I always defined myself as an athlete. Softball, volleyball, badminton, track & field, dance and even a bit of baton twirling… it seems as though my parents were constantly driving me to and from practice for something. However, since the age of 9 if you asked me how to describe myself and my hobbies, I would say I probably resonated most with the statement “ballislife”. My love for basketball started at a very young age and despite all the other sports I was involved in, I knew very early on it was something I wanted to pursue long-term.
Every opportunity I was given to develop my skill, I took. I always played in school as well as on a travel team that took me all over Ontario and even into the U.S. The end goal for me was always to play basketball at the university level and I would say I was on the right track to getting there. I was team captain of both my high school and travel teams, had been awarded athlete of the year and was an all-star for my high school. As time went on and I continued to develop my training and myself as an athlete, I could see the pieces of the puzzle starting to fit together and was excited to take the next steps to achieve my goal.
At the end of my grade 11 season, I was invited to a scouting camp where college and university coaches would be attending looking to recruit local talent. Thrilled about this opportunity to put my years of hard work and training to the test, I excitedly agreed to attend; not knowing that this decision would set me further from my goals then I had ever imagined.
During one of the drills I took a pretty hard fall. Obviously injuries are a part of the risks of playing sports and I had played basketball long enough to know that, but something felt different this time. This fall was like nothing I had ever experienced; my knee was in so much pain that I couldn’t move it and had to be carried off the court. Despite days of icing, it continued to swell to the size of a small melon. The swelling and pain escalated to a point where I needed to visit the emergency room (the night before one of my final exams), only to be told that my injury “needed time”. Weeks went by and nothing improved.
Finally after 2 months of waiting for an MRI, it was concluded that I had torn my ACL and meniscus, and fractured my patella. I was devastated. My basketball career was now on hold, and my dream of continuing to play at a competitive level would require surgery and extensive rehab. Instead of training and tryouts, my senior season was going to be spent on crutches and in physiotherapy. I didn’t get into surgery until 9 months after my initial injury, and even after the surgery and extensive physio I struggled to regain a full range of motion in my knee. I knew deep down that after losing this mobility, being forced to continue with extensive physio and not having played for so long, the reality of trying out for a university team was slowly becoming out-of-reach.
Not being able to play sports crushed me in more ways than one. Not only was it something I loved to do, but it was also my way to stay physically healthy and a primary outlet for stress. It was the medium through which I met a lot of my close friends and my athleticism was a huge part of my identity. Having all of that ripped from my fingertips was painful and left me feeling very frustrated, helpless and lonely for almost the entirety of my physical recovery. This drastic shift in my lifestyle also severely impacted my final high school grades and made me really nervous to enter university.
Getting accepted to Western for me was bittersweet. I was excited about my academic career but was still saddened by the thought of starting a chapter of my life that didn’t involve basketball. I struggled through my first year to figure out how to belong and get involved when I no longer had access to one of the major activities that allowed me to connect with other people. After almost 2 years of being pretty unhappy, my options were to continue striving towards a goal that had suddenly become unattainable, or use the start of university an as opportunity to refocus my time and energy. By choosing the latter, I opened myself up to new experiences that allowed me to define myself as more than just an athlete. I took this first step by running for first year rep on SSC and was fortunate enough to get one of the positions.
At first, it was really challenging to shift my thinking and recognize I could contribute to the campus community without sports. Although I still am disappointed that my dream of playing university basketball was never achieved, I have come to realize that sometimes life takes you down a different path that you never planned, but that doesn’t mean it’s always bad.
Through this journey I have grown so much stronger as a person in my ability to handle change and disappointment, and have found a genuine interest in student government that I wouldn’t have discovered if I hadn’t ran for SSC in my first year. If I had devoted all my time to practices, I never would have explored my involvement in residence to become an RA or volunteered as an LD with the Early Outreach Conference and as a result, wouldn’t have met the incredible people and lifelong friends I have today.
The biggest lesson I learned, looking back 4 years later, is that a failed dream does not translate to a failed life; it represents a redirection down a different life path. This process isn’t easy by any means, it is an uphill battle. You will feel disappointment, frustration, fear and likely shed a tear or two in the process. But if you persist, are open minded and allow yourself to grow with respect to the things that are important to you, the pieces will come together even if it’s not exactly the way you planned it. Sometimes good things fall apart, so better things can fall together.