September 10, 2018

As One Door Closes, Another Opens

3301 words · 17 minutes

How I Found Love in Something I Hated

I have been competing in sports most of my life. My parents met in track and field and both competed at the collegiate level, so it was inevitable that I was going to compete in that sport as well. In my hometown of Lakeville, Minnesota is a youth track and field program, which I was a part of from third grade through fifth grade.  In this program, you didn’t participate in just one event or just a couple, you did almost all of them. However, most of us always found our favorites and our least favorites.

High jump was one event that you weren’t allowed to compete in until fifth grade, so once I got to that age, we started practicing and competing in the high jump.  And boy did I hate it… I never wanted to do it, it was one of my least favorite events, right behind shot put.  These track meets were co-ed, so we were competing against boys too.  At one of the meets toward the end of the year, the competition came down to me and a boy.  We kept making heights over and over and couldn’t put the competition to a close.  The bar got up to 4’10” and I ended up making the height and the boy didn’t.  I remember my dad made me go shake his hand and say, "Good job today" (at this age, ewww cooties!).

It took for me to beat a boy to end up loving the event.  I held the record for high jump in youth track for quite a few years but I’m not sure if it still stands to this day.

My First Real Setback

In sixth grade, I started middle school track, which was not the best for improving your skill.  There were only a few coaches and over 100 kids there, goofing off and not taking it seriously.  In Minnesota, you are able to compete at the high school starting in seventh grade.  My dad thought it would be a good idea to try it out and see if it was a better fit for me.  My best friend also came along with me and I remember being so nervous that we would suck compared to these “big” high schoolers.  But, it turned out that we both made the varsity team that year.  Towards the end of the season, I broke the school record in the high jump with a jump of 5’2”.  I was elated!  Every season after that, I increased my personal best jump by 2 inches each year through my sophomore year.  I suffered a few minor injuries my junior year but it was enough to prevent me from competing at my best that season.  My senior year, I came back raring to go.  We had a couple of meets indoors before the season started and I had jumped 5’6” the first one and 5’8” the second one.  I was so excited for this season since it had been a great start so far.  I thought to myself, “This is going to be the year I go 5’10”!”.  However, the season didn’t end up going as planned.

In gym class the day of our first outdoor track meet, I sprained my ankle playing badminton.  I bawled my eyes out thinking, “my senior season is over…”  Once I was able to see a doctor, they wrapped my ankle up good and gave me crutches.  A high ankle sprain is what it was, and a bad one at that. It took weeks for me to be able to walk again with no pain and a few more after that to be able to start running. I soon realized that any type of jumping was out of the picture for the remainder of the season, but I was able to at least run with it taped up.  Since eighth grade, I had gone to State every year for high jump. I was so sad, that I wasn’t going to be able to compete at that meet one last time in the event that I loved.  When another teammate tore her ACL, I was put in the 4x200m for a few bigger meets at the end of the season.  My relay team and I ended up qualifying for the State meet and placed 5th.  I remember feeling so sad that I wasn’t there for high jump, but I was grateful for the opportunity to still compete at that meet one last time, even though in a different event.

Joining the Huskers Track And Field Team

I was recruited by the University of Nebraska – Lincoln to compete in Track and Field as a high jumper. As August 2014 came along, I was so excited to start a new journey as a collegiate athlete with all the resources an athlete could possibly need, right at my fingertips.  My first year I red-shirted.  My body was still adjusting to the amount of training and lifting we were doing and I think my ankle was still not fully back to how it was before the sprain.  I felt like I couldn’t get off the ground and had no hops anymore. I started to get really discouraged, but I talked to some others on the team and they reassured me that this happens to most freshman year athletes and that my body just needed some time to get acclimated. I competed in a few meets unattached, and towards the end of the season I was jumping better than at the beginning of the season, but nowhere near what I was jumping in high school.

My First Time Wearing "Nebraska" Across My Chest

The next year (my sophomore year), my body felt more prepared for the training we were doing and I began to see improvements in a lot of areas of our training.  When it came time to compete in my first track meet as a Husker, my parents came to watch.  I thought I was ready, but I ended up with a “no-height”, unable to even make the opening bar.  This was the first time I had ever “no-heighted” in my life and I was so embarrassed that my first time wearing “NEBRASKA” across my chest, I competed so poorly.  The next few meets were better, I was jumping 5’3 pretty consistently but I still was not at the level I was in high school.  As the season continued I began to think, “Am I ever going to jump what I did in high school”? I continued to become more and more discouraged with my performance and started having feelings of hatred towards the event.  After the Indoor Big Ten Championships that year, I asked my coach if I could maybe try another event such as the long jump.  He told me that the coaches had already been thinking about switching me to the multi-event group, consisting of the decathletes and heptathletes.  I was thrown back and nervous, but also kind of excited.

Trying Something New

As the outdoor season came along, I joined the multi-event group and started training with them.  I now was preparing for a heptathlon, consisting of seven events rather than just one.  I was so overwhelmed but really excited to try something new.  My practices went from two hours to four, I was exhausted every day and my body was the sorest it had ever been, from using muscles I had never known I even had!  Out of the seven events of the heptathlon, I had only ever done three of them competitively.  The other four I was brand new to.  I competed in my first heptathlon at the Kansas Relays just one month after I had started training.  I definitely did not think I was ready, but the coaches believed I was. I placed 10th, which I was pretty happy with considering the little amount of training I had done.  There was only one other meet in which I could have the opportunity to compete in a heptathlon that season and that was the Outdoor Big Ten Track and Field Championships, which were being held at our home, Ed Weir Stadium.

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The Beginning of my Struggle

I had just one month to improve my skills in all seven events in hopes of making the Big Ten team roster.  Only 32 women were to be chosen for this roster. I gave it everything I had at practice and track was just about the only thing on my mind (and sleep).  However, my leg started to hurt at practice almost daily.  I went into the trainers and they told me the muscles around my shin and calf were just really tight and to rub them out, and to ice.  I did as they suggested but the pain didn’t go away… Every workout I did, I pushed myself as hard as I could, despite the pain.  I wanted to prove to the coaches that I was good enough to make the conference team.  Being in pain was pretty much my “new normal” at this point.  There were some workouts I would be in tears because I was in so much pain.  I was doing some modifications to workouts but that didn't seem to help too much.  It came to the week before the conference meet and my name made the list of the 32 women that made the Big Ten team.  I was so happy that my hard work had paid off.  We started tapering our workouts a bit so we would be fresh for the following weekend.  My leg started to feel a little better since we weren’t doing as much, but there was still quite a bit of pain.  I tried to stay off of it as much as possible and did as much treatment as I could the days remaining before the competition.

The Worst Pain I Ever Had

The conference meet was finally here and I was so excited but incredibly nervous.  This was by far the biggest stage I had ever competed on.  On the first day of competition, I was surprised that my leg wasn't hurting as much as it had been the week before.  However, by the end of the day, It was aching terribly.  I got home that evening and stayed off of it and iced it until I ran out of ice...  I was trying to stay positive, but thoughts of doubt kept coming to mind.  I was wondering if I would even be able to compete the next day.  I tried to steer those doubts away, and remind myself it was just three more events, a few more hours, and I would have the rest of the summer to rest and figure out what was going on with that leg of mine.  I woke up the next morning and my first step out of bed was incredibly painful.  My leg felt like it had been run over by a train... I told myself that I would have no negative thoughts about this day and that I was going to give it all I had for my coaches, teammates, and myself. I got to the track that morning and warmed up for my first event, long jump.  When I landed my first jump, I started crying.  I was in so much pain, the most pain I had ever been in.

I pushed through and moved onto the next event.  I was still in an immense amount of pain but I kept telling myself, "You're almost done, just one event left".  The announcer called the heptathletes to the starting line for the final event, and immediately I got knots in my stomach. I thought I was going to puke.  I took my sweats off and made my way to the line.  The gun fired and off we went.  The entire time I was clenching my teeth and talking to myself in my head saying, "Just keep running".  I felt like Dory from Finding Nemo, but it seemed to be working.  Just around the final curve, about 80 meters from the finish line I told myself to kick it into another gear and try to catch the girl in front of me.  I pushed harder off my back leg and "POP!".  I collapsed to the ground in excruciating pain, gripping my lower leg.

My initial thought was that I was disappointed that I didn't finish the race.  Had I finished, I would have raised my personal best score 500 points.  The second thought I had was that I thought I tore my achilles.  I had never had a serious injury before and the noise that I heard and felt in my lower leg made me think it was my achilles.  The trainers helped me off the track and into the training room to get an x-ray.  I couldn't stop crying, I was so disappointed and sad.  An overflow of bad thoughts came to mind, wondering if my career was over.  I was thankful my family was there to comfort me.  I looked at the x-ray and I started crying even harder.  It looked as if someone had shot a bullet through my fibula.  I thought I was going to have to have surgery, but the doctor said I wouldn't since the fibula only bears 10 percent of your body weight and it should heal relatively fast.  They gave me a painkiller, put me in a boot, and gave me a kneeling scooter to get around.  I still couldn't believe what had just happened.  I remember going back out to the track to watch the remainder of the meet and cringing as I looked at the spot where I had collapsed.

I cheered for my teammates for as long as I could, but I got to be in so much pain that I needed to go lay down and prop my leg up and try to sleep.  I received a call from my coach that evening, telling me that he was proud of me for the effort put forth.  It felt good knowing that I made him proud and that I didn't push through all of that pain for nothing.  I had the rest of the summer to heal up before the next season started.  All I could do at this point was rest and allow my body to heal itself.  I was thankful to have amazing coaches, trainers, family, and boyfriend to help me through my injury.  

The Rehab Process

Once I was cleared to do rehabilitation (Around March 2017), I went in every day.  I was determined to get that strength and mobility back in my leg that had been immobilized for so many months, about 9 or 10 to be exact.  Soon I was able to walk in a boot and ditch the crutches.  I was in the boot for a few months and then was able to ditch that as well.  Once I was able to walk normally, I was able to start jogging on the Alter-G.  I slowly eased back into activity, and every little action that I could add to my regimen seemed like a huge milestone.  Soon I was back to working out with my team, but modifying certain workouts.  I still had some pain, but it seemed normal coming off of an injury like I had.  I had good days and bad days, as does every athlete. 

One of the Most Difficult Decisions of my Life

However, there started to be more bad days than good ones and I started to be in pain all the time, both on and off the track.  I went to my trainers and after a while, they decided to do an MRI.  This MRI showed two stress-reactions and three strained muscles on the same leg I had broken.  When I was told about the results, I was so frustrated.  I had just come off a major injury and now I was back in a walking boot again, with no training.  I began to get depressed, was slacking in the classroom and was just feeling overall unhappy.  I started to feel like this was a sign I should back down from the sport.  I was sick of being in pain all the time and was beginning to dread the sport that I had loved so much.  I talked to my parents about my feelings and they were very supportive.  I knew that whatever decision I made, they would support me 100 percent.  I then talked to my coaches and they informed me about medical exemption, and that this was an option.  This would mean that I would forfeit my remaining eligibility.  This was a big decision for me because track and field was part of who I was.  I had been doing this sport for 13 years!  I wrote down all of my feelings on paper trying to come to a decision.  My coaches also told me that whatever decision I made, they would support me.  I felt good knowing this.  

Ultimately, I decided to claim medical exemption and forfeit my eligibility.  This was one of the hardest decisions I had ever had to make because I do love the sport, but at this time I was feeling as if I never wanted to step foot on a track again.  I also thought this was the best decision for me and my body. 

Finding A New Identity

The following school year (2017-2018) was my first time in 13 years that I had not participated in track and field.  I soon found that I had let the sport of track and field define who I was because I felt so lost, and didn't feel like I knew who I was outside of the sport.  It consumed me.  I had put all of my time, thoughts, and energy into this sport.  But, God had other plans for me than to put all of my time and effort into ONE thing.

Since I have retired from track and field I have been able to put more time and effort into many different avenues.  I have learned new things, earned better grades, met new friends, spent more time doing things I love (such as cooking and playing music), explored new places, and spent more time with family.  I feel now, that these are the things that define me.  All of these things put together are uniquely ME.  I am more than just track and field.  I have learned that track and field was an experience and a chapter in my life, not my identity.  I am happy that I am not defined by just ONE thing.  I learned so much from my experience as an athlete and I wouldn't be where I am if it were not for track and field.  I am thankful for the wonderful people that the sport has brought into my life and the lessons it has taught me.  I wouldn't trade it for anything and I don't have any regrets about my decision to retire.

Track and field was bound to come to an end at some point. For me, it just happened earlier than I had anticipated; things don't always go as planned.   As one door closes another one opens.  I am excited to be onto the next chapter of my life!  I hope to soon use my experiences and knowledge I've gained to help others on and off the track, as a coach.

To all who have taken the time to read this, thank you for doing so.  This was the first time I have shared my whole story in it's entirety to the world.  I hope some will be able to relate to my experience or learn something from my story.  Smile, be kind and don't let ONE thing define you!  God Bless. 

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