Standing on the sidelines of a field hockey match up between my summer field hockey coach's college team, and my high school team-mate's team, I watched and realized how bitter-sweet any end to this match would actually be. For one of my friends, the season would be over with a loss; but, in addition, for one of my friends, her career would be over with a loss. Neither one was ready to lose. The game took double over time to cater a winner...and that winner was the one who would be fortunate enough to have her team next year--to have her sport--My summer field hockey coach.
My friend, and my high school teammate, who played her heart out, along with the rest of her teammates, knew exactly what this loss meant: it meant the end to something that started as just a fun after-school activity, something that grew into the daily routine of life--something that became part of her...something that truly owned a huge chunk of her heart.
I watched as girls walked off the field, with pride in their hearts but tears in their eyes. I watched as parents hugged their girls who were baffled at how field hockey could be such a huge part of their life one moment--and gone in an instant the next. And I watched as hearts broke over something that had become closer to them than anything else over the last 10 years of their lives. And I was suddenly reminded of all those feelings--all over again.
And I was reminded, again today, when I read that the University of Maryland may be cutting their swimming teams after this season. After the field hockey team was eliminated at URI, my mother and I wrote a joint article for Inside Higher Ed. entitled: Foul Play which uncovered the emotion behind losing your sport-ending your sport-giving your life to sport.
As athletes, we spend our entire careers devoting time, energy, and body parts to a sport that welcomes us with open arms--to a life that promises us pay-off with the pay-in. We work hard so that we can attend Division 1 colleges--though no one tells us how difficult it will be once we get there. We give up going out on Friday nights for a curfew that is bestowed upon us so that we perform better the next morning. We form bonds with teammates and coaches. We lose ourselves and find ourselves. We discover our strengths--and our weaknesses. We learn what it means to lose--and what it means to win. We gain pride--and passion. And we fall in love--with sport. So when we lose that--it only makes sense that our hearts break--that the pieces are left on every field or in every pool or on every course that we ever played on, swam in, or ran on. That we feel like an out of tune piano--or an unsharpened knife in the drawer. When our team is taken away from us--or when our careers end due to it being time for it to end--it is unexplainable the emotions that go through us. There will always be some void...but we have to remember that there will always be the memories to fill that void:
As my mother wrote in that article: "To use words like death and grief--is not to exaggerate."
When I lost field hockey at a sophomore in college, I compared it to losing a friend--to losing a relative--to losing someone that I loved. It still feels that way. But like losing friends--and losing family members and losing people we love...we learn to find ways to look back on these things--these events in our lives, these huge parts of our lives and smile at what we were lucky enough to have. And suddenly the void of that person or thing is filled with smiles of memories...moments in our lives that we know we can't ever return to, but that we were fortunate enough to have.
Disclaimer: In regards to the cuts at UMD--I do not support UMD's decision and intend to write a letter to the university. I understand that universities are undergoing hard times right now--just as are all businesses, but cutting academics and sports are entirely too heartbreaking for students and athletes that we tell to dream big their whole lives.