Three weeks ago, Andrew Goldstein left us with the thought of, “You never truly know what someone else is hiding, or going through.”
With this statement in mind, growing up, playing sports, being around teammates, classmates, friends and even family was hard for me because I never let anyone know what I was genuinely feeling inside. I have always tried to hide my feelings to keep from bothering others. Tonight I am going to tell you my story, about growing up playing on an all boys team to transitioning to an all girls team. I will take you on my journey. An exploration of finding my true self, with the help of NMH, my friends, my family, my coaches, and my teammates.
I grew up with two older brothers and all male cousins except for one. My parents thought that because I was the only girl in my family, that I should act and dress like a girl. When I was one, my parents took me skating on the ice for the first time. I loved everything about skating: being at the rink and on the ice. There was only one problem; I was wearing pink figure skates. Four years went by of wearing figure skates and purple tutus, then I had to set my parents straight. At age four, I skated off the ice in the middle of my figure skating lesson to whine to my parents that I was absolutely bored out of my mind and lonely out on the ice. I told them that I was quitting figure skating. I was apparently a very persuasive four-year-old because I demanded to play hockey with my brothers on their previously all male teams. A few days and a couple of tantrums later, they caved in and let me gear up for a learn-to-play lesson.
This was the very first time I was the only female on the ice participating in a highly physical sport. My parents were scared of me not fitting in, and getting hurt. They watched from behind the glass as I skated around in bulky, smelly equipment, surrounded by boys. I was keeping up with everyone else, until a boy came up from behind me, tripped me, and skated away. I was furious. I immediately got up, skated after him and two-handed him in the legs with my stick, taking him out. Yes, I did get in some trouble for this, but now my dad reminds me of this moment as an inspirational story when I need a laugh! The coaches had to split us up and the boys clearly got the message not to pick on me anymore because after that day they never messed with me again.
This is where it all started. From that moment on, I was afraid to be different and not fit in. I ditched all my girl clothing, dolls, makeup, and everything else that came with being a girl. Right then, I became what most people describe as a “tomboy.” I feared to dress, act, and be like a girl. I was determined to become one of the guys. I dressed like them, I acted like them, I talked like them, and I did pretty much everything the boys on my team did. I would show up to my hockey games wearing khaki pants, a white buttoned down shirt, and a tie. I wore black flats, the guys wore dress shoes. I never wanted to be different from the guys I was playing with and against. I never wanted any special attention, and refused to let anyone think I would take the easy way out of things just because I am a “girl.” I would even wear my smelly Under Armor beneath my clothes to games and practices so that I wouldn’t have to leave the room to get dressed, in fear that it would call attention to the fact that I was different.
But once I was on the ice, I was just the same as the boys. The ice was my safe place. I could be and do whatever I wanted and not be judged by my gender. I checked three people, and they checked me back; gender roles didn’t matter on the ice. I was treated just the same and I made sure of it. I pushed myself every day, proving to the team and to myself that I in fact deserved to be on the team. I worked out everyday with my brothers and our trainers to become tougher and stronger. I made sure that I could keep up with the boys and even beat them. They showed me the respect I had earned by voting me their captain and leader three years in a row. I had accomplished my goal; I had proven myself as “one of them.”
From the age of four to 14 I played almost exclusively with boys, and even when I interacted with girls I made sure to be “tougher” and “stronger” then them. I was too afraid of being treated differently by my teammates. When the boys on my team said that girls sucked at sports, I agreed with them. When they said girls were too weak or wimpy to play tough sports, I agreed with them. Obviously I thought, they weren’t talking about me, I was one of the them; they couldn’t be talking about me. It never occurred to them or me that I was in fact a part of that group of girls they were making fun of. It never occurred to them that they were offending me, or humiliating me for being a girl. Playing with only guys made me lose touch with my own identity. It made me lose touch with the fact that I too was a “target” with all these insults. But none of us thought about it let alone acknowledged it because we were all “bros.” I was one of the top goal scorers each year, and I never shied away from any challenges. My team accepted me and respected me. However, upon reflection, it wasn’t just my boy teammates that took away my femininity. My fear of not fitting in with the group of 16 boys as the only girl had caused me to take my femininity away from myself.
It wasn't until I was 11, just three years before I came to NMH that, finally, two other girls joined my team. They became my linemates and most importantly my best friends. At first, I didn’t really like having the other girls there because they made being a girl stand out again. When the three of us girls would line up to take a faceoff, our ponytails flowing out the back of our helmets, the guys on the opposing team would laugh and make jokes. However, we made sure to show them we were far from a joke, we were even more determined to beat them. Playing with two other girls helped me evolve out of my tomboy stage and embrace my femininity as a serious athlete. That season, my team traveled to Boston for a hockey tournament. I went to the rink where a girls club team, the East Coast Wizards, play. I wasn't happy about the idea of practicing with an all girls team but I knew that in a few years I would have to stop playing with the boys, so I gave it a shot. After practicing with the Wizards, I got off the ice and in a record-breaking time ran out of the locker room and headed straight to the car. I told my parents that I would never play with girls again! Girls yelled and screamed too much and too loud for my liking. And that was the last of girls hockey for a while.
Then, when I was in eighth grade, I came to NMH for the first time to watch my brother Corey’s hockey game. I met girls hockey coach Ted Kenyon and he brought my family and me into the locker room. I walked in to see girls trying to hang up a disco ball on the ceiling, other girls setting up a new speaker system, and other girls laughing and screaming. I looked at my parents with worry that this would be just like the Wizards practice...I was so paranoid and worried that I left the locker room. I was nervous about what I was getting myself into for the next four years.
Then, In August of 2011 I showed up on the NMH campus for the second time, but this time it was permanent. I knew I was going to be living in a dorm with forty girls and even have a roommate. I was very anxious and scared about fitting in. All summer long I told myself that I wouldn’t dress like a “tomboy” and I would show up the first day wearing “girls” clothing. I thought that since it is “boarding school” that I wouldn’t be accepted for what I wore, and what I believed in in the past. Regardless of my fear, I ended up showing up to orientation in black running shorts, and a blue tiedyed shirt that said, “I bust mine to kick yours” written on the front. The reason I decided to wear this is because I felt comfortable with myself, and it represented me and who I am. I did not want to start a new part of my life being someone I am not. I came to NMH thinking that I was only going to be rooming with girls and playing on the girls hockey team. What I did not know at the time is that I would end up here today, having played 12 Varsity seasons, four different sports. To be exact I have played 271 sports games here at NMH, all with girls.
NMH allowed me to take chances and try new things, like playing field hockey, lacrosse, and softball...all sports I have never played in my life before NMH. Trying out for new sports shocked me in many ways in that I had to wear a skirt during field hockey and lacrosse…and the first day of softball girls were making bows and trying to put them in my hair for the game…. Ummm….excuse me?!?! You want me to play sports in a skirt, with ribbons in my hair? Yeah...
This was my first experience of trying new sports with a team full of girls. I was freaking out and called my parents later that day. They just laughed and told me to have fun. I went back the next day and did just that. I learned a new sport and made new six friends, “who were all girls this time." It turned out to not be so bad after all.
Now, every day I wake up looking forward to being in the locker room, and with my teammates singing, dancing, and having fun, while at the same time still being able to work hard and perform as strong athletes. It's the best feeling ever. It turns out being a girl is actually a lot of fun. I also realized that running in a skirt turned out to be very refreshing and comfortable. If I could wear a skirt every time I go running I would. Seriously, you should try it sometime!
At NMH, even when I am the only person at a table or in a class wearing sweatpants, I feel accepted and encouraged to be myself. NMH allows us to be and find who we truly are throughout our time here, both inside and out. I am not only up here telling you my story just because Tom Pratt asked me to; I chose this story in particular because of the wonderful and talented people that surround me every day, all of you. Look around. The people surrounding us tonight are our teammates, our classmates, our dormmates, and most importantly our brothers and sisters. Some people in here might feel very confident about themselves, but there are also some people in here who might feel out of place as they were pressured into wearing nice clothes tonight being forced out of their comfort zone.
But I am here tonight to tell you that it is okay to go outside of your comfort zone, just as it is okay to be different. It is important to be yourself. We all have our own identities and finding your “place” isn't always easy. It involves taking chances, and often times going through an awkward stage before you find your comfort zone. Expressing your true self does not need to come at the cost of losing your true “identity” like I did before I came to NMH. Those of us who are leaving here in a week, and those of you who still have one, two, or even three years left here, take this time to think and act with humanity and respect as you interact with new teammates, new classmates and new dormmates. Take the time to listen to someone's story and don’t be afraid to share your own story as well. Be respectful in the ways you talk and treat people in and out of the locker rooms. Let others know that you support them and care for them. Seventeen years ago all I needed to hear was for one of my teammates to say that “he supported me in both being a girl and playing with the guys.” Trust me, a single word or act of kindness goes a long way.
NMH has allowed me to find myself through my four years here and has brought me here tonight, telling you my story about adapting to new sports, new teammates, a new school, and a new way of living. It has allowed me to stand before you tonight with straightened hair wearing a dress and heels, because it’s just like trying new sports; it's always worth the risk. NMH has encouraged me to go out of my comfort zone and experience new things, even if it meant learning to fit in or be in different uncomfortable situations. It taught me that it is okay to be who I want to be and encouraged me to embrace my identity. Remember, just as Andrew Goldstein shared with us, “You never know what someone is truly hiding inside.” So take this speech as just one of the many unknown stories in this room, and don’t make assumptions about others; use your head, your heart, and your hand to listen, respect, and support your teammates, friends, and all members of the NMH community. Thank you!