I’ve always dreamed of growing up. I dreamed of moving somewhere new and reinventing myself, making new friends and creating new memories.
For me, college was the perfect place for that reinvention.
At the University of Florida, about two hours away from my hometown, I was able to achieve the college student life I had dreamed of having. I lived in a dorm with a roommate, worked out at the campus gym and spent many late nights at Marston Science Library.
One thing I love about UF is that we have fantastic sports. I went to every home football game, every Saturday ending with sore legs from standing all day (but a smile from winning). I watched volleyball games and gymnastic meets. I’ve spent hours waiting outside the Stephen O’Connell Center before a big basketball game. I’m a huge sports fan, and my entire life, I was an athlete myself. My youth was filled with basketball games and cross country races, but most importantly, softball.
I played competitive softball for over a decade, and it was my passion.
In high school, I was the starting pitcher all four years and the captain for my junior and senior years. Each of my spring semesters consisted of home games, away games, daily practices, team dinners and team dramas. Travel softball tournaments filled my summers, where I sacrificed birthday parties, family events, and beach days because I was away from home. I sweated for, laughed for and cried for this sport. I dreamed of one day becoming a collegiate athlete and winning a College National Championship in Oklahoma City. I absolutely and truly loved the game.
Even though I was on the recruiting path and had the possibility of playing college softball, I became burnt out of the sport. I decided that there are other opportunities I wanted to pursue, and that softball was not one of them. I felt confident in my decision since I had played softball for so long, wasn’t it time to move on?
As my freshman spring semester approached, so did the UF softball season.
I was thrilled to head down to the stadium after my classes and watch the Gators play. For the first game of the season, the stadium’s electric atmosphere roared with fans. The announcer introduced the lineup, and all the players started to get in their positions. The UF softball team played the USA National team that night, and iconic softball players like Monica Abbott, Haylie McCleney, and Michelle Moultrie took the field. I grew up watching these players, so I was excited to see them again.
As the national anthem started to play, I couldn’t help but think back to my high school home games. My teammates and I would stand side by side, and we would sing the entire anthem together. The memory made my heart hurt. I looked down at my sneakers. It was the same pair I would wear to practice, a hole formed at the top of my right toe from all my pitching practices.
I missed softball.
Maybe if I worked a little harder or played on different teams, I could have been one of the players out there, I thought to myself. But rationalizing was futile. It didn’t change the fact I was no longer an athlete. Being an athlete was something I prided myself on, a label I identified with all my life. What I didn’t anticipate about reinventing myself was that I had to let go of labels that I had allowed to define me.
Growing up means personal growth, and I had to learn to grow into a new identity while letting go of the past me. Maybe I no longer am a softball player, but that won’t stop me from becoming a sports reporter or to continue to have a passion for sports.
As the game continued to progress, I found myself enjoying it even though I wasn’t playing. I’ve learned so much on the softball field; it’s time to see what I can learn on the sidelines.