My ears ring with the sound of tearing muscle. Three monstrous pops and the world went black. The grains of sand on the cool hardwood floor were illuminated by fluorescent lights from above. The gymnasium had never been more deafeningly silent. My face burned as boiling tears rolled down my cheeks and realization set it.
I was finished.
I fell in love with volleyball when I was 12 years old. I had been through a lot of sports: soccer, ballet, basketball, softball, and cheer, but none of those were my sport. The incomparable electricity of a block or a kill captivated me. The everlasting bruises and floor burns from hardwork and dedication were always scattered on my body. Volleyball transformed who I was. It was my confidence. I had never felt so important, so strong, so authentically me.
The summer before my freshman year of high school I had it all. I was an athlete at the top of my game. The opposing schools trained to defeat me at the net. My teammates were like family. The only thing wrong with my life was the constant slipping of my knee joint out of its track. I was misdiagnosed with a hyperextended hamstring, but the true cause was a half torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament
One of the best high school coaches in NorthEast Florida wanted me on her team. She saw great potential in me, and brought me along to an intense training camp in Chattanooga, Tennessee. We would play around 20 games in four days.
I had always been a middle blocker, but she wanted to utilize my power in an outside hitting position. During the first game of the week, my world collapsed. That day plays in my head in slow motion.
The moment my feet left the earth, they would never return the same. I landed in a way that caused me to completely tear my ACL and meniscus.
If someone were to ask me to define myself at that moment, I would have used words such as broken, defeated, useless.
I was alone. The “family” I had in my team left me behind. They didn’t speak to me, help me, or even give me a second thought. I was discarded like garbage because I was no longer useful to them.
That lit a fire within me to fight. I battled not only my physical detriment, but the pain I felt within my being. I fought to prove to them and myself that I still was strong.
I had to learn how to trust my body again. I had to tell myself that I was still an athlete worth watching. I fought through a year of physical therapy, and came back to the court stronger than I had been before.
When I returned to my team ready to play, they didn’t give me a chance for months. During the last game of our preseason for the upcoming school year, I finally felt like I was back on top. We had finished our game before the time ran out, and decided to play a short five minute match for fun. The last time I looked at the clock we had two minutes left.
But I was out of time.
I went in for an attack. As soon as I was in the air I knew. My stomach dropped. My heart shattered. I landed with my good leg first. The pops that followed left me breathless.
“I’m done. I’m done,” were the only words I could mutter through my enraged sobbing. All of the work I did was for nothing. My identity was ripped away…again.
In life, whether an athlete or not, we always seem to be facing moments like these, don’t we? Moments where we feel tested, moments where we feel like the world is coming to an end.
In those moments we’re faced with a choice about whether we throw in the towel or dust ourselves off and push on. I chose to get up, hold my head high, and push on. I chose to be okay, to rally what strength I had left. I chose myself.
Looking back on this moment, I had no idea that it would be the best thing that had ever happened to me.
Through the loss and pain that haunted me every second of every day, I learned who I really was. I realized that I was so much stronger mentally and physically than I had ever given myself credit for.
I can fight my way through anything that I face. I learned that being alone is okay. Losing this part of myself allowed my to grow into the person I am today.
Focusing on the grains of sand scattered on the hardwood floor of the gymnasium gave me a different perspective. Grains of sand are so small, but facing them head on made them seem much larger than reality. Those grains of sand mirrored the events that I have experienced. They seemed impossibly large in the moment, but now those moments seem so small.
Yes, I was finished with the volleyball chapter of my life, and losing that dream and facing reality hurt. But I was also starting over, and only beginning to understand how volleyball taught me more about life than just winning or surviving those everlasting bruises.
It taught me a lesson about never giving in, as well as how to fight for myself, and those will live on with me every day.