On November 12, 2004, my mom had a major heart attack only two hours after her mom, my grandma, died of cancer.
My mom died for 20 minutes. After paramedics shocked her heart 13 times, she woke again. Although she remained in a coma for three weeks following her heart attack, she regained consciousness, spent seven years in multiple brain injury facilities across the midwest and eventually retired to a nursing home only 40 minutes from my hometown. With her illness came several hopes and several disappointments. For years we prayed that her quality of life would improve. We prayed that she would learn to walk again, learn to speak, regain old memories and keep new ones. We always prayed, period.
As time went on, however, I accepted that my mom would
never be the same mom I once knew. Although pivotal moments in my life like prom and graduation were spent without her, however, I learned to be positive and I learned to be tough.
Toughness became a badge for me. I wore toughness like I wore a volleyball uniform. From learning to play volleyball in eighth grade, to making the Varsity roster in high school, to committing to Iowa, to finishing a four year career this past fall. Each step came with adversities that often times I never thought I could overcome. However, the legacy of my mother never let my badge of toughness leave me.
There comes a time in every collegiate athlete’s life when they experience senior night. Senior night: the one and only night of your career where each and every family member, friend and fan comes together to celebrate the completion of a career you often times never felt you could complete.
My senior night was one of the most bitter sweet moments of my life. My incredible teammates, family and friends did everything in their power to make my night perfect. From flowers, gifts, letters, hugs, photos and chants of encouragement, I had never felt more supported in my life. I had the privilege of singing the national anthem. I gave a speech to all those that attended the match. I shared my thank you’s and said my goodbye’s. In only a week,
after all, my career would officially end.
With the accolades and support came tears as well. My mom wasn’t there. Since my freshman year I anticipated the inevitability of her appearance missing at this extremely significant night in my life. I had wished their was a way to get her there, to tell her I was sorry, to explain to her that I was thinking of her the entire night. These thoughts always remain with me, even to this day.
No one student-athlete will ever experience this night the same. For me, it was a relief that I made it that far. I could see the finish line. For me, it was a symbol of the tremendous dedication, passion and resilience I had shown to get to this point. For me, senior night was one of the greatest gifts I could’ve asked for in my career.
The Last Match
Michigan State University will forever hold a special place in my heart. The night before entering the gym for our final match, my fellow seniors, Alli O’Deen, Mikaela Gunderson and I requested that we share a room. The three of us spent the entire night sharing laughs, tears and stories of our careers together.
Although at times our hearts were heavy, we we were ready.
The match came and went quickly. We lost 3-0 to a powerhouse squad that would soon go on to the Sweet Sixteen at the 2015 D1 NCAA tournament. Walking to the locker room, I looked up at the sky and said thank you. Maybe even out loud, I’m still not even sure to this day. While my fellow seniors cried, I felt absolutely relieved. To me, this journey was so hard. For so long I never thought this day would come. I guess, looking back on that moment more than anything, I knew my life had finally started.
The Finish Line
Walking off the plane that final evening, I knew everything would be different. This life I had lived for so many years, so dictated by the clock, so physically, mentally and emotionally invested into the sport I had grown to love, at times, more than life itself. It was over.
However, finishing was my most valuable reward. Following my time as a Division I athlete, I’ve found who I truly am. I’ve exceeded so many expectations in exploring potential careers I never once thought I could do. I’m involved. I know my family more than I ever have before. I invest in relationships with anyone and everyone. I smile more, I cry more passionately, I set goals, I exceed them, I challenge myself to live more free and love deeper and make time for the things that matter most to me.
My Life After Division I Sports is my real beginning.