When I first got to Cornell, all I wanted was one of those gray t-shirts, you know, the ones that say “Cornell Athletics” but are otherwise ordinary, plain, and unflattering pieces of cloth. I wanted a green water bottle and an “LGR” laptop sticker.
Like the dorky freshman I was, I tried to sound casually interested as I asked my new “friend” in my writing seminar (read: a girl I had spoken to twice, and only about homework assignments) what team she was on when I noticed her green water bottle. When she said was on the track team, I was way too excited. I tried to sound calm and cool when I asked her about what races she ran, what the meets were like, and if she liked being on the team, but something tells me I came across a little more crazed than I had anticipated. She was weirded out, we pretty much never spoke again, and I still cringe when I think about that conversation. But my curiosity obsession with being a college athlete persisted.
The funny thing is that I actually complained all the way through my track career. I complained about having to go to bed early on Friday nights to get up at six the next morning for Saturday races and about having to miss after-prom to fly to a meet. I complained about the way my legs burned from running for miles and miles, and about skipping the pizza the night before a tough practice. And I complained about how on some days it felt like I just couldn’t keep up, no matter what I did. I genuinely couldn’t wait for my brief career as an athlete to be over so I could go back to sleeping late and eating what I wanted. I fantasized about days when I would be able to go home and have time to watch TV and nights when I wouldn’t have to soak my legs in buckets of ice.
Sports defined my life in high school, and giving that up was one of the hardest things about transitioning to college. I was good, but I was pretty-good-for-a-small-high-school- in-Westchester-good, not future-division-one-athlete-good. I always knew my career would be over when I graduated. What I wasn’t prepared for was how much I would miss it. Desperately trying to recreate the feeling that I got from being on the track team, I ran alone, with friends and in organized groups, and even researched what it would take to walk onto the varsity team (in case you were wondering, I did not have it).
But none of that worked because it wasn’t just the running that I missed.I longed for the competition, the ever-so tangible way I could measure my self-worth with a stopwatch, singing songs on the bus with the only other people who can share in the pain of the last workout, the rhythm of running stride for stride with teammates and even the totalizing fear that comes with waiting for the starting gun. I wished I hadn’t wished these things away, no matter how painful and tedious they seemed at the time.
Three years later, I’ve accepted the fact that I will never again be a varsity athlete. That part of my life is over, but I’m grateful for the memories and for the chance to have been a part of something that meant so much to me. Now I’ve found other, healthier ways to fill that void. I may not be the creepy track groupie anymore, but that doesn’t mean I won’t rant about mile times to anyone who will listen. I’m sure there are a lot of challenges that come with being a college athlete- the long practices, the hours of traveling on the weekends, the pressure to keep up with schoolwork–but the struggle of us less athletically-gifted people are often overlooked.