I’m sitting on the bus heading home from a game day victory, four hours down and two more to go. It’s been a long nine days of traveling, but we’re coming home 4-0 from spring training. It’s my final season of college athletics, and it’s starting to hit me. It’s starting to hit me really hard in the gut, like I just got the wind knocked out of me. I still have a full season ahead of me, all of conference play and potentially play offs, but I can’t quiet the thoughts in my head. I know my days are numbered, just over a month left and it’s over.
It’s just over.
I’m trying to wrap my mind around the idea of not being an athlete anymore, at least not in the sense I’m used to. The two and a half hour practices every day, team lifts afterwards, morning conditioning, weekends on top of weekdays spent away with the team for games. It’s all coming to a close. I’ve played sports since I could walk and in a few short weeks everything I’ve ever known will be flipped upside down.
There will be no more early morning workouts, trying to balance work, school and practice. I won’t have to go to conditioning that I always dreaded ever again. I won’t have to sprint through any more end lines. I won’t have to do any more push-ups for swearing. I won’t have to do anything I don’t necessarily want to any more, and it’s eating me alive.
It means I can’t get on the bus and travel to any more games with the team. It means I can’t be on the field with my teammates and work my ass off for them. It means I can’t be in the huddle anymore pumping everyone up. It means I won’t get the pregame jitters that make me so nervous I want to puke in the best way possible. It means I won’t be able to feel the glory in winning a close game; I won’t be able to feel the personal and team satisfaction of being on the field to contribute to making that possible.
You really can’t understand the emotion until you’re in this position. You always knew your time would come, that you would eventually hang up your cleats and move on. But the idea of moving on sounds so much easier said than done.
Everyone tells you to enjoy your time because you can’t get it back, and you do enjoy it. You enjoy every second of it, but eventually the timer still runs out and there is nothing you can do about it. You can continue playing sports after college, if you’re lucky enough to go professional I envy you, but for the majority of us college is where it ends. You can play in an adult games or beer leagues, but no matter what the connection will never be the same, the feeling you get before games will never be as intense, there will be no more locker room pump-ups and hour long bus rides. There won’t be the same level of intensity we all crave and the same level of passion your college teammates share with you.
In a few short months there will be silence. The silence we all dread. The silence where we feel alone, like we hit our potential and our time is over. There won’t be anyone sitting in the crowds cheering for you anymore, there won’t be the “good luck” texts.
It hasn’t happened yet, but I’m well aware the greatest loss I will ever suffer will be when the clock hits zero on the second half of my last game, even if we come up on top. My sport has essentially become my identity, it has made me who I am, and it has shaped my life.
I will have no option but to say goodbye to the teammates I’ve spent my college career becoming family with. I will no longer get to see them every day, I will no longer get to play with them. I will no longer get to push them through difficult drills and they will no longer get to do the same for me. Teammates are the reason we stay when we want to throw the towel in, they are our rock, they are why we work hard and why we strive to be better. They are who the one’s who have been by my side my entire college career and just like the final buzzer of the season will sound, it’s essentially the final buzzer of life as I’ve known it. That is the hardest concept to grasp.
Until that time comes I will take it all in. I will squeeze my teammates shoulders a little tighter during the National Anthem. I will take a look at my teammates and let them know how much I appreciate them. I will look in the stands and acknowledge my parents and friends for sitting in the freezing cold weather just to watch me play. I will hustle a little harder and remember every celebration, every good thing that was done on the field by my teammates and myself.
I will take everything in; I will reflect on every moment that I am on the field playing the sport I love. I will take advantage of every opportunity, every win and loss, every high and low and I will embrace them whole-heartedly, until the clock strikes zero for the last time.