I spent my first two years of college at Villanova University and have no regrets, despite the huge financial burden on my mother to pay out of pocket. My decision to go to Villanova University was one of the first decisions I ever made for myself without the approval of others. For years, I aimed for good grades to make my family proud. I did certain extracurricular activities to impress my friends. No one approved of Villanova University. The school was expensive. However, I did not care.
My time at Villanova University was fairly boring. I was the obvious underdog on the team, especially being a walk on. My freshman year roommate, Shaniqua*, was a 400m runner on full scholarship. Most of my teammates were high school state placers or high school and college All-Americans. Then there was me coming onto the team running 59 seconds in the open 400m race, which is not great and an official time of 1:04 in the 400m hurdles and unofficial summer track time of 1:02, also not great for the level of competition that I aimed to be a part of. Not only was I this no-named underdog, I was also an awkward caterpillar. I would say awkward butterfly, but I was nowhere near as graceful as a butterfly. I was still awkwardly skinny with large eyes and had a habit of saying too much about myself too quickly when I meet people. Not to mention, I come across as abrasive in introductions, which is a habit I developed from high school. In other words, I was the complete opposite of my roommate. Shaniqua was slim built like me, but was at least a B Cup in bra size. She had a slight, sexy southern accent which stood out from the majority of team’s northern backgrounds. Her skin glowed at any point of the year. Her eyes were a pretty almond shape. She had a commanding personality. She was upfront but in a way that was often comical. If she wasn’t the center of attention, she was close friends with the person who was. From freshman year, she stole the attention of many college boys, athletes and non-athletes. I was the opposite. Regardless, people’s expectations of me were likely low at this pint in my life.
As a wildcat athlete, I enjoyed most of my time at Villanova, except towards the end of my time there. Coming into Villanova, I had a lot of untapped potential. Considering I started my track career in a small private school and being a part of the first MHCA team to be a part of NJSIAA, I had done very well. I was also persistent as hell. I emailed the head coach, the women’s head coach and the sprints coach during my senior year. I visited the team and spoke with the sprints coach on an unofficial visit. I might’ve left a couple of voice mails as well. Maybe annoying was a better term than persistent. Either way, my times might’ve just made the walk on standards and the sprints coach, Coach Anderson*, gave me a chance that I am grateful for to this day.
My freshman year was okay. I improved greatly, but my standards for myself were so high that I rarely appreciated my improvements each race or practice. I was still not the best on the team, but I was consistent. I consistently gave my all in practice, and my times were consistent when I competed. If you needed a solid leg just to maintain the team’s place in a relay, I was the girl. If you needed bodies at conference championships for points or to break up the competition, I was the girl. In fact, sometimes I was more consistent than the girls who were on scholarship. This statement is not to tear down or discredit these girls’ contributions to the team. This is to acknowledge my progression in the program and how I began to value myself. Having competed at Big East conference and being a part in the coveted distance medley relay team, I started to realize I was more than just a walk on. During the summer of my freshman year, I remember talking to Coach Anderson on the phone in m hotel room during a competition in my last summer track year with Transy East. I remember discussing possible scholarships and getting the response summarized as I would not get a scholarship util my senior year. Despite this disappointing news, I came back the next year. However, my mindset was a little different.
My sophomore year a little more stressful. Realizing the financial burden this decision had on my mother and realizing I was not valued on the team the same way I valued myself, I constantly debated whether running at all or for Villanova was worth it. I went back and forth on the right decision for me. What I have learned is in times with tough decisions, God will be there to give you the right push. Two weeks before Penn Relays, one of the largest track meets held in the United States, the choice of who would run the 400m leg in the distance medley relay was between me and a recruited freshman. Villanova is based on tradition, so what can be more traditional in determining a track position than a classic run off.
I wanted to win this run off badly. Throughout the entire season, I wanted to prove I was as good and deserving of a scholarship as this freshman. She had already beaten me in indoor conference in the 500m. Tensions were high, at least in my mind. Stakes were high, high enough for me to choose to run this run off over a phone interview for a summer internship with Iron Man in Florida. I believed in putting it all on the table for track. I wanted to win, and I did, sort of.
The run off was supposed to be an all out 350m run. My sprints coach and the women’s head coach were there for the race. My coach started us at the first 50m mark and placed a cone at the final 50m mark. He yells “Set.” We get down in three point stance, which looks like the position sprinters have when in starting blocks, but with one hand down. He yells “Go” and the race is on. I was out. I got ahead and stayed ahead. As I approached the cone, the lactic in my legs built to a slow burn. My legs felt like they were moving in quick sand. The cone was approaching, but so was the freshman. I run past the cone barely ahead of the girl, but I did win.
To be honest, I did not feel great about the win. That lactic was serious. My legs were heavy and on fire long after the run was over. Immediately after the race, I talked to one of the seniors on the team and explained how I actually didn’t want to run the relay leg, especially if I was already running the open 400m hurdle race. However, I kept that thought or fear to myself. About ten to twenty minutes after the run, the sprints coach and women’s head coach approached me in the bleachers. I am not sure why, but I was conveniently alone at the time. The sprints coach explained, in his normal low volume, that first, the marks for the run off were off and I had ran a 300m race, not 350m. Second, despite winning the run off, the coaches thought it would be best to let the freshman run in the relay that’s almost guaranteed a top 3 finish in Penn Relays. I went to one of my teammates, standing on the track close to the gate entrance to the field house, almost immediately after the conversation and explained what the coaches told me. Her response was eye opening, “If they knew they weren’t going to give you the spot, they should’ve just said that.” I realized no matter how many internships I give up, workouts I complete until my legs hurt, personal records I run, I was the walk on. The spots, particularly scholarship spots, on the tam were taken and set, and although my efforts are appreciated, there was more stress caused than benefits reaped trying to fit into a program that had no room for me.
That same night, I texted Jesse. Jesse was a summer track coach that had a business of also being a college recruiter. At summer track meets, he would walk around to the various Jersey summer track teams and speak with the juniors and seniors on the team. He had a large black wallet filled with college coach cards from all types of schools. He had HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) schools, schools ranging from DIII to DI, small private school and large public schools. Not only did he have all of these schools’ contact information. He also had close kinship with a lot of those coaches from his years as a track official for summer, high school and college track meets. He was well connected in the track and field world. I caught a glimpse of his talents the summer of my senior year when he presented a list of schools willing to offer me a track and field scholarship in order to deter me from going to Villanova. Of course I rejected his options at first. Despite the rejection, he continued to root for me and celebrate my track accomplishments. However, I was not as hard headed the night I texted both him and Dwayne after the run off. I remember first texting Dwayne “Even when I win, I lose. I’m done”. I then remember the next few weeks having informal conversations with Jesse about possibly transferring.
Of course, I kept this decision to myself. Before Penn Relays, my best time in the 400m hurdles was 60 seconds, which was okay in my eyes. My internal decision to transfer did not ease a lot of the stress. Instead of placing pressure on myself to beat my teammate and training partner, I felt pressured to run as best a time I could to be recruited by the most competitive schools possible. I still knew very little about other options. I just knew I wanted the best option for me. Transferring is a tactical ordeal, especially as a walk on. I told few people about my decision out of fear of one of the coaches hearing and cutting me from the team before the end of the season. Instead, I counted the days until the end of the season. I ran a personal best in the 400m hurdles of 59 seconds in Penn Relays, placed in outdoor conference and ran 59 seconds in NCAA East Regionals first round. All the while, I was making my list of ideal schools to transfer to.
Like every year, I was indifferent and partially disappointed with my season. It is always frustrating to perform below your expectations. It equally frustrating to get small glimpses of your potential but not quite reaching it. Despite my opinions about my times and quality as a runner, Jesse worked his magic that summer as I worked mine. I had spent the entire school year searching for jobs and internships. I was proud to have gained a paid hourly internship in the USA Track and Field New Jersey office. I won’t talk too much about it because to be honest it was a lot of boring office work in a second floor turned office in a mid size suburban two story home. The office consisted of two desks on either side of the floor and a back section with a printer. Although a lot of the work was mundane, it was nice to see the world I love from the administrative side.
As I mentioned, Jesse was working the summer to find a school for me. In between driving to and from my internship, I had colleges calling my home and cell phone every week, sometimes everyday. I had school calling me from California to New Jersey. It seems as if Jesse sent my information to every coach in his overstuffed black wallet. One phone call I remember was from the University of Florida. The University of Florida is a part of the Southeastern Conference, where many of the top athletes in the country compete. The conference receives a lot of money and a lot of exposure. Although I was not offered a scholarship, nor was I expecting a scholarship from a Southeastern Conference school, the fact that the coaches were even remotely interested in me put my times and my performance as a student-athlete into perspective. University of Florida saw in me what I was beginning to see, a girl who’s really not great but there’s just something there with possibility. However, I denied the offer to join the Gator team quickly because I did not want the financial burden I had at Villanova.
To be honest, the process was about four years ago, so I do not remember the name of the schools that reached out to me. I remember the last remaining school choices were University of Pittsburgh, Jacksonville University and University of Connecticut. Pitt was an option because I was familiar with the coaching and the school had a freshman or sophomore 400m hurdler that I would have loved to train with. There was also a guy at Pitt that I was close to, J. Larson*. At the time, Larson was a graduate student that still competed in the 400m hurdles for Pitt. I’m pretty sure he was interested in one of my Villanova teammates first but somehow landed on me later. I don’t mind. He was incredibly fit, over six feet tall (not knocking my short men out there. You guys are fine too), full lips and classy. He also obviously loved track as much as I did and supported my hustle to athletic greatness. Finding a guy who is truly supportive of my athletic dreams is difficult because a lot of men like the fit chick (and I don’t blame them. I mean, our asses are amazing), but they appreciate it in the same way a guy appreciates a sports car, great to look at or show off but the goals of the car ultimately are based on whatever the driver wants it to be. Finding a guy appreciative of not just a fit but also a competitive and driven woman is more difficult than it should be. But, Larson was one of them at the time. I rarely got to see him in person because of training, competing or just the distance between Philly area and Pittsburgh, which is why I wanted to run for Pitt.
Jacksonville University was opposite Pitt in many ways. First, the school was small. Second, the school was in warm Florida. Third, Pitt’s conference, the ACC, had a much bigger name. Regardless, I like talking to the Jacksonville coach, an average height white guy with dark hair. I don’t why, but there was some air of familiarity to him. I am not sure if it was his appearance or the way he spoke. Another significant difference, was Jacksonville was offering a full ride. Pitt was back and forth. I knew Pitt wanted another 400m hurdler who was transferring from University of South Carolina at the same time as me. The other girl also happened to be one of my former teammates from my summer track team, whom I knew had better times than me. Although, Jacksonville had some noticeable benefits and is a good school, something about it didn’t quite get me.
Finally, there was UConn. The first time I considered UConn, I didn’t even know it was UConn. It was outdoor Big East Conference my sophomore at Rutgers University. My team, like many other schools, usually do morning shake outs, which is a quick warm-up, in or around the hotel. One of those days we were sharing the hotel hallway with another team. By this time, I had decided to transfer but quietly eyed other schools as potential choices. Of course, I would not dare ask the other coaches or athletes anything. I remember this tall, skinny black guy in sunglasses meticulously watching this line of black girls of all shades doing drills up and down the hotel hall. I did not know that was UConn at the time, but I remember thinking, “I should be with them.” I wanted to be with this coach that looked so invested in his athletes. I wanted to be with this big group of black girls looking like a black sorority line.
When my season ended, I remember Jesse giving me a preliminary list of schools interested in me. One of which was UConn. I remember the first time speaking with Coach W. I don’t remember much of the conversation other than him asking where I was from. I have a strange accent of putting on this slight botched southern/ Caribbean accent when I talk talk on the phone to people I am familiar with. The second time I spoke with him was during my official visit to UConn. Coach W told me UConn was in the middle of nowhere and he was correct, very correct. UConn was in a part of Connecticut I didn’t even know about. The road off the highway towards the school was fifteen to twenty minutes of off road gas stations, and trees. As soon as you enter campus, there is a farm to the right, a real farm with a pasture, cows and a barn, which explains why UConn’s agriculture program is well known. I remember wearing my curly hair in an a fro hawk and wearing a form fitting long, black and green striped, sleeveless summer dress that was supposed to fall to the floor, but my legs were so long, the dress fell to my ankles. My mother dropped me off on my official visit. We pulled up to the front of the field house, a one floor old red brick building attached to a two floor red brick building which was the recreation center where non-athletes work out. Coach W met us in front of the field house and brought us through a hallway. To the left were four large blue doors that led to the indoor track. Directly ahead was one blue door that opened to a white hallway lined wit coach offices. His door was the second door to the left. The head women’s coach, Coach Matthew*, was across the narrow hall. It was a small office, enough for a long, white metal desk and a hard blue couch. His walls were lined with framed photos of his athletes in action. In the corner was a grey, metal file cabinet with this small TV on top that played non-stop hazy, shaky videos of various track meets. You could hear the murmur of girls cheering for their teammates in the background.
It was a typical recruiter visit. It might have been more boring than others because my visit was during the summer when most students have gone home. My mother and I came into his office, we talked about how UConn is great blah blah blah and my mother left the office to get me tomorrow. I remember sitting stiff on his couch watching him sort of speak to me but also stare at his Mac computer screen. He was tall, skinny and glowing brown skin. He wore a Nike fit cap with a small part of his black curly hair poking in the back. When I first met him, I couldn’t tell how old he was. He looked no older than his thirties and spoke with this youthful excitement. Even today, people who don’t know him have difficulty determining his age. On the wall closest to his desk hung a framed photo of him in a Jamaica speed suit running. The only indication that he was older than I thought was when I asked if he continued to run today and his response was “Yeah my mouth.” Knowing him, he was probably very proud of that comeback. To this day, he is corny as all else.
I left with my host, a then sophomore named Milan*, who was a 400m and 800m runner. She was also a fireball of personality, very similar to my freshman year roommate but without the summer accent and shorter. I remember hanging out in one of the summer dorms with her and her roommate, Keisha*, an unbelievably gifted 200m and 400m runner. Like Milan she was diva, one of the cool girls that typically would never cross paths with me. She was tall, thick and fit with flawless make up. To be honest, I remember little of the conversation I had with them that night. I mostly remember my time with Coach W. The next morning, Coach W gave me a tour of the campus and the School of Business. I don’t know why, but I remember telling him one of my more embarrassing stories of how when I was younger I jumped into the deep end of the swimming pool even though I didn’t know how to swim. Somehow I expected a more sentimental response from him, but no. He just laughed at me. This is how our conversations usually went. I say something sentimental, and he has some callous response. Out of the three schools, UConn and Jacksonville were the only schools I actually visited. Pitt was playing and the scholarship conversations were up and down. I visited UConn first, but wanted to see Jacksonville before I made a decision.
To be honest, the decision was not clear after visiting both schools. Both coaches wanted me on the team and promised me a full ride scholarship. The decision became clear as I was sitting in the Jacksonville airport going hoe from visiting the school. I didn’t know which school to choose and pulled my phone out to call Coach W from Uconn. I wanted to get his opinion about which school I should go to because I trusted his opinion and believed he would tell me the right thing that’s best for me. Once I had that thought, I knew Coach W was the right coach for me. I called him in the airport to tell him I chose UConn. I remember him saying “Yes!” He seemed more excited about just the unofficial announcement of my coming to UConn than the Villanova coach ever seemed while I was on the Nova team.
Around this time, I had a dream where I and a three other girls were at a track meet. The stands were full and the competition was tense. At the 100m starting line on the track, the officials were lining the teams by their heats for a relay race. I remember sitting with my teammates yelling “Put Your C’s up!” as we waited for our heat to run. That dream solidified my decision to go to UConn. It also was a fairly accurate premonition of some of my best moments as a Husky.
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.”
March 10th 2016 to March 20th 2016 changed something for me. This was the time I spent in Florida for Spring Break. Now when you think of spring break for a 21 year old, you think drinks, sexy dresses, late nights and other shenanigans.
No. I went for 2 reasons: to train and to go to the beach. I have no idea why I was obsessed with going to the beach but I had to go. It was a mission. I thought I went for selfies but I found more.
Before I talk about my beach mission, let’s talk about spring break as a whole. It consisted of the first 5 days training on my own. I stayed with family to save money and went wherever I could find an open space to do my workouts. Who would’ve thought Florida the land of runners would have few rubber tracks? March 15th was when the UCONN women track and field team came to Orlando to train and compete for the remainder of spring break. This remaining five days consisted of long days of driving 40 minutes to the UCF track (with minute toll breaks in between) to meet the team to train. But seriously, why are there so many damn tolls in Florida. Then I drive to Better Everyday Performance (shout out to an amazing group there) to lift. Then I come back to my aunts house where I stayed during break to squeeze some homework in then wake up and do it again. It was a little annoying but not too bad. I got used to the routine.
Something about me changed March 17th when we went to the beach. Actually the team went to the beach and I scrambled to meet up with them. I was so excited to go to the beach but no one would tell me when or where they were going until the day of. That alone almost ruined my day. Then I find out they chose a beach that was an hour and a half from my aunts house. Of course it wasn’t intentional but in my mind it felt that they were just trying to make things harder for me. To add salt to the wound, I asked Chanelle Price, the world champion who trained with my coach, how she was getting to the beach and she told me she was already at their hotel and was going to ride with them. That set me off. I thought to myself here I am scrambling to get my money together to rent a car to drive here and there because I was told by my coach that I wasn’t allowed to ride with the team because I wasn’t on the team anymore yet Chanelle was out here taking team pictures at the hotel and beach. I was so pissed and hurt I cried in my bed and almost didn’t go.
An hour later, I realized I earned this trip. After all the money I spent to get plane tickets and tolls and car rentals, dammit I was going to the damn beach.
I put on the sexy bikini I bought from Victorias Secret and some tan short shorts and hopped in my rented Kia Rio and drove. Occasionally I played music and other times I just thought to myself. When I made it to the beach, I parked the Kia in some lot for 5 dollars and walked towards the sand and waves. Of course the first thing I see is Chanelle just hanging with her friend on the team. I never thought I was the jealous type but that made me jealous. Her sort of weightless happiness. I was trying so hard to BE a part of something that she just seemed to ease into with the help of coach. Of course jealousy is dangerous as it makes you see and believe things that aren’t always real. This is why I didn’t dwell too much on her.
Instead I walked towards the beach where I saw a group of the track girls eating at the restaurant by the beach. I walked now on the sand and headed towards the water where I found the girls in their cliques either tanning or taking sea selfies. Of course if I’m going to rock Victoria Secret I’m taking selfies. I headed to the water, took a couple group photos for other girls then had two of the girls take photos of me fake smiling and posing like a Maxim covergirl. Afterwards I realized in the midst of rushing to meet with the team, my phone battery was about to die. So a trip that should’ve been more about hanging out on the beach became a journey to find an outlet.
I found one in an icy shop where I sat for 30 minutes. Then went back to the sand where I just looked out to the beach.
Here’s the revelation. From the time I got to the beach to the time the team left without saying a goodbye or see you later I was alone. As the girls walked or laid around in their cliques I realized I was alone. There wasn’t a lot of girls I was close to. You would’ve thought by now I’d realized this but it wasn’t until I sat on that beach understanding what it is like to not have a team anymore. Something ended that day on the beach. Today, as I write this, I am still not fully sure what ended but I haven’t been the same since then I dreamed of dead bodies and ghosts which were symbolic of something inside of me that died according to Dreammoods. However, with death comes new life and with new life comes change so this is a time for change.
I know something must change in my life but I don’t know what. All I can do for now is keep running and training until I can see this stale and stagnant moment to the end. There are still some things that I should’ve left at the beach and let the waves take those deep emotions or fears or repressed thoughts wash away that linger. I can only pray and trust God has given me the right signs and wisdom to make the right decision for myself.
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.