Eighth grade. I was offered a spot on my school's varsity tennis team. It was my absolute dream and such an honor. I was so dedicated to tennis and had an electrifying passion in me for the sport. I was ecstatic to be given the offer.
I ended up humbly declining the offer, however, for a few different reasons. I was disappointed I wasn't going to be on the team but it really ultimately was for the best. I ended up playing first singles and was undefeated that year! Even though I missed out on being a part of the varsity season, I was proud of myself for all of my accomplishments in my last year of modified tennis.
The second that season ended, I started "training" for my first year on varsity (our school's tennis program wasn't very big so there was no junior varsity team, just varsity). I was so encouraged by all I had done that past season and was looking forward to be moving on up to varsity. All my excitement fueled me to practice and work hard for my first season of varsity tennis.
My teammates and I
I was practicing every single week in the winter and multiple times a week once the warm weather arrived. I literally lived and breathed tennis leading up to my first varsity practice. In fact, I was playing so much, and around two weeks before varsity practices were to begin. I noticed my back was bothering me.
It was a weird feeling. I had never felt it before. It was hard to explain but I had this terrible sharp pain in my lower back. It started off pretty mild and I just thought to myself that maybe I had been sleeping on my back differently. It was manageable pain but it was pain nonetheless. As I said, I hadn't ever felt pain like this so I wasn't sure what was going on. I went to my first practice and was so excited. I had a new coach and a new team that I was really looking forward to working with! I braided my hair that morning, I got all dressed up in my favorite tennis skirt, I was raring to go.
The practice went OK with my back until we got to practicing our serves. I began to practice and my back just went out. I felt like I couldn't move anymore. I could barely walk. I had to sit the rest of practice out.
My parents and I were obviously extremely concerned. I was 15 years old, why was I having back problems? I went to the doctor the next day who couldn't come up with a conclusion on what happened but decided to take me out of tennis for the time being untilI felt better again and decided to start me with physical therapy. I was devastated I couldn't play anymore but the pain was so unbearable that I really just wanted to get better no matter what it cost me.
When I told my coach what had happened and that I was going to have to sit out until I recovered or figured out what was going on, he was upset, to say the least. In fact, he was furious.
He scolded me for going to the doctor and for "failing the team." He told me that "going to the doctor was a mistake and when you are hurt, you need to go to the athletic trainer, not the doctor."
Yes! That is what you do if you get hurt during the middle of a game, but if you have a potentially life-changing injury, why would you hold off going to the doctor and seeking legitimate medical advice?
Hearing those words after telling a trusted adult who is supposed to be a role model about an injury is gut-wrenching.
I tried to ignore his hurtful words but they stuck with me. But I still was so excited and dedicated to tennis and the team that I decided I wasn't going to focus on his remarks, I just wanted to get better.
I started physical therapy and after multiple sessions, there was no improvement. My therapist advised me to stop coming in and to try and seek alternate treatment. At this point, I was feeling discouraged. I wasn't getting better, missed the sport I loved so much, and still had to go to practice and watch all my teammates have fun. On top of all of that, my coach was still relentlessly making comments at me, in between all of the phone calls he was making to his new girlfriend and ignoring the team.
"You're not really that hurt."
"You're faking this all."
I couldn't believe what he was saying to me.
How can you accuse someone of something like that? He knew how much I loved playing and saw me practicing at the courts all throughout the summer. He knew that this was real but was upset he had lost what he called "a crucial asset to the team".
Clearly, I was upset, too. But I was becoming even more upset with his words and (what became clear as I was sitting the bench while I was out for my back) his neglect for the entire team. If he wasn't making a rude comment at me, he was on the phone with his girlfriend.
After some time, my mom suggested I go to the chiropractor. We had tried what seemed like everything and this was the last treatment we hadn't done.
I walked in that office in pain and left without any at all. Turns out, my entire skeleton was completely out of alignment after all of the tennis I was playing in the preseason. The pain was caused by my pelvis shifting (from all of the serves I practiced) and rubbing up against the muscles in my lower back.
I was finally back and feeling better! I was so relieved and excited. I was able to finish the season and still play about a third of the games left.
I was able to get through the season but was still scarred by all of the verbal abuse I endured from my coach. He said demeaning comments, ignored his responsibility as a coach and frankly, had absolutely no right being in the position he was in. I was dreading having to return the next season and playing for him.
As time passed and I was trying to figure out what my tennis future would look like (not knowing if I was going to continue to play for the terrible excuse of a coach I had), my coach's basketball season started. He was also the girls' varsity basketball coach at the school and the season was underway.
About two weeks in, word got out that the girls' team wasn't having the best season — thanks to him. He was doing the same thing to them that he did to me and my team. He canceled practices, talked to his girlfriend on the phone when he did ever decide to have practices and targeted girls on the team. Well, this didn't last long. Those girls fought back. They took him down. He ended up "receiving a job offer another school." He left his teaching position and coaching jobs mid-year.
I felt like I had a new lease on life when I found out about this. I was so excited I was going to have a new coach and felt re-energized.
My NEW coach helping my doubles partner and I through one of the hardest matches I ever played. We won!!
Fast forward to my senior year. I played on the tennis team for the rest of my high school career. It was so much fun and exactly what high school sports is meant to be like.
It finally came time to apply to colleges. I had my eyes set on my dream school, Villanova University. Villanova was the only school I wanted to go to and if I didn't get in, I'm not sure what I would have done. Being a big college basketball fan, I knew about Villanova long before I began to think about college.
One thing I remember about considering Villanova is that my coach always wore Villanova apparel.
Nova was his team.
He always wore Nova gear.
Seeing him wear Villanova everything was what first put it in the forefront of my mind.
When I began to fill out the application, one of the essay prompts was, "Describe a time when your mind and heart were in conflict."
I knew exactly what I was going to write about: wanting to quit tennis because of my horrible coach and the verbal abuse and neglect he gave me and my teammates but having so much love for tennis in my heart.
I wrote that essay.
I expressed all my raw feelings attached to what happened.
And I got in.
I don't know exactly what it was about my application but my essay about my coach and what he put me through was part of what got me into my dream school. And his dream school.
I used to feel so confused about why I got hurt and had to deal with him. But it finally makes sense. Who knows if I would have gotten into Villanova without that essay.
So, to the coach who broke me, thank you. Thank you for all of the hurt you gave me and all the damage you did. Without you, who knows if I would be where I am today — at OUR dream school.