I am no longer a college athlete

It still hurts to talk about this because I haven’t quite come to terms with it: I am no longer a collegiate athlete.

In the midst of my self-pity, questioning life’s purpose and replaying my unsuccessful race at the NCAA West Regional meet last week at the University of Oregon, I thought it would be refreshing to commemorate this ending by visiting the beginning instead of wailing about how I don’t know who I am anymore like I really want to.

A beginning marked by yet another ending — the ending of my young city league soccer career. One fateful sprinkler hole and running backward was all it took to bring my Mia Hamm-like aspirations to a screeching halt. After catching my fall with my left wrist, I spent a painful night at the hospital and tried to picture my life without ball juggling, passing drills and practicing at goalie.

Two breaks in my wrist rewarded me with over two months in a bright blue cast that crawled all the way up my arm. Sidelined and sick of answering the how-did-you-break-your-arm question, I was anxious to find better use of my time than counting down the days until I could see the field again.

It was September of my seventh-grade year. The only sports going on at the time were football, volleyball, cheerleading and cross country. The only sport that allowed a cast-wearing participant was cross country.

I knew what cross country was. I’d watched my older sister run it for a few years. She stumbled into the sport as well while searching for something to do in the school’s soccer off-season.

I knew cross country looked like the opposite of fun. So naturally, I laced up some of my sister’s old running shoes and showed up to practice, cast and all.

Running hurt. Running with a cast was awkward and uncomfortable. I started off every race extra-conservatively for fear I wouldn’t make it to the finish line. I was never first. I set race goals based on the ribbon color that corresponded with a each place.

I tried track that spring. I still wasn’t good. I got stuck with running the two-mile, a race I believed was conceived by the devil himself.

That summer I came to a realization. My older sister was approaching her final year of high school. We were, and still are, best friends. The reality of her leaving for college scared me and I scrambled for ways to spend any spare second with her. She was training for her senior season of cross country and I found myself running with her and the other high school kids all summer. I found myself getting my butt kicked.

But I also found myself — a runner.

When I won the first cross country race of my eighth-grade year, I knew running was for me and a real passion was born.

With a love of Brigham Young University already well established, it was easy to develop a dream of running for the Cougars. They were winning national championships left and right, and I was drooling over my computer screen when I read articles and memorized athletes’ names and best times. I showed up at the NCAA National Track and Field Championships held at nearby Sacramento State and watched their every move. I just wanted to be one of them.

My running progressed certainly, but I still consider it a miracle I was ever invited to run at BYU. After Coach Patrick Shane called me my senior year, I hung up the phone screaming and galloped around my house for an hour out of pure joy. I’m sure he knew I was a long shot.

Five years later, he knows I’m determined, competitive and just plain stubborn, but that I was a worthwhile shot. I know it now, too.

So here’s to you sprinkler hole that tripped me and turned my world upside down 11 years ago. BYU cross country and track, thanks for the ride.

How many people can honestly say they’ve lived out their dreams? I have.

And now that I’ve had another break with this earlier-than-anticipated end to my collegiate competition, I hope there’s a bright blue-casted lesson waiting for me. I hope I have the courage, or maybe stupidity, to find it. I hope the cliched conclusion that every ending is really a beginning is truer and cornier than ever.

Here it is again — a fact I never really thought I’d have to face.

I am no longer a collegiate athlete.

Cecily is a senior at Brigham Young University and is a two-time All-American in cross country and track.

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