MPH at my face?), but soccer is not one of them.

And yes, it was, and still is, very much worth it.

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