“He was right in saying that the only certain happiness in life is to live for others.”
— Leo Tolstoy in “Family Happiness”
It’s been four years since I rounded the sharp corners on Reggie Lewis Track in Boston, Ma.
During my Indoor Track and Field season as a senior Panther from Whitman-Hanson, my last race was the Class B Relay’s Sprint Medley until I came down with Iliotibial Band Syndrome. I wish I knew then that would have been my last race (at full potential).
After a series of cortisone shots in my IT Band and knees the doctor told me that my winter season was over and spring would be questionable. I felt my stomach in my throat. Emotions ran wild inside such as rage, guilt, failure, and sadness… but I didn’t let it show in front of my team, at least not yet.
I remember when the last bell rang, and while classmates dispersed to their cars to go home and my teammates trickled into the locker rooms to get ready for practice, I stood there in the middle of the hall in crutches having no idea where to go.
“Should I go home, I can’t practice anymore? Or should I go to practice?” For the first time I felt lost and that I had no place to go.
It shook me and that feeling will never be forgotten. But I remembered the only place that made me feel comfortable, safe and accepted was with my teammates. Everyday, during my senior year (and even now) I went to every practice and watched them or did my rehab. It was my obligation as a teammate to support them.
The first time I returned back to the Reggie Lewis Track my senior year in high school was bittersweet. For the first time I sat sidelines and it was the most peculiar sensation. I cheered, I helped put spikes in their racing flats, I took splits, offered advice, or anything else I could to help. This would be my new role on the team.
And yet I found something still missing, because inside me a competitive athlete was raging to get out. I missed it; I frantically tried to get it back. All I wanted and still want is to jump on the starting line, grip my spikes into the blue oval track, and have the butterflies in my stomach build up to the feeling of sickness and that the only way to release them was the gun fire that set them free. I’d be lying if I said I still don’t want it back, but it’s become easier over the years.
Then it happened, I let all the emotions that I bottled up for so long, finally broke me down. And the results weren’t what I expected.
On the bus ride home from Reggie, there was a calm ambiance. My tired teammates plugged in their headphones or slept on the ride back. It was too calm for my liking. Whenever there are these quiet moments where there is nothing to distract me, my thoughts and emotions that I keep buried begin to surface.
I thought that I had no purpose for my team anymore. I thought if I can’t score points for them there’s nothing else for me. I thought of the disappointment. I thought of letting down my coaches, my team, my family, and my aunt.
I thought none of my teammates (who in my mind where sleeping or their music drowned out their surroundings) wouldn’t hear me cry as I buried my head in my hands.
My thoughts finally escaped from my mind and were released to the world.
That was when I felt lost and alone, until I felt the touch of my teammates and my best friend Gabby, comforting me and hugging me, telling me how much they cared for me. I wasn’t alone anymore.
That was the moment I realized how much I love being a part of a team. How much THEY mean to me, how amazing THEY are, and how much I owe THEM. THEY brought me back to life, and in multiple ways THEY saved me. I will forever be grateful and indebt to them.
So here I was last weekend, four years later, at the Reggie Lewis Track, in the same position not being able to run now because of Rheumatoid Arthritis. But I remained cheering and helping my team. I’d hope to think I am a different person from what I was. I no longer question if my teammates will understand my condition. I no longer feel lost and isolated.
The UMD Track and Field Team did amazing!!!! It was the first indoor track meet for the 2011-2012 season, and they accomplished some great things. I have no doubt in my mind that they will exceed expectations. I remember during several races I even felt the butterflies fluttering in my stomach again. I was actually nervous and anxious for my teammate’s races.
I always thought running and being an athlete myself framed my existence, but I was wrong. Because being a part of a team … being in the presence of not only dedicated athletes, but incredible and honorable people frame my existence.
I take this opportunity to thank everyone who has helped me over the years. From my high school teammates and friends who comforted me during those trialing adjustments and that first bus ride home and to my UMD teammates now. You may not know how many times you changed my perspective on life, and made me willing to become more like all of you.
For any athlete or person dealing with the effects of Arthritis, don’t let it define you or stop you from being apart of something that gave you a sense of acceptance in this world.