My Journey as a Varsity Athlete
My Journey as a Varsity Athlete
I’ve never really felt like I ever truly fit into any specific box when it comes to my identity. Growing up I’d gone through any and every phase possible trying to find that box. I believe we continually search for our identity, our ‘thing’, our box. I always used to feel so torn between the dichotomy of my emotions/identity: the confident and the timid, the extrovert and the introvert, the athlete and the artist. Over the course of my life and my experiences, I’ve come to learn to appreciate the multitude of identifiers I associate with. I’ve learned to love the kaleidoscopic nature of my identity.
However, one of my strongest identifiers is and always has been as an athlete. I had always been athletic and played every team sport that I could growing up. I eventually got introduced to the volleyball world in grade 9 by my high school coach. He saw that I was tall and had athletic potential and started training me to be a little more coordinated on the court. I started playing competitive/club volleyball super late comparative to many others (I didn’t start playing until grade 10 and didn’t see the court until grade 11).
I became completely enveloped by the volleyball world. I had never become so completely obsessed with one single sport as I did volleyball. I worked so hard to get a spot on a competitive team, then to get into the line up, then to be a starter, then to get scouted to a university varsity team. I eventually did get recruited and decided to play for York University in Toronto. I had never been so happy or so proud of myself, because I knew how hard I had worked to get to that point.
My rookie season was eye-opening. As all recruiting goes, I was told that I was needed to be in a starting position as soon as I came in. Not only that, but I was also getting recruited to play a different position. At this point, I had only known success playing as a right-side hitter, but the coach wanted me to convert to playing left side. Me being sort of new to the sport and maybe not realizing how difficult that really is to do at that level, as well as me being stubborn and hard-headed, I was willing to put my head down and work hard in order to do what it took to get that spot.
I touched the court once in my entire rookie season. I had been working so hard in practice and in the gym, but none of it mattered. At that point, I simply needed to understand that I was playing for one of the best teams in the OUA, and that I needed to play a supporting role that year. As an athlete, that’s not always an easy thing to do.
Once my rookie season was over, I was so driven to work hard all summer and get in that line-up. One of the starting left sides had graduated and this was going to be my chance. I trained my ass off that summer and proved in pre-season that I was ready to be in that starting position. First weekend of the season, I received York athlete of the week as well as OUA athlete of the week, and at that point, I thought that I had finally made it.
But then, of course, things started not going so well. I wasn’t performing at the same level that I had that first weekend and I started being so hard on myself. I have always been my own worst critic and so I began tearing myself apart for not performing at the level that I knew I was capable of performing at.
Maybe I hadn’t yet learned how to handle the pressure, the criticism, or the adversity properly. Maybe I took thing too personally. It felt like I was letting my coach down, letting my teammates down, and most definitely letting myself down. I was feeling so much shame for not living up to what had been expected of me. From there on out, all of it only spiraled downward; performance and mental health-wise.
I started retreating from everyone. I thought that my teammates blamed me. I knew that my coach blamed me. We weren’t doing well, and it was because I couldn’t hold my own out there. I had never experienced so much self-loathing like I had that year. I cried and tore myself apart after every practice and after every game. I started staying in instead of going out. I started keeping to myself and didn’t feel worthy of going out and having fun. I was fighting this constant internal battle, and I had never felt so alone.
I believe that having an athlete mentality is an amazing thing. You’re so driven to work hard, to do what it takes to get what you want, to attack your goals… However, I also believe it to be a bit of a burden.
I don’t think that I would have the drive and motivation to conquer all my dreams and goals at the same level of intensity if it weren’t for my athletic mentality. However, I also believe that it can cloud proper judgement when assessing what is right and wrong for you in life. There are situations that I probably should have seen were destructive for me, there are jobs that I should have left much earlier, there are people that I shouldn’t have kept in my life for as long as they were, but I believe that my mind was telling me to just push through it, and to not give up… “If there’s something wrong, you can find a way through it and fix it”. It was never really an option to assess whether or not I should just let those things go for the sake of my mental health.
I believe that’s why I went back for a third year. I had given myself the summer to train hard, work on my skills, and work on my mental game. I tried to mask my insecurities to the best of my ability; I decided that I would keep people at an arm’s length so that I “wouldn’t care” if I disappointed them. I put so many walls up, or as Brene Brown calls it, I put on my armour, so that I wouldn’t get hurt again. Safe to say, when the new volleyball season rolled around, none of my false confidence held up. I was back in this self-destructive pattern. At that point, I couldn’t recognize myself anymore.
(Looking back now, I think that my only real regret I have was losing out on all the amazing connections that I could have made. I had an amazing team of girls who I probably could have, at that time, talked to and reached out to. I wish that I had had the clarity to get outside of myself and not push these incredible people away. I just hope that they don’t think of me now as the person that I may have come off as being then.)
After that year, I got hired as a personal trainer at Think Fitness Studios. I came in and didn’t really know what I was doing, but these guys saw my potential and decided to take a chance on me. I could never thank them enough for it (even though I always try).
I was learning so much, not only about others, but also about myself. I started to feel like the old me again. Nobody associated me with this failure of an athlete, nobody knew what I had been struggling with, and nobody was judging me. I felt that I could be 100% myself with my clients, and I believe that’s why I became so close to many of them.
Come the end of that summer where I had found happiness and empowerment, I had to make a very tough decision: I had to decide whether to continue personal training or whether to go back to volleyball.
There are two types of people that will read this: the people who see that obviously without a doubt I’d have to pick the personal training, and then there are the athletes.
As an athlete, you identify SO heavily as such. The community that you become a part of as well as the sense of self and pride that you feel when you associate as an athlete become so important to you and who you feel that you are at that time that it’s unbelievably difficult to simply walk away. Not only that, but when you think about the amount of time, effort, literal blood, sweat, and tears, that you’ve put into the sport, it only makes it that much harder to leave.
As painful as it was, I made the decision to leave volleyball and pursue personal training. I needed to do what was best for me and my mental health at that time. I wish I could say that I had done so gracefully and gratefully, but I definitely hadn’t. I became bitter. I became so angry with the sport that had turned me into someone I no longer recognized. I wanted nothing to do with it. I distanced myself from the athlete community, I didn’t go to any of the games, I didn’t even touch a volleyball for 2 years after the fact. All my energy went into being the best trainer that I could be. I loved connecting with people, and I loved helping others work hard and achieve their goals. The team I was with was so supportive, so knowledgeable, and had so much zest for life, that I couldn’t help but soak it all in. Over the next four years, these guys became like family to me. I will continuously and incessantly thank them for that.
Interestingly enough, the story of my athletic career wasn’t over yet, even though at the time, I had truly believed that it was.
Two years after quitting, I was in the process of finishing school while still personal training almost full-time when York announced a new coach was coming in. The announcement didn’t really matter too much to me at the time though, until one of the athletes, who had been my rookie in my second year, saw me on campus and asked if I was going to play now that a new coach had taken over. I remember laughing at the ridiculousness of the suggestion and saying that I was going to “finish my classes and get the hell out of here”. But, for some reason, I couldn’t get the idea of playing again out of my head.
I came to the conclusion that as long as I could make personal training, classes, and volleyball all work into my schedule, then I’d be willing to give it another shot. I went into it thinking that if I felt that it was too much for me mentally, or that I was going back into that dark place, that I could always step away. I had grown so much as a person that I felt I was willing to give it another shot.
It started off great, I had so much confidence, and my body was so much stronger than it had been in the past. Of course, it always starts that way for me, and yes, my mentality was up and down all year, but I was mostly in a good place. I had been properly equipped to deal with it this time around. At the end of the day, I knew who I was outside of volleyball, and I think that’s what kept me from giving into my negative self-talk and my self-doubts.
I didn’t win any accolades that year nor did we win the division, but at the end of the day I still felt that I had won. I had reignited my love and passion for the sport again. I no longer carried this nagging, negative weight on my shoulders anymore. I started playing beach volleyball again that summer, I helped assistant coach the team as well as played some ONE volleyball tournaments the following year. I plan on continuing to pursue volleyball as competitively as I can, because in many ways, volleyball has taught so much about strength, resilience, passion, empathy, compassion, and so much more, and even though my varsity athletic journey wasn’t what I would have imagined, or quite frankly wanted, at the time, I’m now forever grateful for all of it.
I believe that, for the most part, we grow through what we go through, as long as we decide to learn from those experiences. My journey as a varsity athlete, the mental, emotional, the physical, and the spiritual, has been my greatest life lesson thus far. If you were in any way a part of that journey for me, this is my official thank you, you are more important to me than I’ve probably ever let you know.