I had just turned 16, and was anxiously awaiting the 100 meter dash finals for the state championship. For a split second I forgot what I was doing, where I was, and how to set my blocks. The nerves were beginning to take over my body and mind.
On your marks, get set... I crossed the finish line unsure if I had won. I looked into the stands to find my team: my Dad, Lucius and Chris. When I would fall out at practice crying because I thought I was too tired to run any further, they picked me up and kept me going. After my first loss they wiped my tears and taught me to turn that very pain and defeat into motivation. After wins, they kept me grounded and focused on the bigger picture. They taught me to never show the competition I was tired. They taught me how to be competitive, to dream bigger than I ever imagined, and how to turn those dreams into a reality.
At my last high school state meet my dad asked me to celebrate. Something I had never done. As a decorated sprinter, I never wore a medal around my neck. I would cross the finish line, accept my award, place it in my spike bag and prepare for the next event. "Just throw your fist up one time. Just one time.." I refused. Not because I wasn't proud, but because I was afraid of how I would be received. Cocky. Big Headed. Unsportsmanlike.
A few days ago I called my Dad to tell him some exciting news regarding my career. He interrupted me mid-sentence and said, "Can I ask you something? Why do you always downplay yourself?"
I hung up the phone and was stuck on that one line. Why do you always downplay yourself?
He was right. I thought back to all I've accomplished in sports and life and how I've never taken the time to celebrate. It took me back to that arid Arizona night. I was finishing an amazing high school career about to embark on another journey at The University of Arizona. I was the Freshman Phenom, Athlete of The Year, Soccer and Track Star, but had never allowed myself to enjoy my success.
As I navigate life it has become more apparent that from a very young age, women are told how to be women, especially in sports. We're taught how to bite our tongues. How to "soften" ourselves, to make others feel comfortable. We're told to exude confidence, but not too much for fear of being a bitch. We're told to mold ourselves into something we aren't. Be great, but not too great. Be strong, but never express it. I remember being told on numerous occasions that I was intimidating, something I still hear to this day. One man even went as far as to say the reasoning behind this "intimidation" is because I'm "pretty, educated, well spoken, and have a nice body".
I'm fortunate to have had coaches at every level who allowed me to cry, be goofy, question every workout and grow as both an athlete and person. Being a woman in sports, I now appreciate every win that never seemed to be good enough at the time and every moment of defeat that kept me going. I gained the world through sports.
To the parents and coaches: continue to be a foundation of support, it makes all the difference. To the athlete that is afraid of your own greatness, embrace it.