Her Space: My Post-Lacrosse Life
|This column originally appears in Lacrosse Magazine's February 2014 issue. Join US Lacrosse today to start your subscription!|
I'm writing on a snowy day, which makes me think of another winter 16 years ago when I was laboring over another assignment at another desk.
It was that long, boring stretch of the school year between Martin Luther King Day and spring break, with terrible weather and looming midterms. The sky was grey and opaque. I'd had a horrible day at school, followed by a poor outing on the final day of lacrosse tryouts, followed by a pile of homework. My dad came into my room to bring me a study snack and found me weeping over my books. Stunned, he asked what was wrong. For once, it wasn't pre-calculus.
"I'm going to get cut tomorrow," I sobbed. "I'm not going to be a lacrosse player anymore."
I've been thinking about retirement lately. First of all, financial services companies advertise on TV a lot, and most of my thoughts originate in TV commercials and/or hunger. Secondly, my bank has taken to sending me letters from its female executives that strike a strange sisterly tone, encouraging me to contact them about saving for retirement, which is something women don't do enough. You should, of course, avail yourself of savings and investment opportunities, so that you can spend your golden years pursuing outdoorsy hobbies, holding hands with a silver fox on adjacent bathtubs overlooking a cliff and doing all the other fun things that well-heeled old people do in commercials.
You should also plan for your retirement from lacrosse. My colleague, Lucia Perfetti Clark, wrote an excellent column in the October issue of Lacrosse Magazine ("The Last Game") on how officials should plan their retirements from active duty, and her advice holds true for everyone deeply involved in the sport. Someday, you will hang up your stick and goggles, and it's a hard transition. The flameouts usually aren't as spectacular as you sometimes see with pro athletes who struggle to adjust to life off the field, but it's still a tough time.
That's what was making me cry so hard on that cold winter night. I was losing a big piece of my identity.
"Don't worry," my dad said. "You'll always be a lacrosse player."
And he was right about that. I'll always be a lacrosse player, because it's a part of who I am, whether I have cleats or high heels or work boots on my feet.
I didn't get cut the next day. The opaque sky turned to snow, and school was cancelled. I got a stay of execution. I remember thinking, "One more day. One more day, I can say I'm a lacrosse player."
The next morning, the roads were clear and the cut list was posted. I didn't make it. I was crushed, but I was better off having that quiet snow day and a good talk to help come to terms with it.
Obviously, I made my way back into the sport. I played college club, dabbled in officiating, attended games a fan and much later got a job at US Lacrosse. (In my defense, for anyone who's wondering how a kid who couldn't make a high school team ended up with a column: You don't have to be a good athlete to be a good sportswriter. Also, I went to one of those insane Baltimore prep schools infested with lax rats and was competing against four future Tewaaraton finalists and multiple Stanwicks.) But not being able to play for my school team, a competitive program that I really cared about, was devastating. I had to find other ways to define myself. I ultimately found writing.
I know it's a bummer to talk about endings in February, when lacrosse season is just beginning. But it's so common to find the end of a sports career jarring that I wanted to give you a heads up. Talk to your parents or friends or coaches or even a counselor if the idea of post-lacrosse life wigs you out a little. When you feel ready, think of ways you can stay in touch with the game, and how you can use what you learned (creativity, perseverance, resilience) in other parts of your life.
Have a great season, and enjoy all the highs and lows. And when it's over – for the year or forever – feel a little sad for a while. It's OK. You'll always be a lacrosse player.