Lost and Found in a Split Second

Bethany - Valdese, North Carolina
Entered on February 28, 2008
Age Group: Under 18

In a split second your whole life can change, everything you lived for completely destroyed. I used to believe that I was defined by my efforts as a soccer player, and every time that I stepped on the field I had something to prove. I would push myself to get a little faster, a little smarter, to overcome every obstacle no matter how impossible it seemed. It only made it worse that I saw myself as slow and unimportant to the team, so I would continue pushing, sometimes staying after practice to work on my shortcomings. I saw success as the way to define my self-worth and my failures as the ultimate condemnation, unimportance. I believed in the team and pushing myself beyond my physical limitations for acceptance, but in a second everything changed.

What happened altered no one’s life but mine. I did not have cancer or lose a limb; I did not go blind or suffer from some extremely contagious disease. In fact, it was far from the excruciating plagues that could be imagined. At the annual Powder-puff football game, I was slated as the punt receiver and the center. The game, played against our rival high school, was for charity and bragging rights, so adrenaline was running high. I had worked extremely hard to earn my positions and was excited to begin playing. As a Senior co-captain, I walked onto the center of the field under the blinding stadium lights. I looked into the stands and saw spectators bundled up against the brisk October night. I was so honored and thrilled. After winning the coin toss, our team chose to receive, and I was immediately called into action. Standing on the field, I had actually prayed the ball would not reach me, but fate, it seemed, had other plans. The football spiraled through the air straight toward me, and I caught it on a bounce. I looked to the referee to blow his whistle but realized he did not understand that the ball had hit the turf and was dead, so I started to sprint. Coming toward me from the right was a wall of red, so I attempted to spin away. The pop I heard would change my life forever. It was the first play of the game and the last play for me, permanently. In the following days, I learned that I tore a ligament in my knee, nothing life threatening but effectively crushing my dreams. Now I sit on the sidelines, forced to watch my friends and teammates play while I wait six long months.

At first I was devastated; how could anything this undeniably cruel happen to me? Yet as I began suffering through physical therapy and those sleepless nights, tossing and turning, I began to think. I had only believed that by pushing my body hard enough someone would notice and label me “important.” I saw that I was merely living for the thought of my team’s praise, and if I suspected that they might see one fault, I would push harder at those unforgivable limitations. I had stopped playing for the love of the game and lost the dreams that kept me waking each day and, with them, my heart. I used to play because I loved the smell of freshly cut grass, the sound of the ball soaring through the air, the awesome power of walking off the field muddy but surrounded with an air of tranquility. All I could hear now were those voices in my head, criticizing every step and analyzing every thought.

It is true I still believe in team. I believe in pushing yourself to the absolute limit and searching for that unreachable power, though now I have returned to what I believed in as a little girl, playing for the love of the game. I no longer believe in driving yourself so hard that you create an obsession for achievement, resulting in self destruction. Mostly, I used to believe in what my team said they saw in me and how I could improve, but now, thanks to a split second, I believe in what I see and what I want from life.