It was May 24, 2019 — the Semi-Final game to head to the National Championship on Homewood Field.
The game went into overtime.
I got the ball, squared up my defender, and did the same move I practiced numerous times after practice. The BC defender was on my back, I leaped in the air, released the ball from my stick and watched it ricochet off the right pipe.
BC scored. Game over. My career was over. I think the caption I wrote on my Instagram months ago explains it perfectly, "I've always dreamed of putting on a Carolina jersey, but never dreamed of taking it off." You spend countless hours preparing for your first collegiate game, but no one prepares you for your last and I think more than ever a lot of athletes around the world can really relate to this. Growing up all I wanted to do was play lacrosse for the University of North Carolina and being able to put on a Carolina jersey for four years was a dream come true.
So what now?
With all that is happening in the world currently, I was able to take a second (many seconds) and reflect on my career not only in college but my career in defining myself as an athlete.
When I graduated people would joke around and say, "You're not an athlete anymore" and I would laugh it off, but deep down I would get upset because by definition I TRULY wasn't anymore. I did not play for Rainbow Gymnastics, Harrison - Charge, Mustangs, or Softball, Glassboro Elite, South Jersey Select, Clearview – Soccer, Field Hockey, Basketball or Lacrosse, or for the University of North Carolina anymore. I always defined myself as an athlete because that's who I was.
I defined myself as an athlete because of my love for sports.
From the time I played my first game in third grade until May 24, I defined myself as an athlete. Sports, to me, was not simply about winning or losing, nor the competition itself. It was a playground in where I could be challenged mentally, physically, and emotionally, season to season. It was where I was able to escape the negativity in my life whether it was on a beam, field or court. Sports molded me into the woman I am today.
This is the aspect of sports that's the most challenging because some things are really just out of your control. For example, tearing my ACL junior year of high school was completely out of my control, but I would not be the person or athlete I am today if that didn't happen to me. And no, I am not saying you have to tear your ACL in order to be the best version of yourself. What I will say is after tearing an ACL you enter a special crew of athletes who have also done as such. Only some know the feeling of stepping on the field after that grueling process – and you can totally call yourself a badass after that. I'll never forget the quote my high school coach and mentor, Megan Conklin, repeatedly said to me as I was going through the process, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade."
This concept speaks for itself. From run tests, earning morning lifts, countless hours spent practicing. This is an aspect that you'll miss when you hang up your cleats. It seems like a crazy thought, but you will miss the words "get on the line." When it came to working out upon graduating, I found myself still going to the field and running sprints or doing the same workouts I would as if I was preparing for preseason. I was not ready to accept that it was all over. I still wanted to train, I still wanted to "put in the work".
Losses were obviously emotional for me and honestly as I got older some wins were emotional for me as well. Some of you might be thinking wins? Why wins? I think in the moment I was so grateful for the opportunity just to be out there; I was thankful for my teammates; I was ecstatic to play for something bigger than myself.
They were happy tears — the wins of course.
When it came to the losses…I still remember the devastating losses in my career whether it was youth, club, high school or college. I have vivid memories of certain losses that I experienced throughout each stage of my athletic career as if they were yesterday.
I asked in the very first paragraph…"So what now?"
That's what I am still trying to figure out. How do I go from competing at such a high level one moment to it all just abruptly ending in the next moment? I've always had a dream I was chasing after and while living my dream in the bubble of Chapel Hill nothing else mattered. I was utterly appreciative for every opportunity and lived in the moment each day. There was never a thought it would ever end. I was not ready for it to end and when it did...I felt lost.
Since graduating, I have realized no matter what I do in life I will always find a way to give back to the sport that made me who I am today.
Since graduating, I have learned how I am able to positively influence others on and off the field. I am able to take all of the lessons I learned as an athlete and instill that in girls I train and coach today. I am able to teach them not only about the skills behind the game but most importantly about leadership, confidence, and what it means to be a great teammate.
"So what now?"
Teaching others and watching them grow and mold into amazing players and even more amazing people is the reason I no longer feel lost. I may not be the one that will be lacing up on game day, but I know I am a small, positive part of their athletic experience. And that is more than good enough for me.
I am excited for the next chapters of my life, wherever they may be because I've experienced what it means to dream big.
In my experiences as an athlete, I've learned that through persistence, resilience, belief and passion...anything is possible. Actually seeing my childhood vision through gives me a sense of pride and confidence that my next endeavors will only be greater. I found clarity in realizing my life did not start and end with sports, but that I used sports as a vessel to uncover my true self. I feel prepared to tackle any and all situations, excited for the good times, and prepared for the bad. I thought that the best may have already happened, but through reflecting on my personal experiences, moments, failures and successes, the best is yet to come.
I've always defined myself as an athlete and that's not going to change.
What does being an athlete mean to you? To my family, teammates and all of my coaches, even the ones looking down from heaven, thank you for molding me into a leader. To the young women that allow me to guide you through your journey, thank you for having the confidence in me.
To the sports that made me who I am today, thank you for literally everything.