Upon reflection on my year in sports, I learned the value of having people in your corner.
After running middle distance with the Blues in the 2021–2022 season as a rostered athlete, I began the second year of my university career by dropping out of the race that determined the Varsity’s cross country roster. The weeks leading up to this intersquad event left me feeling anxious and emotionally drained due to the pressure to perform well. I stopped believing that I could make it and therefore lost the race before it started. It’s difficult to finish a race — and perform well — when your thoughts tell you that you can’t, so I dropped out. Everything about the fall semester became a blur of frustration, anxiety, and unhappiness from that point forward.
I have always measured my success through my performance in sports and academics, so giving up on sports left me flooded with inescapable feelings of shame and disappointment in myself. Although I continued running, I felt very isolated from my teammates because of the uncertainty that I was feeling about my future and identity in running. It became easy to wear a mask of contentment to practice, while deep down, I felt like I wasn’t enough for the program.
If I wasn’t winning or representing my university, what was I doing here?
My fixation soon became getting rostered for the track and field team. I started training for a five kilometre race and made some extreme, independent changes to my training by considerably increasing my mileage in the pool on the elliptical and on the road. Looking back, these changes were definitely not the healthiest, but the personal best I earned in the race made achieving my goal of being rostered seem possible.
Ultimately, I wasn’t rostered for the track and field team this winter because I didn’t run the standard in the 1,500 metres.
However, a conversation after this race led me to run with a wonderful group of humans who kept me mentally accountable for believing in personal growth while running. It was as if a switch had been flipped in my mind and I started believing more in myself.
Every day, I would write affirmations for what I wanted to achieve and tape them to my bedroom wall. The repetitive internalization of these positive thoughts helped to keep me focused on my goals and silence any doubt that was rooted in the back of my head.
Suddenly, going to practice only triggered feelings of excitement at the possibility of improvement, rather than the necessity of it. Surrounded by friends, each footfall on the track made me feel faster and stronger because I wasn’t just progressing well in my training, but I was also having fun. That became the basis of my mental and physical improvement.
It’s easy to forget that university sport does not end at the Varsity level. Races are held often and locally that enable all athletes to compete at a high level. I began racing unattached and found myself running huge personal bests, something I hadn’t achieved since before the pandemic. And it was made all the more memorable by those who cheered me on and rushed to hug or high five me after I crossed the finish line.
Simply put, running made me happy again.
So, what did I learn?
I am a product of my environment.
And sometimes, you have to create your own space to grow in. My friends are a constant reminder of the difference that a positive environment can make in sports.