Why it’s so difficult for an athlete to release her sport.

memoriesI’ve played soccer consistently since I was 4 years old. Starting at GBYSA, moving through to Boca United Football Club, Team Boca, American Heritage Delray’s middle school school team, Treasure Mountain’s freshman team, and Boca Raton Community High School’s JV & Varsity teams.

For the longest time, I thought I stopped playing soccer once I entered college because I was being mature. I thought moving through with the next phase of my life meant letting go of my old one. I thought this was growing up. Picking a direction to move in that you had almost a bullet-proof shot of making money at. I didn’t think I wanted to deal with Spring season’s fitness & the vomiting that comes with it. I got lazy, and told myself I wouldn’t be able to handle it. I hadn’t gone far enough in e-mailing coaches of universities I was interested in. I got offers, but I wasn’t interested in any of the schools, and so I just assumed this was the natural end to my 15 years as a soccer player. On top of all that, I knew my size was going to be a problem, especially for the position I was specially trained to play. The center of the field is a brutal place to be, and usually, the broadest, stockiest, & most muscular girls are put there in an effort to dominate the center. I’m 5’7 & weigh about 126 pounds. My coach even told me that if I wanted to play at certain schools, I’d have to get bigger. But I chose not to. I chose to let go of soccer altogether, hoping to find some scrappy pick-up games just to keep me touching the ball.

Of course, I missed the sport immediately. I didn’t know what to do with my time or my thoughts. All I could do was re-live the incredible moments I’d experienced on that field, imagining them all over again, and I’ll even admit I acted them out a few times. And yes, I cried. On multiple occasions.

I thought I’d eventually forget about it, and to an extent, I did. My high school team wasn’t consuming my thoughts anymore. Instead, my head was filled with cramming, weekend plans, due dates, dorm decorating, a long-distance relationship, those types of beautiful college luxuries.

But something was always wrong, and I knew that. But it wasn’t until recently that I realized exactly what makes this so hard.

The people around me kept their “things”. My roommate, suite mate, and close friend at Pepperdine have all been dancers, and they’re involved in something at school called Dance In Flight. They’ve got rehearsal six times a week, and a performance in February. Another suite mate of mine is so perfectly boho-hipster, it HAS to be a full-time job. Another is our drunk social butterfly. Another is our voluntary couch-potato, obsessed with cats & Netflix. Another is our partying coke-whore (just kidding, but not really.)

But I didn’t. The one thing I’d had to identify with my entire life was gone. The one thing I’d worked at being perfect at was no longer a part of my world. The thing people knew me for, watched me do, cheered me on at, was now happening just outside my window, but I was in a desk chair.

I’ll tell you what you don’t realize until you’ve let go of something like a sport. You don’t realize just how good having sore muscles feels, because it means you killed yourself for something. You don’t realize that the crowd’s cheers are a language, one that you speak fluently. You don’t realize that the light but purposeful touch of your foot to the ball is more than an action. It’s a default placement of your existence. A memory your muscle will take years and years to forget. A constant.

I lost more than a sport. I lost more than the relationship with teammates that is honestly impossible to find with anyone else on the planet. I lost more than the feeling of having a coach who was the only person on earth that could convince me that the insecurities eating my mind alive were incorrect.

I lost my identity.

When someone asked, “So tell me about yourself, what do you do?”, my answer had been the same for a decade and a half. “I’m a soccer player.”

Now?

“I go to Pepperdine.”

“I blog.”

“I eat Chipotle.”

I lost my sense of self. And I’ve learned that maybe, in the long run, it’s a good thing. Maybe being shoved out of the one thing we always believed to be the definition of ourselves forces us to find a truer, deeper meaning of “me”.

Or… maybe… it teaches us that we let go of the first love that we should’ve clung to for dear life.

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