Finding the benefits in every struggle
Growing up with athletic siblings, I became accustomed to sitting on the sidelines of fields or courts before I could even walk.
By the time I turned four, and was old enough to participate, I already knew the rules of each game and was prepared from backyard practices. For the next ten years, soccer, lacrosse and basketball became my life. Seasons overlapped and there were no breaks aside from summer vacations, where I would usually fall behind in training. My social networks were built entirely around my teammates so even if we weren't at a practice or game, we were together. As I grew older, the competition became more intense and the time commitments increased, but I wasn't willing to give up any one sport, so I learned to deal with a heavy schedule. These sports were everything I knew and aside from school, they were how I spent all my time.
When I sustained my fifth major concussion, however, things changed. For the better part of a year, I couldn't get through a lecture, a chapter in a text book, or a problem set in mathematics without experiencing mind-numbing headaches. As I recovered, focused on maintaining my grades and health, there wasn't a lot of time to think about sports. Eventually, time between headaches expanded and with it, a newfound awareness of the voids in my life. I mourned the loss of my future in contact sports, well aware of the fact that they had become too dangerous and threatening to my overall health. As I regained my ability to be active, I found new outlets in cross country and tennis.
In the beginning, these activities felt especially foreign. The transition from team sports to individual sports was rather challenging and I did not have the self-discipline necessary to be successful in them. For so many years, I had relied on teammates for motivation, and as I ran my first cross country race, I realized I was on my own. In the past, success or failure in competition depended on many variables. It didn't matter which team had the best player, the final result hinged on the entire team. I realized individual sports required a different set of dynamics that governed success. In an individual sport, I was my own competition. Every competitive opportunity was a chance to beat my personal best.
The adjustment was not quick and before I could improve, I had to learn to accept failure. In team sports, a loss didn't fall on a single player. Now it did. I determined my success and training became even more significant than it was before. If I wanted to beat a personal record in a race or make it to state in singles, I would have to train harder and improve myself. There were no outside sources that could help me get a win, it was completely in my control.
Over the years I have become more disciplined and found successes in each of these sports. Of course, I still miss sliding in the mud at a rainy soccer game and the intensity of the audience inside a crowded basketball gym, but I appreciate the opportunities that have been given to me and the stronger character I have been able to develop as a result.
In retrospect, it is interesting how an injury that temporarily closed my mind, narrowed my focus, actually opened me up and expanded my possibilities. While I will never go so far as to celebrate my concussions, they, like most adversity, deserve credit for shaping me into the broader person I am today. There is value in every struggle and if people are patient enough to find it, I believe they will reap unexpected benefits. Everyone who suffers should not disparage their losses because there is always more. Each case is different, and of course the loss of contact sports seems trivial compared to other adversity, but my story proves there is a silver lining in every experience.
Samantha Monello is a senior at Wilsonville High School.