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Without Sports, Who Am I?

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(Breegan Petruska/The Collegiate)

By Kaia Zimmerman

When the world shut down, the sports world did too. For a lot of people, sports are an outlet because when you step on that court or field everything else you were worrying about goes away.

When the pandemic hit, that outlet was taken away from a lot of athletes. I lost my senior season and softball was everything to me. I played it all year round. Most of my friends were from softball and overall it was an outlet for me. I had gone through a lot during high school concerning my mental health, but softball was a chance to get away from that. I looked forward to practice most days and being on that field was when I was happiest.

I was on the varsity team all four years of high school where I played third base. I had seen through that time each player who was older than me got their moment to shine as a senior. I saw them get to walk with their parents on Senior Night as their coaches talked about their achievements, and when they passed their number down to a younger player. I had dreamed of that, and I wanted it so bad. I couldn’t wait until I was a senior.

The summer before my senior year, I had a knee injury and I had to get surgery. I had worked every day in the offseason to get back into the position to play my senior year, and I almost wasn’t able to play because of my knee. The week before tryouts I was cleared to play, and I couldn’t have been happier. I remember playing at tryouts and being so excited, and so relieved that I was going to be able to play my senior year.

At this point, people were talking about is unknown virus that just got into the United States. I thought nothing of it because it was in Washington, and I had no idea what was about to come. Our season at first got postponed for two weeks, and during that time that was all that I thought it was. People were talking about this being over in a month, and if it wasn’t we could have a senior season during the summer, but I don’t think anyone knew the severity of the pandemic. As time went on, having a season looked more and more unlikely. After the two weeks, we were told our season was canceled.

Photo by Breegan Petruska Breegan Petruska | The Collegiate Live

I wasn’t able to have that moment where I would walk with my parents on Senior Night. I wasn’t able to give my number to a younger teammate. I wasn’t able to play my last season ever after working so hard in the offseason to play again. I didn’t get to have the closure that everyone else got before me. It was just done.

I had a really hard time after the season was canceled, and I cried a lot. I have found ways to get the closure I need for softball, and it continues to be a part of my life. I am a sports reporter for The Collegiate and I cover softball. I also am a coach for a JV softball team at Lowell High School, and I always remind those girls to play like it is their last game because I didn’t know my last game would be my last.

It was a hard experience, but I learned so much because of it. I learned mostly to enjoy what you are doing in life because you never know what can happen next. I also learned to not get anxious over the little things and stop worrying about what could go wrong or how I could mess up, and instead just enjoy it.

My teammate Krin Beach had the same situation. She was a senior during this time and had waited for her moment to get an opportunity to play as a senior.

“I remember just having a breakdown,” Beach said. “Softball was my outlet. I was having a hard time with my anxiety and seasonal depression, I was down in the dumps, and I was so excited about this senior year because this was a chance to prove myself. I finally was able to show people that I could play, and then it just didn’t happen.”

When we first made the varsity team, we had a lot of older girls who made our experience not the most enjoyable. While we both loved the game and had some caring teammates, we both weren’t very treated well. Some of the older girls would often talk behind our backs and exclude us from things, making it really hard to ever feel welcomed.

The mistreatment made Beach want her senior season more, not only to get her the season where she was the oldest, but to also treat the younger girls better than we were treated.

Beach had her parents speak up on the issue, and the coach at the time put her down on the JV team because she spoke up. It was hard for her to hear she would go down to JV for that reason, but Beach found her love for the sport again playing for JV because it was a welcoming and more relaxed environment.

“I remember having a really hard time adjusting to JV, but once I did it was one of my favorite years of softball,” Beach said. “It helped me to learn how to be comfortable on the field.”

Beach felt she hadn’t dealt with losing her senior season right away, and instead threw herself into working 60 hours a week to forget about the pain of losing her season. When her workload started to slow down, she finally felt like she could deal with the pain that came with losing her season.

“I just avoided the situation,” said Beach. “I started working 60 hours and had three jobs consistently throughout the summer. I never dealt with the memories with softball. I didn’t deal with the problem until the end of the summer. I didn’t realize work was just me avoiding the problem.”

All the seniors who lost their season that year were so close. We had played with each other since little league. Our friendship and teamwork was something that would be hard to replace. Beach felt losing that was one of the hardest parts.

“It was super hard because our class was super close,” Beach said. “What helped me was that I was going to play in college, but at the same time it was difficult to adjust to college because I was really nervous to make new friends because we were so close that I thought it can’t be like that again.”

Beach is continuing to play softball in college at Grand Rapids Community College where she is the starting first baseman, so that has helped her with the closure of not having a season, but it still was hard when it first happened, and even now.

“It was like a bad breakup,” said Beach. “I am still thinking about it and it still hurts, and it was a really hard thing to get over. We were such a tightknit group for the seniors that it was really hard to process that we wouldn’t be able to play our final game.”

Likewise, Pitcher Alexa Abrahamson had her sophomore season at GRCC canceled because of the pandemic and decided to come back for a third year for this season. Around the time COVID-19 had started is when her mental health was starting to decline.

“I have always been a pretty content person and pretty confident,” Abrahamson said. “When covid started, not because of covid, but that’s when my mental health took a turn downhill. I had never been anxious before then.”

Mental health can affect performance, especially in such a mental game as softball. One of the most important parts of softball is the mental game because it can affect how you play so much. When you are in your head as an athlete, it often leads to your confidence in your abilities to shrink as time goes on. Abrahamson found when her mental health was low, she had trouble on the field because she started to second-guess herself and be anxious about her performance.

“I think I let my anxiety expel itself in softball,” said Abrahamson. “I will find something to be anxious about. I didn’t eat on the day of our first game because I was so anxious. Pitch to pitch I will be very anxious. My anxiety definitely found a way to come to the surface through sports, but sports wasn’t the cause.”

Abrahamason felt as if softball was an escape from the hard time she was experiencing, and having to show up to help not only herself but her teammates really helped her.

“I think a reason that my mental health got so bad was because I had so much time to myself to be alone with my negative thoughts,” said Abrahamson. “Having a routine to stick to, and having coaches who force you to work out, and move your body definitely helped me feel better. Having a place to be and having structure to my day helps me stay on track with school and helps me not be alone with my negative thoughts. For me personally sports helps. Overall I’m getting better as the season starts because I have 14 other girls I need to show up for every day.”

GRCC pitcher Alexa Abrahamson delivers a pitch against Glen Oaks on March 23. (Breegan Petruska/The Collegiate) Breegan Petruska | The Collegiate Live

It was so important to her to have a season this year, and having the season has already helped her mental health in some ways. Abrahamson wanted this season because it gave her the motivation that she needed to be active and be around people that motivated her.

“I think if I wasn’t working for something in the fall, and I didn’t have my two coaches pushing me to go to the gym or if I didn’t have anything to look forward to school would’ve just felt like a drag, and my mental health probably would’ve been worse if I didn’t have an end goal because I don’t think I had enough intrinsic motivation to do any of these things without having softball.”

Abrahamson is still battling and is still experiencing the hard days because of her mental health, but she has learned through this experience that happiness comes within.

Sports is an outlet for many people because when you step on that field all of your problems that are happening off of that field no longer matter because you have to show up for your team and play the game you love. She has found that softball is one of the biggest things that helps her through her negative thoughts because of her teammates and because it is her outlet.

“I have daily battles with how I talk to myself, think, or as I pick what to eat,” said Abrahamson. “I’m learning that happiness comes from me internally and that I shouldn’t look to others or external things for it. That comes from self-love which I’m working on, but softball is one of if not the biggest thing in my life helping me with that.”

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