By Alexandra Parado
There comes a day when every athlete will clean their lockers one last time.
For many college athletes, playing a sport has consumed their lives. From a young age, hours of their day have been spent on tracks, courts, fields and weight rooms enriching themselves so that they can pursue the opportunity to play at a higher level.
In some cases, their lives revolve around the sport they play, often robbing them of other social opportunities — “I can’t, I have soccer practice.” “I can’t, I have a tournament that weekend.” “I can’t, I have physical therapy.”
Sports were my life, and I know I missed out on a lot of events because of my commitments as an athlete. I’ve identified myself as an athlete since I was a kid, and after my last track meet, I questioned my identity because it was hard to imagine life without sports.
After competing in my final track meet during my senior year of high school, there was a period of transition that I know many other student athletes endure.
Change is the only thing in life that is constant. Although I felt excited that I had more free time, I often felt a sense of loss. I had achieved a lot of athletic success and I did not know where to put my energy and effort that I had always channeled into sports.
When I started my first semester in college, I felt like something tremendous was missing. I missed being a part of a team and having a routine of waking up before the sun to get a lift in in the weight room. It felt abnormal to be alone in an unfamiliar setting when I was used to having an entire team with me.
I never thought that life after sports would leave me bereft of so many relationships. I had always had teammates to laugh with and coaches to push me to be the best person I could possibly be.
After spending a lot of time reflecting about the big changes in my life, I realized that in order to feel complete again, I had to find a new “team.” This awareness lead to the understanding of what was different about my life and it helped me make the right choices and move forward.
Although my days of competing came to an end, there are valuable things I learned as a player that helped me move into the next part of my life.
By reapplying my interests, skills and passions in a different avenue, I was able to spend time finding a place where I could use my skills and put in effort. Though it’s not sweating together in a gym, I have found a new team –– a team of editors who work so hard to produce The Signal every week, a team that will go through the ups and downs with me, together.
The end of an athletic career is bittersweet –– it’s the closing of an incredible journey but the start of new experiences that life has always had in store. One door has closed, but there is another waiting to be opened.
Even though I’m not a part of an athletic team anymore, I am still an athlete. Because once you’re an athlete, you will always be an athlete at heart.