By the age of seventeen, I believed dreams could be premonitions, including this one. All I remember from this dream is speaking with my Aunt Fanny, who had died almost ten years prior. For some reason, she had purple hair. The only thing I remember her saying was April 28 was the end of the world. Clearly, that did not happen in the literal sense or any sense. In fact, I don’t recall any tragedies occurring April 28 to the this day.
I do recall calling my then ex boyfriend, Damian* at 2am explaining this dream and being afraid. Today, I realize I must’ve sounded psychotic and paranoid, but then, it felt real. It felt real because I still believed, from my freshman year, that I was not going to live to see the age of eighteen. Again, there was still no reason to feel that way, but I did. Because my high school was a private school that excepted girls from various towns and cities, the school had buses for those that qualified. I remember sitting by the window and quietly tearing because I was afraid I would not survive long enough to make it home. The possibility of enduring a deadly accident seemed too real and highly plausible. There were some days I was afraid to leave my house because of what or who was on the other side. If a car drove too close to me, I was convinced it was someone stalking me. I sometimes sat on my bed and imagined my funeral. What would my coffin look like? Who would be there? I was preparing for the end without thinking of the positives that could be in my future.
April 28 came and went numerous times. I enjoyed my eighteenth birthday and am writing this at 23. The end is likely not known for anyone so preparing for it just makes you lose today. This was relevant for life in general and track and field. As a track athlete, I was never great. I was never the All-American that people wanted to meet and run against. When listing the greatest high school, college, and post collegiate athletes, my name was never in that conversation. Locally, people were aware of me, but nothing beyond that. For this reason, I thought my running career was over many times.
I ended my senior year of high school barely running the 400m hurdles any faster than when I started. By then, I was strongly interested in running in college, but I knew nothing about the recruiting process. My school was a small school and did not have a track team my first year. We were a track club. By sophomore year of high school, my school became an official member of NJSIAA, basically the state track and field association. Because we were so new to the sport as a team and I was the only runner on the team with any chance and desire of getting some sort of athletic scholarship or recognition from colleges, the athletic director and track coach had no idea how to even get schools to look at me.
After running in state championships senior year, I competed for my youth summer club team Transy East in Paterson. This was my second to last year competing for this youth team, but I new the natural end was coming. By the time I had reached the young women’s 15 to 18 age group of summer track, I realized a significant number of girls I compete with had stopped competing. By then, high school seniors have either received a college scholarship or decided to quit running. Regardless, by the end of the summer as qualifying rounds for youth nationals approached, conversations about school choices became more frequent. I was fixated on going to Villanova University. The first year, I ran for Transy East, the summer of my junior year of high school, I met Nicholas*. Nicholas was a former member of the team who was also a 400m hurdler. By then, he attended Villanova University in Pennsylvania. Doing research on the school, I noticed the school had a notable reputation in the track and field world and at the time was top 10 in the country for its business school, my intended major. The school was located close to Philadelphia with easily accessible Septa train lines from the campus to the city. I loved Philadelphia. The murals on the walls showed so much culture, and it was nice to be in an area with a large black population. The tall, connected homes reminded me of scenes from Harry Potter and black history oozed from the streets. The Nova campus itself reminded me of my high school. I visited the campus with my mother during my senior year of high school. We drive through a suburban yet concrete area to reach the front of campus which hid behind a large, black gate, like MHCA. Once we enter a gate, there is a small, grassy area to the left and a the athletic facilities, including the notable Pavilion which hosted home basketball games and the Jake Nevin fieldhouse where the track was located. Directly ahead was the Nova church. Like St. John’s Episcopal church, the building probably dated back to the 1800s or earlier, beautiful grey brick with two steeples. Based on what I saw and new about the campus, I was fixated. I had to attend the school no matter the cost, and this small, private institution of about 6000 students had a large tuition cost. I was determined to work and have numerous personal bests the summer of my senior year to get a scholarship to go to my dream school.
That did not happen.
I ran decent times. I barely hit the walk-on standards for the team. To be honest, I might not have even hit the standard at the time. My summer coaches, Ronald* and Wayne* and the man who helped me look into other schools and coach of Jersey City Gladiators, James* all tried to get me to choose a more affordable school willing to give me an athletic or academic scholarship. I was not interested. Even when Wayne* felt I belonged in a division II institution, I was not changing my mind. By seventeen years old, despite my times, I knew track was my sport and I have the possibility to be one of the best in the country. However, all that conviction did not help me improve my times and this was the first time I was afraid I would not make it onto the team and my track career would be over.
Spoiler alert, I did compete with Villanova as a walk on, but it did not ease my fears for long. By sophomore year, I decided to transfer. Despite improving significantly during my time at Villanova, my times still didn’t seem fast enough to get a full ride to another school. Regardless, I was as fixated on leaving Villanova as I was for going. My mindset was, “I don’t care what is next. I just have to go. God will get me through this”. This was a second time where I believed my track career was over. What if no school wanted me? What if Villanova decided to retract its 50% offer? Where would I go? What if my new coach isn’t good? I was afraid that this decision could end all of my goals of being a world class athlete.
Spoiler alert, I was offered a full ride from Coach Kyle* at the University of Connecticut, but it did not ease my fears for long. By senior year, despite no longer running the 400m hurdles, I ran well. I was Second Team All-American on the team’s 4×400 relay. I was conference champion in the 800m. I competed in NCAA East Regionals in the 800m and missed the second round by .004 seconds. I had other accomplishments as well. Despite these accomplishments, my times still weren’t world class level. I was angry and frustrated. By the end of outdoor season, there were a lot of emotions brewing within the team between the athletes and the coaches. It was overwhelming and not how I wanted to end my track career. Despite these times, I still wanted to run professionally. However, the same questions and others came to my mind. What if no coach wanted me? What if I couldn’t afford to train pro? Where would I go? What if my next coach isn’t good? Again, I was afraid that this decision could end all of my goals of being a world class athlete.
Spoiler alert, I was accepted into the UCONN Department of Communications Graduate Program as a full time student and teaching assistant which waived my tuition and provided a stipend large enough to pay to live. In addition, my 800m coach from UCONN, Coach Mark was willing to continue to train me. However, my fears were not eased for long. In fact, since running post-collegiate, my fears constantly loomed over my head. These fears manifested itself in anxiety levels strong enough to have thoughts of suicide and go to counseling on campus. They also manifested in my dreams. Some of my dreams involve the white car and my identity and the broken school.