When Unforeseen Events Shift Your Life’s Path
As a high school junior, I committed to play volleyball at the University of Florida. This had been a dream since I was 12 years old, when Coach Mary Wise saw my hands and said, “How are you not playing volleyball?”
Before I knew it, I was at a UF volleyball summer camp and the rest, as they say, was history. I fell deeply in love with the sport; met some of my best, lifelong girlfriends who were my first teammates; and began to build a lot of who I was around being a volleyball player, and specifically a middle blocker. I loved to block and move quickly across the net to hit.
I was elated to be a Florida Gator and to stay in Gainesville, where I’d grown up and where my family lived. When Coach Wise came to my house to offer me the opportunity to play for her, I was literally a day away from committing to UCLA and moving across the country! What a huge change all of that would have been for both me and my family.
I got to UF and was redshirted, which means I’d take a year to get faster, stronger and better at the game, and then gain an extra year of eligibility on the end of my career. My teammates and I worked hard: practicing, lifting, running, jump training, sprinting, swimming — essentially living, eating, breathing and sleeping volleyball.
By my sophomore year, I had gained 30 pounds of muscle. While that may sound impressive, it was uncomfortable on my otherwise tiny and recently out of high school frame. Squatting 210 isn’t exactly natural for a gal whose knee caps stood out farther than any other thing on her body until she started lifting weights.
My new body mass contributed to an unfortunate outcome: I got severe stress fractures in both of my shins. My left shin bone was injured badly enough that over Christmas break of my sophomore year, I got a titanium rod drilled down the middle of my tibia to keep the fracture from snapping through the bone more deeply. I haven’t liked Black and Decker drills ever since.
The surgery ended up putting me on the sidelines to recover, but then for much longer. I never made a full recovery, and always felt physically and mentally behind in my game. I was able to contribute some, but never felt up to my potential. What was once my passion, my love — my identity — had now taken a back seat in my life. It was devastating.
But other bright spots emerged from what otherwise felt tragic. I became the listening ear to my teammates and played a role of counselor in ways that I’m not sure I otherwise would have. I paid a lot more attention to learning how to play defense and serve! I became aware of other parts of myself that I had not been before, since volleyball was such a huge part of who I was.
These new perspectives on my own identity and that of my teammates’ led me to go into mental health counseling, which informs the work I do today. I took that fifth year I was given through redshirting and applied it to my counseling degrees at UF.
I also discovered through this identity shift that I loved to perform. I became an improv comedian, writer, actor and storyteller, and had the opportunity to do work in New York and Washington, D.C. I now combine these crafts in the work that I do, producing live storytelling shows and using improv and story to lead corporate and group trainings. I love to help others find their voice, their meaning and their identity, both through a greater connection to themselves and others.
I knew my injury wasn’t anyone’s “fault.” My coaches and trainers wanted to help create the athlete I could be and I wanted to be that athlete. It took me a while to process all that had shifted and changed through the four years I was an athlete, but I am forever grateful. I now see that while I am an athlete and a performer, a coach and a counselor, a mother and daughter, a friend and a community-member — I am first and foremost always me.