“What are you doing after you graduate?” Why do I hate that question? Why is is it impossible to believe that I could be running after I graduate? It always amazes me that the people who watch me train and work every day yet still doubt me.
Another reason I cannot stand that question is that I honestly do not know. I don’t know what will happen when I graduate. I don’t know what jobs are out there when I graduate. I don’t know how my track career will be when I graduate. I honestly question if I will even graduate.
I love how people tell me to “live in the moment” yet constantly bombard me with questions about what I am doing a year from now when I don’t even know what will happen next week.
There is not much that I know, except for now, and I can say with confidence, despite doubt, fear, anxiety and anger, I know this is where I am meant to be. This moment as I am typing waiting for Coach T to come to his office. This moment with hamstring, quad and knee pain. This moment of finals with one straight forward final left to go. All of this colliding into one moment I am immersed in. This is where I am meant to be. Of course, a moment with God solidified this.
This is week 4 of training with Coach Terrelonge. Since the switch I have ran in 3 meets. I ran in Connecticut where I ran 55 for the 400. I ran in New Jersey where I ran 55. I also spent my money to go to Florida where I ran. . . 50 effing 5. But it’s the trip to Florida that made me realize it was all going to be okay. At this meet I realized 3 things: I look fast, I attract attention, I have more to give in track.
I ran at the NTC Sprint Series in Clermont FL, a track meet for sprinters only. The longest distance was the 400m. The track was beautiful. Soft yet bouncy. Lines clearly marked and painted. But that was it. There was no stadium. No big building. It was just a track in a valley, literally. When you drive to NTC, you go down this winding downhill road to this track. It was the place for runners. Beautiful sun and warmth, elite runners of all calibers from Olympians to newbies like me. It was the place for trackheads and trackheads only, and I loved it. I embraced it all.
As I walked to the bathroom, these coaches stopped and asked about my time and my event. It seems like nothing, but I was far from them. It wasn’t until I realized I was here at a meet for champions becoming legends and I was running in this meet. Just my presence at the track meant something. Here I was dressed in bright Nike at a meet people are using to qualify for Olympic trials for their countries. Just that alone made me look like a champion without any context.
It was interesting being this no name young girl alone on the track surrounded by these well seasoned athletes, yet I felt in place. It was a place where I had no choice but to know what I was doing from warm up to racing to cooling down. Although, my time was not great, my poise and confidence getting to the starting line showed my maturity in the sport. My clean execution of the race showed all of the things I have been working on with Coach T. My consistency shows a drop in time is coming.
I am excited for the rest of the season. I know I am in solid position to progress and hit a breakthrough.
As I always say, I am all about dreams and dream interpretations. Dreams have meanings that, especially when repeated, are worth reading into most times. This dream that I had during my nap in the indoor track facility last week has led me to make yet another life changing decision.
If you have not read my beach post, I will summarize. During this spring break, the track team went to the beach where I met with them because I could not travel with them because I am not on the team. On the beach I had a revelation that I was alone and needed to change my life. Since then I gradually became angrier and quickly lost my motivation to run. I was not running well in practice and I was crying before during and after every workout. One day, I curled into a ball on the high jump mat that is placed against the wall in the indoor track facility at UConn and this is where I had a dream.
I was driving this white car with a black grill on this two lane highway and was just at the top of a hill. I don’t know how but I suddenly found myself standing on the side of the road but my car was still in drive and rolled full speed down this large two way street where at the end I knew there was an intersection. Because this car was a rental I immediately started to panic wondering how would I be able to pay for any accident damages that is going to happen. I walk down this hill and see an accident at the intersection where the two cars that collided were covered. I looked underneath both covers and realized neither of these cars were my white car. I go to a small shed to the side of the intersection and asked these two men if they have my car. They first pull out a small, and I mean toy size small, grey older car to see if I’d claim it. They showed me other small size cars but none of them were my new white car with the large black front.
Apparently I was going somewhere specific and needed to get there soon. I go to this gorgeous black woman. She must have been about 30 years old. Skin glowing. Hair was slicked back into a long pony tail. She was friendly and so confident riding a four wheel motorcycle . I got on this bike with this gorgeous woman and we drove. Our first stop was a colorful but clearly old day care.
I guess this woman had a daughter. We get there and I see my former sprint coach, Coach T, playing with some little girl, about 5 or 6 years old. She runs past me and looks at me like I knew her. I knew her too but I didn’t know how so all I could do was awkwardly pat this girl on the head. She turns to me and says “I don’t like when you do that.” I reach down to give her a hug instead when she runs to another room in the day care with those small tables that barely go up to your shins because they were clearly meant for small children. There, she spoke to pretty 30 lady. The woman tells her “I think you should focus on track and school.” The little girl was actually reluctant because she wanted to dance but the woman insisted this girl focused on track.
The little girl sulked and grabbed her red umbrella and was preparing to leave with me and the pretty woman by getting her lunchbox and backpack. Then, and older white woman, whom I’m guessing is the one in charge of this day care, tells me she cannot leave unless I have a group a of 8 people.
Fast forward to outside the front of the day, we are clearly kidnapping two or three older people and putting them in the back of the trunk of this older, maybe early 2000s or late 1990s, car which was clearly also stolen (dream-me is so badass). Somehow this was approved and the dream ends with me and my sprint coach in the back seat of this car with this little girl in the back with us and this pretty woman looking in the rear view mirror at the three of us. I would say this was the end of the dream but something in my dream made a surprise appearance in my life which made all the difference.
Now To Real Life:
Where to begin!? For the images in my dream, I hyperlinked them to dream meanings found on my favorite site, dreammoods. But this dream led me to make the decision to train with my sprint coach, Coach Terrelonge. Prior to this dream, I had numerous dreams with various symbols indicating I needed change and it was coming soon. I did not know what change was coming until this recent dream. It was a lot of debating. There were many benefits to training for the 800 with Coach Clark, but my heart told me something needed to change and I started with coaching. Why coaching? I was closer to Coach T. Despite not training with him, he was a comforting person to be around which after my beach experience, I realized is what I needed.
Is basing such a career changing decision off a dream wise? It is incredibly risky and not recommended. However, I believe I am moving in the right direction. The next week after this dream, Monday April 4 was the day I told Coach Clark that I wanted to train with Coach T. It was the same day I brought my blue Nissan Rogue to a body shop to get its bumper fixed. Because it would take a couple of days to fix, I needed a rental (I wonder who sees where this is going yet). I waited for the rental to come, Enterprise was about ten minutes late but I’m over it, and of course what drives up to the front of the body shop was a 2015 white toyota corolla with a black front.
This was the car I was looking for in my dream. If you did not read the link meaning to dreams about cars, this one I will remind you. Cars are symbolic of your identity. To lose your car or have it drive away is a way to say you are losing your identity. Prior to this decision, I felt lost. I didn’t believe I could qualify for the Olympics. I didn’t have a goal in track and I almost wanted to quit. I was also mentally and emotionally exhausted from people telling me the time span of my track career, what I should be doing instead of track, my talent level and so on. I knew changing coaches in the middle of the track season during Olympic year was a crazy decision but it was MY decision. Making this decision based on what I believe is the right choice for me and not the one that would get the most approval was me making a step to take back my identity.
Driving around in that 2015 white toyota corolla felt like God telling me, “you can have your identity back.”
My indoor season as an unattached athlete ended, and it was a whirlwind of ups and downs. Today I particularly want to look at the downs. I don’t want to do this to wallow in self pity but to acknowledge what needs to change or be addressed for the future. During my time as a graduate student, I have developed an increased interest in college students and mental health.
My indoor season started great in January but sometime around the end of January middle of February things went downhill. Anxiety was at a high. So high I couldn’t make it through workout weeks. So high I cried at the starting line at practice. So high I was angry at everyone for everything. There was a night where for hours I cried. I don’t mean teared up, I mean ugly Kim Kardashian cried. Mucus out the nose holding myself down on my knees cried. Normally I am confident but that time I was jealous and insecure. I could see everyone else succeed but could not see my own progress. I was stuck and angry. And what made it all worse was I felt no one cared.
Now that I am out of what I called that ‘dark time,’ I did a little bit of research. According to National Institute of Mental Health depression is common for college students. Of course every college student goes through tough times. We all have that one class that makes you contemplate your whole existence. But, when those feelings of frustration, sadness, indifference and other emotions last almost daily and for 2 weeks or more, NIMH indicates these are signs of depression.
Depression explained by NIMH can come in different levels but regardless of the level, having depression doesn’t make you a problem. I had to tell myself this after speaking with a friend who clearly had no idea what I was going through. My friend talked to me about a woman they knew before me and described her a crazy. I asked “what made her crazy?” My friend proceeds to explain how she was strange and emotionally unstable. Little did my friend know, I was going through similar problems.
Maybe I didn’t look “crazy.” Maybe I didn’t wear enough black and recite enough Edgar Allan Poe to show my sadness. Maybe people couldn’t see how hurt I was because I was a “strong independent black woman” in the making and those type of women don’t cry. No. We raise our fists above our Angela Davis afros reciting Maya Angelo poetry in Beyoncé formation. But we don’t cry. Maybe my armor of muscles from years of track is assumed to block sadness. In the words of arnold “I pick thing up and put them down.” But a woman as strong as me does not cry. Athletes only cry when they lose a championship. Maybe I was too educated to cry. I should be grateful I am in an institution at all, and I am, but college is not easy. College kids don’t cry. We get drunk on Thursdays and sleep in class to deal with our problems. But we don’t cry. All of these labels designed to help people know me better have led to me being more misunderstood because people couldnt look past the label.
There are various sites that are listed to recognize signs for depression for yourself or someone you know. I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but being the child of a psychiatrist and having talked to someone close to me, recognizing when something is wrong and letting someone know is important.
I contemplated whether I should post this. There is someone who is maybe rolling their eyes or scoffing at this post. There is probably someone else who just deleted my name from their contacts because they don’t want to associate with “the crazy girl.” But I wrote this because maybe there is someone who is reading this and may not feel as alone. A 2 line facebook post doesn’t tell a story but someone can. This post is meant for the person who is trying to “walk it off” or “suck it up.” The person trying to justify their emotions as “hanger” or “just another college temper tantrum” because those reasons are cute. Those reasons don’t raise questions. Those reasons make you “normal.”
I will claim a lot of labels. Depressed is not one of them.
Spring 2016 semester has started. I have completed syllabus week and am now officially starting my second semester as a graduate student. Being a full-time student, being a TA and being a full-time athlete was a difficult balancing act in the fall semester. One would think that if someone could survive being a student-athlete for four years, there should be no difference to being in grad school for two years. Here is the difference. I am no longer a student-athlete. I am a student and an athlete. Being a student-athlete in undergrad came with accommodations that made balancing my studies and my sport possible. Because I was running for the school and using school facilities, the school in return provided resources to student-athletes that allowed us to better explain to our instructors and peers why we would miss certain classes or wouldn’t be able to hand in certain assignments on time. The Athletics Department also provided academic assistance more readily available to help student-athletes.
Buzzfeed sums grad life best with 21 photos that even now bring me anxiety to what entails in the upcoming 15 weeks, give or take. In graduate school, your social life in non-existent. Of course, I understand those with complicated majors, as I like to call certain majors, probably are already living the grad life just without the title. But there is a different mindset when coming into grad life.
It’s really that mindset that distinguishes the difference between being a student-athlete and being a student and an athlete. As a student-athlete, there is an understanding, depending on your reputation and/ or sport, that academics may not be your passion and sports may very well be the one and only reason you go to school. A former student I taught as a TA argued that college athletes should not get paid by NCAA because students go to college to hone their skills not just play sports. There is so much to say about that statement, but what I will focus on this. For a student-athlete, going to college includes honing their skills as an athlete. During my undergraduate years, I didn’t just improve in times while on the track team. I learned persistence and proper running technique and grew as an athlete. I also learned and was successful in my undergraduate classes, but it the lessons I learned as an athlete were equally as important in directing my career path.
But going back to being a student-athlete, you CANNOT be one without the other. You do not perform to the academic standards that the athletic department, your coach and/or the school sets, you do not compete and/or train. That simple. For some who are on scholarship, if you do not compete or train to the best of your ability and follow the rules of the sport (I leave that open to interpretation), not taking into account injuries or emergencies of course, you were not guaranteed the same amount of scholarship thus affecting your ability to pay for school thus affecting your education. As a student-athlete, education and athleticism are valued equally.
As a student and full-time graduate student, especially one with a teaching assistantship, these values and standards change dramatically. This scenario gives a better idea of what I mean. Last semester, I told one of my professors that I was an athlete, and although I did not plan on missing assignments, I did want to let the professor know in case I missed any classes for competition. The professor was understanding and told me that it is good that I was a runner because it is important to have a “hobby” outside of grad life. I cringe hearing the word “hobby” in regards to my running. But I understood why my professor would say that. In graduate school, at least my specific department, there is an assumption that those who attend graduate school share a passion for academia similar to how athletes share a passion for their sport. You come with the commitment to dedicate your time and energy to your assignments in class. You enjoy academia to an extent where research and reading educational articles are enjoyable. Anything not connected to what you are studying or does not directly benefit from your studies is a side attraction. It is something to break the monotony of studying. It is a hobby. Also, and this is merely an assumption, I don’t think professors teaching graduate level courses encounter athletes as often as they would at the undergraduate level. This means that the obligation, for lack of better words, to be more understanding and considerate of athletes’ competition and training schedules does not exist. This is not a critique of graduate school, but merely an observation.
This is where the balance of academia and athletics becomes difficult. When both aspects of my life requires a heightened amount of my time and dedication, it sometimes feels like I am being pulled in two different directions. As a student and an athlete, I can be one without the other. My athletic capabilities no longer affect my ability to afford school. If I decided right now to hang up my spikes, my academics would not be affected. My academics no longer affect my competition or training. If I failed out of school or quit school, I could still run and train. Of course it is not that simple. Graduate life also comes with the reality of bills and living expenses that need to be handled.
I knew that this balancing act would not be easy, but I didn’t quite expect why it was difficult. The limited time and extensive work was expected, but the expectation from my professors and colleagues that academia is this passion burning in you was not what I anticipated. How do you explain that, although I still value academics as a student-athlete who was consistently on the dean’s list, my heart is not in academics in the way they expect? Of course, I value everything I learn in grad school, but not to an extent that I would make a career in academia. How do I explain to someone in academia who may have never played a sport in their life or spoken to an athlete, why it is worth spending a year or years of your life to pursue goals of athletic excellence? There are many questions about dealing with this dichotomy and explaining this dichotomy to someone who does not share your goals. Although many times I am frustrated, I am also excited to have this unique experience. I don’t want this to be a discouragement to anyone. It is simply one of various realizations I have had and will have in this track journey.
Proverbs 22 lists the various people who are seen as favorable and unfavorable in the eyes of God. I first mentioned some types of people that one should avoid if one wants to be successful in track and field. Track and Field is seen as a solo sport. We compete for ourselves and sometimes train by ourselves. However, the circle of people we surround ourselves with, including our coaches, trainers, training partners, and supporters, influence our success.
Proverbs 22 describes the type of people we should look for to be in our circle and the type of people we should be. Proverbs 22:3 mentioned the prudent man who foresees evil and avoids it. Not only should we be prudent, but we should be around prudent people as well. First, no one knows ourselves better than us. We know our addictions and we know the problems we cause ourselves. As an athlete, I know my problem is laziness. I could sleep all day if possible, but sleeping all day doesn’t allow me to speak about how God has blessed me through track and field. Being prudent is avoiding the things the deter me from working my hardest in track and field. To combat my laziness, I make sure to avoid the voices in my head telling me to just sleep. I make the conscious effort to go out and be productive and challenge myself physically. Being around prudent people who know your sins is important too. There should be someone we trust to be honest with some of our problems. That way, when that person knows you are in trouble or falling back to old bad habits, they can help you find a better path to happiness. A prudent person thinks ahead.
Proverbs 22:9 talks about being a generous person. Running unattached has taught me the power of generosity. Although I am excited to run unattached, it is difficult to lose some of the benefits of being an undergraduate student-athlete. I miss the days where we received new gear every year. I miss the days where I had a locker to leave my stuff. I am blessed to have former teammates who help me out when they can. If I need a swipe into the dining hall, they are there. If I need to leave my bag in the corner of the locker room, they won’t touch it. These may be small instances of kindness, but they make my days much easier. As I progress in track and in life, I hope to gain new benefits that I can share with others. Maybe even one day be able to afford the generosity that LeBron James has paid towards youth with his foundation and paying millions for children’s college tuition.
Proverbs 22:17 mentions sayings from the wise. This verse, as all the others, can be looked at much more in depth than I will look at it for this post. I spoke about the importance of being wise in track and field, but it is important to listen to those who are wise. The verse says to “bow down thy hear.” To me, I read that as an act of humility. It does not matter who we are, and track specifically, it does not matter where we are in our track careers whether we are Olympians or new to the sport. There is an older athlete or a coach who has been in our shoes and some of our experiences and can give us necessary knowledge to get through this phase in our lives. Often times the wisdom stays with us and like this picture of Kareem Abdul Jabbar, the person sticks with us and watches us grow.
Proverbs 22:29, the final verse of Proverbs 22, writes “Seest thou a man diligent in his business? He shall stand before kings. He shall not stand before mean men.” It wasn’t until today, before church, as I scrolled through my Instagram, I reached a small epiphany. I noticed post after post were pictures and comments of great athletes including Sanya Richards Ross, Ajee Wilson and Maz Okoro doing training activities similar to what I do in practice or hanging out with other people I know. Post after post were pictures and videos of nationally ranked collegiate athletes I have met running great openers for the indoor season. Then in church, I sat between my coach, Coach Clark, who has coached numerous sub two minute runners and Chanelle Price, a world class mid distant runner. As I sat there, I realized I was among kings. By no means am I at these elite runners’ level yet, but my circle of associates and people I follow in social media have become the very people that I aspire to be. It took years of injuries and hard workouts to get to where I am, and it will take that same effort and more to keep achieving. What I am saying is remain diligent in your work. Remain focused on the vision God gave you. When you work hard enough, you tend to attract others like you.