Tonight I laced up my cleats after a long day, and there it was again. That feeling. The feeling of pure excitement and joy to be stepping onto a field.
Although I get this feeling a couple of times a week, it's nothing like it used to be. I just wish I realized that sooner.
I remember having the opportunity to lace up every morning. Yet it was so embedded in my daily routine that I didn't realize how much of an impact it was having on my life. How naturally it fit into my schedule. How incredibly nostalgic I would feel about not being able to have that chance again.
In fact, many times during many instances, I prayed for the daily routine to stop.
Every morning as I would shut my alarm clock off at 6:30 AM with sleepy eyes and messy hair, I would think to myself, when will this finally end? Every time coach yelled "get on the line" and my heart would sink into my knees, I would think to myself, when will this finally end? Every day that came with decisions I had no control over and did not understand, I would think to myself, when will this end? Every weekend that we had to pack up a duffle bag and head away to another destination for a two hour game I would think to myself, when will this end? I wanted more free time. I wanted to simply have a life.
And then, suddenly and unexpectedly, it ended.
With confusion, anger, disappointment and other unforeseen emotions in my heart as I kneeled on the turf and stared into its green surface filled with tiny black beads that would never find their way back into my shoes, hair, and clothing, in the last jersey I'd ever wear marked with a 9, I thought to myself, why did this have to end?
18 years of a competitive sport, and it was all over in the blink of an eye. I wish I could say I was a standout, and that I truly left my mark on each field - especially the last one I'd ever step on as a soccer player. But that, I realize now, is far less important than what the game itself has taught me these past four years.
So, fellow athletes, let me tell you this. It gets tough, especially when you don't get the rewards you work hard for every single minute.
It gets tiring because essentially, your sport becomes your job.
It gets repetitive and you lose some of your child-like passion for a game you grew to fall in love with. You make sacrifices and you have to abide to everything that one individual tells you to do. You want it to end so badly at times that it can make you bawl and punch multiple pillows, but this is it.
This is the end. You don't get to go back once this part of your life runs its course.
My sport made me stronger. It taught me to be humble, to work hard even when no one is watching, to love my enemies, how to make sacrifices, to believe in yourself even when everything tells you not to, to illustrate passion, to keep fighting even when you really, really don't want to. And most importantly, it's taught me to control only the things I can control, and to always keep a positive attitude. That, over anything else, will be what I remember about being a collegiate athlete. That's what makes it worth it.
You'll miss the friendships and the bonds you form with your teammates. They are ones that will seriously last a lifetime. You'll also miss the feeling of just getting to play; to have an outlet to release your stress and forget everything else going on in your life at the moment.
I thank God for the struggles I've endured, even though they made me want to take off my cleats and quit at most times. I never gave in, I never gave up. My teammates have become life long friends and that's something you can't beat. Although my competitive athletic career came to an end, my life will go on, and I'll take my lessons with me and continue to be a fighter. That's who I've become and that's who I'll always be.
So next time you wake up too early for practice or your coach suggests some running, don't groan. Smile. Look around. Take it all in, because before you know it, it will be over and you'll give anything to lace up again and go out and compete.