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The struggle to balance life and the game

Vicky Tumasz | Chestnut Hill Basketball

Any athlete can tell you what it feels like waking up at the crack of dawn with their teammates to head out to the gym, court, field, or track. Any athlete can tell you the struggle they face day to day, but also the relief they have knowing this is the place where they are in control. The hours and money that were poured out of our parent’s pockets that got us to where we are today. The blood, sweat, and tears that made it all worth it. 

I grew up playing at one of the most dominating, power-house high schools in Pennsylvania. Almost every sport had won a district or state championship; I was surrounded by success. I grew up playing with my brother and sister in the driveway and eventually dedicated my life to playing basketball and hoping to play at the collegiate level because it was my dream. Basketball was my passion, my joy, my purpose. It was what I was known for. I was lucky enough that I had the chance to continue my basketball career at the Division II level at Shippensburg University. I was in love with the game of basketball, but life didn’t want me to love it back. Unfortunately, in my first two years of college, I had faced some bumpy roads leading me in the wrong direction. Injuries, family health issues, an overload amount of stress due to a new transition, and failure; a subject I was not used to. 

I wasn’t depressed, but I was unhappy. I told everyone I was fine, and I hid behind a perfectly good smile. I buried myself in stress and did everything I could to try and avoid it. I was failing myself. I locked myself in my room, skipped classes and my grades started to dwindle down. I lost myself. It not only impacted my social life, but it was impacting my game and I did not care. I had fear. Fear of failing, fear of not being good enough, and fear of letting down my coaches and teammates. It was a snowball effect. Eventually, I didn’t want to go to practice, I wasn’t excited for game days, and I didn’t take care of my body, eventually resulting in more injuries. Playing a sport eventually turned into a chore. I thought to myself, “did I want to do this anymore? Or should I just throw in the towel?” Falling out of love with a sport and knowing the fire has burned out is heartbreaking. The worst part about it is thinking you have disappointed everyone, your parents, coaches, teammates…even yourself. However, I had a strong support system. I listened to friends and family, but more importantly, I listened to my body and started to notice these changes in myself. I noticed that something was not right, and I needed to do something about it, so I left. When you are constantly surrounded by negativity, you need to get out of there, you need a fresh start. I turned a 3-hour drive, to a 20-minute drive, transferring to Chestnut Hill College to finish out my junior and senior years. 

Athletic careers of all stages eventually end at some point, but I didn’t want mine to end. I reached out to the coach, and luckily he took me in like family. I embraced the opportunity, redefined myself and my love for the game and the next two years ended up being the best 2 years of my life, I was happy again. 

The first thing that comes to mind when a collegiate athlete tells someone that they want to transfer is probably due to a lack of playing time. However, that’s not always the case. Playing sports does not make athletes immune to mental health challenges. As student-athletes, we have the pressures to perform in games, academically perform in the classroom, and even put on a happy face in our public lives. 

I would do anything to go back and whisper advice in the ears of my younger self. Love your sport and dedicate yourself fully to it, but don’t forget to take care of yourself along the way. Don’t be afraid to talk about your feelings, keeping everything in will destroy you. It is okay to fail, you live and you learn – your greatest successes come from failure. More importantly, “play through the pain,” but don’t let the pain play you.

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