You are never going to be prepared when the final buzzer rings. No matter how many articles you read, how many naysayers state their opinions to you, or how many teammates you have watched go through this process, when the clock hits zero on your final game of your athletic career, your whole world becomes still.
On Saturday March 5th 2016, my athletic career came to a close. Upon returning to the locker room the mood was sombre amongst my teammates. I kept my head low and didn’t utter a word, I was scared of what emotion would escape out of me and even more fearful that I would become too overwhelmed if I tried to talk. I physically started to shake trying to contain the emotion that I was feeling. When Coach Dillon came in and started talking, I was only registering bits and pieces of what she was saying, all I was thinking was “This is it. After 18 years involved in competitive sports, I am done.”
As I composed myself enough to glance around the room, my eyes fell upon my fellow senior teammates and that’s when it dawned on me. I was being selfish. I was being selfish in the sense that I was pitying myself, thinking that this is just about me and what I am feeling. I didn’t realize that those who have been by my side the past four years are dealing with this same fate. Regardless if we are are experiencing this on different levels of the emotional spectrum, this is all about us. The four of us are now in our own boat.
So when coaches asked if the seniors wanted to talk, I for one didn’t want to. But again I was resorting back to what I felt and not what my senior teammates might need to hear. So I swallowed the lump in my throat and I spoke. I talked about how the coaching staff sent the seniors an article before we started our playoff run, by Harvard Senior, Ice Hockey Captain, Jimmy Vesey. In the article Vesey talked about how he declined to go up to the NHL with the Nashville Predators at the conclusion of his Junior season so that he could finish out his college career. Vesey emphasized the honor and pure ecstasy you get to be able to play for your college, but more importantly that there are no trades in college, or kids playing for the next contract deal. In college you simply just play for the school but more importantly you play for each other. Ultimately Vesey’s message was to remind every athlete and especially ever senior, the difference these past four years make on your life.
As the coaches left the team returned to their routines of getting their bags packed up, meeting up with parents, and showering up. All the seniors stayed in full equipment for what seemed like hours, nobody dared to move. I think we all just wanted to sit in our uniforms for just one moment longer. Teammates would pass us and exchanged a sympathetic look, in which we are grateful for but you can’t help but notice the look in their eyes in terms of “I am glad it’s not my time yet.”
By the time I found my parents I could tell that this was just as tough for them as it was for me. I let myself be embraced by their arms. I am the youngest of three in my family and all of my siblings were involved in sports. The past 25 years my parents have been the the biggest sports fans to my siblings and I. All that our family has known in our lives is being involved with sports. So just like myself, my parents are also in a new discovery phase of their life and the big question of what next?
I’m not going to lie when I tell you that the next few weeks are going to be easy, hell the next couple months until graduation are are frankly going to be brutal. All your life you have known the person that you are with competitive sports. Being an athlete on a team, that’s bigger than yourself and means something special. You now enter a complete unknown of who you are without sports, it’s a rediscovery phase that is going to be a process. Yes there are adult leagues that you can play in, and you can still play the sport that you love, but the lifestyle is completely different.
When I was having a rough day I called up my dad. He told me that it’s okay to feel sad, and be angry with reality but to not lose touch with who you are. I asked him how could I possibly do that if who I am is being an athlete? It wasn’t until I was typing up this blog when I realized what he was trying to say to me. Hockey is who I am yes. It’s a beautiful piece in what makes up me. But it’s just one piece. I now have the opportunity to build up the other pieces that I am composed of that I couldn’t have before, I now have the chance to discover and learn new things about myself. To go on this new adventure of life with a new sense of purpose.
So when that final buzzer sounds, and the clock ticks away its last second, don’t be afraid to be engulfed by the emotion because what you have accomplished in your athletic career is now a beautiful piece of you.