It’ll be almost three years since I was a student-athlete on a real team.
The last day I looked at myself in the mirror with a number that I’ve only ever worn my whole life.
Three years ago I shook the last hand of the opponent looking at the scoreboard before leaving the gym one final time.
Ask any athlete they can tell you about their last game and their last few moments before handing in their uniform.
I entered the life of Non-Athletic Regular People. A life without practices or schedules or any obligation to anyone other than myself.
But if you ask any athlete about their athletic career, maybe some will tell you about the records they broke, the titles they earned, the awards that came along the way of devoting their life to a single sport.
But more that they will tell you about the people who made every win a little sweeter by sharing in the moment. Who made every loss a little more tolerable because it was in the silence you shared in your sadness. The person who pushed you a little more to be a little better both on the court or field and off.
This isn’t a story about losing the game, this is about the people you met along the way that made the game you fell in love with as a kid something even better.
This is to every coach who has ever pushed you to be more and be better.
To every coach who has ever doubted adding fuel to a fire just so you can prove them wrong.
This is to ever off-season alone because you were training for something bigger than yourself.
Yes, you were playing for a title and a record but you were also playing for each other.
You were giving 100% not just for yourself but because that’s what your teammates deserved of you, your best.
The relationship between teammates isn’t like a regular friendship, sure it’s that too but there’s a bond that’s greater there.
It was the weekends in hotel rooms where you sat up at night just talking.
It was the hours on the bus and every road trip to get somewhere and do something just to walk away with that win.
It was the cramming for exams and having someone who also couldn’t go to that party.
It was the daily stresses and you having someone always to turn to.
It was the celebrating and nights out, where in that moment you were all together and knew very well “this won’t happen again.”
It was a unity. Because you weren’t just bound by being on the same roster and wearing the same uniform. It was something bigger than both of you.
As you think back to your athletic career, it’s the people you shared it with that made it worth it.
You’ll remember the big games. You’ll remember what it felt like getting that final point before the buzzer and everyone going wild. But what you remember most is that eye contact you made with the person who was there by your side through it all. Those are the moments seared in your memory never to be forgotten.
And no matter how much time passes. It’s your team you won’t forget.
And you may move on to the real world and find it biting you in the ass a bit.
You may start playing again, pickup games here and there. But it will never feel the same.
You’ll think back to when times were as simple as that sport being your life and nothing else mattering. When you’re the biggest problem wasn’t about rent or work but rather will you be in shape for preseason?
You’ll look back at it all knowing very well something good wasn’t gonna last forever but the relationships you built in those years would.
And as time passes, you still find yourself introducing these people as your teammate first and friends second. The truth is, you weren’t just teammates and friends, you became family. And while games ended and new seasons begun with rosters that didn’t have your names on it, that family you made along the way was something of forever.