I never thought I would belong to a clique when I started high school. I tried my hardest to avoid it. When choosing my classes and activities, I always mixed it up between science, art, and sports in an attempt to become a well-rounded person who would, for one, look great on university applications and, two, could simultaneously try as many interests as possible. This attempt was not successful, to say the least.
By the time I was sixteen, I had been playing rugby for almost four years. I started playing rugby as a hobby since many of my family members had been doing it, and over the seasons, I kept improving with every game. At the time, this superficial success and subsequent validation made me extremely happy.
Slowly, over time, rugby became my whole life — I was always prepping for the next tryout or trying to beat my old lifts, my running times, or, most of all, the other girls in my league. I became obsessed with the idea of being an athlete. I became so invested that the other things I loved became neglected.
My schedules and days revolved around rugby. The sport shaped my daily regimens. I worked out twice a day, restricted my calories to stay lean – but still muscular — and constantly analyzed every mistake I made. The sport became my identity, and this rugby-oriented lifestyle continued until it suddenly disappeared the summer before my senior year.
While training for a provincial camp, I tore one of the major ligaments in my knee. I tried walking it off, still practicing throughout the fall until I was forced to stop with a diagnosis from my doctor. The timing of my injury meant that all my plans for playing rugby at a varsity level were halted with the long recovery I had to look forward to.
Little did I know, I would not be the only one forced to take a leave of absence from their sport. COVID-19 hit later that spring, and many of my teammates felt that same helplessness of losing access to the gym, each other, and our sport.
It was cathartic, to be honest, to have others experience the same hardship as myself, and this made me realize how much I had relied on my athletic identity for a sense of meaning. I know it sounds cliché, but these routines served as an indicator of my success at the time, and without them, I felt defeated and left behind from my community.
Learning what I enjoyed again took time – and it was not easy. I brushed off the idea that I would be attached to any identity I had in high school when I came to university, but without any established hobbies, I felt I wasn’t suited for many clubs. Being an adult meant it had only gotten more challenging for me to make friends compared to high school, and I struggled with this new reality for a while.
It was during recovery from my surgery that I found it was easier to move away from that static identity of myself. I watched a lot of movies, I drew, I wrote, and I cried over my frustration — and I did it again and again. Leaning into my creativity when I had nothing else to do made it a lot easier to move forward. I started meeting people interested in photography, film, and other arts who had never played sports. Being around others who had experiences different from mine was invigorating.
Of course, I changed physically in the process, too. I gained weight, lost strength, and found getting to the gym more challenging than ever. While I had found new activities to direct my mental energy to, finding some form of physicality that interested me felt harder.
Eventually, I wanted to feel strong again, so I tried a little bit of everything without putting any expectations on myself. Accepting my mediocrity in other sports, I tried and enjoyed many activities like yoga, triathlon training, and hiking that I would have passed off before. More importantly, I learned there is no right or wrong way to get activity back in your life.
Coming to university, if you have ever felt this way or are struggling with being forced to slow down — take the time to look around. There is no singular form of athlete, and it’s never too late to try something new. Focus on what brings you enjoyment in the present moment, even if it is something unexpected. Change is good; as people and athletes, we should constantly change.
Remember, when one door closes, so many more are waiting to be opened.