About a week ago I had to say goodbye to the game. And for the past week, people have come up to me countless times and said, “I bet it’s sort of a happy-sad, right? You’re finally done.” No, not right. It’s not a happy-sad. And I want to walk them through it. I want to sit down with them and say so many things, but instead I give a meek smile and shake my head, “No, not really. It’s been all sad.”
What I want to tell them is this:
Six and a half months ago I was lying on the field, confused, but very aware that there was something seriously wrong with my leg. I looked at my teammates faces as they lowered themselves one at a time to distract me. Their eyes were wet and their smiles were forced, but each of them spoke to me in a steady, calm voice. The ambulance came. Then the first hospital, then the second. I asked my surgeon right before they took me into surgery, “how long?” How long would it take me to come back from a compound fracture in both my tibia and fibula? 7-10 months. So I asked again, when is the soonest that I can be back. Four months, at the earliest. He started on how painful and extremely difficult it would be, but I had stopped listening. Four months. I’d be back on that field exactly four months from that date: August 20th. The 20th was a Sunday, and my surgeon didn’t see patients on Mondays, so August 22nd I was cleared for full contact.
In Division I sports, a surgeon’s clearance is different than a clearance to play in a game, and even then it takes a lot to get back on the field. So I still had work to do on the field and in the training room. The months that followed were some of the hardest I’ve been through. I watched my senior year happen much more quickly than I thought it would. Our first few games passed, but I told myself I had time. Then it was days, then weeks, and I still wasn’t the player I used to be. I worked hard at practice and cheered loud at games because I wanted to for my teammates – because they’d done it for me. I cried behind closed doors because they needed my positivity, not self-pity. I wondered so many times why on earth this had happened to me; why, with two practices left in the off-season, did I get this hurt right before my senior year. But it happened, and I wasn’t ever going to know why. So I showed up every day to try to help make them better, and to make myself better, even though I knew with each day my chances of getting back on the field were getting smaller. The most valuable part of all of that is, while all of this was happening to me, I knew I was okay because of the 27 girls training next to me.
And then I want to tell them this:
Our season ended, yet again, in a penalty kick shootout. I got to take a kick, and I made it. When I turned around after the ball hit the net my teammates cheers were overwhelming. They were so happy for me. They were happy that I got to finally contribute on the field in some way. And to have them there and so proud of me was one of the proudest moments of my life. The minutes that followed soon after brought me back to the spring. My teammates lowered themselves to the ground, eyes wet, no smiles, to comfort me. My fellow seniors and I had put on our jerseys for the last time. I closed my eyes and I remembered the orange slices and the games in parks with lumpy grass and dandelion covered fields. All of the times we tied our laces and pulled up our socks. 16 years, I’d been a soccer player. And I wasn’t anymore. All of these thoughts were making their way through my head and I realized that out of all the things, all of the memories, I was going to miss my team more than anything. I was going to miss stops at gas stations to stretch our legs and get snacks on long road trips and locker room dance parties. I was going to miss looking forward from the back seat of the endless bus trips and seeing 27 of my best friends. I was going to miss it all so much.
I want to tell the people who ask me if it’s “happy-sad” all of these things, but the reality is no one will ever understand the heartbreak that comes with the realization of a final game until they go through it. The space that this sport and my teammates have filled in my heart is indescribable; and so is what’s left there now. But I know one thing: I will have those teammates, the ups, the downs, the uncontrollable laughter, the tears, the exhaustion, the wins, the losses… everything; I will have all of that with me for the rest of my life.
And so to my teammates and coaches over the years – thank you. Thank you for all of it. Each and every one of you has made your way into my heart and made me who I am. And to the game – thank you, so much. Without you I wouldn’t have any of this.
I will be forever grateful for the game and everything that it’s brought me.