I was sitting on the bleachers in a rival school's gymnasium, watching my former volleyball teammates warm up before their first match of the season. I looked on as my former coaches tried to draw up a starting line up, and I watched the fans file into the gym. As the high schoolers filled up the student section, I sat amongst parents, fans, and former players like myself, waiting patiently for the match to start.
I had not watched my high school volleyball team play in 4 years. I felt out of place, and in some ways I was more nervous now than I ever was before a match.
As the national anthem played, I noticed my hand was over my heart instead of in my teammates hand. The starting players were announced, and I was not one of them. The first whistle was blown, and I was not playing. That was when it became REAL.
I thought it was real back in October when my senior volleyball season came to an end. I thought it was real when I swung the bat for the last time in the spring. Some of you thought it was real when the last ball was snapped, or the last free throw was shot, or the last hurdle was jumped.
Not to take away from the intense feeling you felt when your last match, game or meet was over, because that was a special moment in your athletic journey, but it won't hit you that you are done playing high school sports until you are forced to watch your former teammates play the game you love. It hits you for the first time when you have sit down and watch the teammates you were once on a journey with, start a new journey of their own.
Some days I am thankful I don’t have to condition every day, go through drill after drill, and persevere through hardships and pain. However, most days all I want is to experience it all over again. I want nothing more than to be sweaty, tired, sore, and bruised. It was part of the journey and it was what made it great.
As I sat there and watched my girls play one hell of a match, I remembered how much I missed being out on that court. But knowing I can never get it back, I had to continuously remind myself of all the life skills high school athletics taught me.
Leadership. Sacrifice. Attitude. Confidence. Perseverance. Strength. Tenacity. Dedication. Competitiveness.
Because of athletics I am not afraid of failure. I am not afraid of pain because I know I can handle it. I am a leader. I am goal oriented, and I will not quit until the work is put in, and the result is what I want. Because of sports, I know there are no limits to anything in life.
I am who I am because of high school athletics and I'm proud to say it.
As we move on to bigger and better things (because although we loved high school athletics, there ARE bigger and better things), it’s important to remember everything we learned from athletics and carry it with us as we start our next journey and the rest of our lives.
So as I continue to watch my former team from the bleachers, I will always remember the lessons and the rewards, the pain and the punishments. I will keep close to my heart the victorious moments, the inside jokes, and the irreplaceable friendships.
The word "Thankful" can not even begin to describe how I feel towards the opportunities, coaches, and teammates I was blessed with, but one thing is for sure, I hope those of you with time left cherish every moment, and every blessing. As cliche as it sounds, it doesn't last forever. Right now, it is such a huge part of your life and you can't imagine living without it, but sooner than later, you won't be on the front page of the newspaper anymore. You won't have that uniform or that special number on your back. It will end, and it will hurt.
And one day, you will find yourself sitting in the bleachers, watching on as your teammates play the game without you.
That's when it will become real.