I love sports. I can't remember a time I wasn’t running outside chasing neighbors, throwing a ball, or fighting my sisters for the “winning point.” My first memory as an “athlete” is when I was 5 years old. I distinctly remember being in the front yard with my dad, repeatedly kicking one of those orange and black (plush) nerf footballs off a tee, making him chase down every kick and reset the ball for me.
Since I was little, I dabbled in about every sport. I tried swimming, tennis, soccer, baseball, and even flag football with the boys. Fast forward to seventh grade and my new neighbor has managed to drag me out to try this new sport in Tampa called “lacrosse.” I had never heard of it, didn’t know how to use a stick, and was a chubby kid relunctant to put myself out there. But at the end of the first practice, when the sky lit up with lightning and everyone was looking around for our coach to call practice, she said, “If you finish your sprints fast enough you’ll leave sooner.” I was hooked.
As I gradually became more and more committed to lacrosse, I began to form a passion that was unparalleled by any other relationship I had with a sport. And, when I got to my freshman year, my high school coach delivered to me a poem that has continued to be the driving force in various aspects of my life. The poem, “Invictus” — “unconquered” in Latin — ends with:
“I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.”
For me this became a daily reminder of how I am the person that dictates my future. And so, when sophomore year arrived, this poem became a part of my attitude when, in the course of a little over a month, I faced perhaps the hardest thing I could ever imagine.
In March, one early morning, my dad came into my room and told me that my mother had passed away.
Unfortunately, this was something that didn’t come as a surprise because for the last 12 years of my life prior to her death she was an alcoholic. But nevertheless, it was news that shattered my world and broke my heart.
See, what people don’t know about me is how sports saved me. When my mother was drunk, demanding, and reckless, my sisters and I would run outside and find peace in throwing a football for hours or kicking a soccer ball until the last bit of light was gone.
What people don’t know is that the day my mother died the only thing I wanted to do was go to lacrosse practice – so I did. And that whole week I practiced and played games because for me that is how I found solice. No one was aware of the internal battle that was tearing me up inside, because on the field I was cured.
About three weeks later, in a playoff game, a pop in my knee tested me further. And before I knew it, I was in a doctor's office where I was told that my ACL, MCL, and meniscus had been torn and I would likely be out for the next year.
So there I was, stripped of a mother, facing an upcoming surgery, and without the one thing that seemed to keep me going in the day.
Through all of my sophomore year, as I coped with the loss of my mother and my injury, I continually referred to that poem, “Invictus.” I didn’t want these hardships to be the crippling factor in my life. I didn’t want to be less of the person that I knew I could be. I wanted to remain unconquered.
And, sure enough, I remained unconquered by having a new, harder work ethic and by committing myself to getting better each day. Looking back now, as a senior about to embark on the next chapter of my life, I still refer to the poem “Invictus” almost daily. For some, this season marks the last time you will play a sport at a competitive level; and for others you will continue to play either here or in college.
But for me, sports are so much more than something I will just do next year in college. For me, sports saved my life … they provided me the medium to get away from a drunk mother, to cope with her loss, and to push through hours of rehab and workouts.
But regardless of how much sports have touched you, perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind is that you are the master of your fate, the captain of your soul.