Content Warning: body dysmorphia, social ostracization, athletic pressure, habitual eating disturbances, anxiety
I’m writing this letter to discuss the aftermath of being a life-long athlete. From the moment I was born, my parents knew I was destined to be one with the world of sports. Before I could walk, I was put into ice skates, batting my parent’s “helpful guidance” away whenever I fell. Before I could decide for myself, I was enrolled in soccer, basketball, and softball teams that soon encompassed every waking moment of my life. Though this may sound bad, I am eternally grateful for being able to become an athlete and play sports throughout my entire life. The problem comes when being a competitive athlete is no longer an option.
Having been a competitive volleyball player for more than half of my life, and throughout my entire college journey, it often felt like my entire life was defined by required food regimens, workouts, and 6 AM practices. Staying in shape was not ever a choice; it was a requirement. If I wanted to play the game I loved, I needed to be my best for my team, for my coach, and for myself.
Yet, the world of being a competitive athlete is destined to come to an end, and with it, the end of so much more. It’s less than a day before you are kicked out of the team’s group chat, no longer needed to be a teammate or an informed athlete. Less than a week before, you are neglected and no longer invited to go out with the girls, whom you have played with for over three years. Less than a month before, you are ignored altogether, any and all smiles in the hallway becoming a foreign facade of fake, subtle kindness.
Along with being abandoned, your body begins to suffer. Gym anxiety takes a new toll on your life, not knowing how to exercise for anything other than your sport. Eating pasta consistently to load up for game days is no longer an option, and yet you still put on pounds due to eating habits formed throughout your entire athletic life. Everything an athlete knows throughout their entire life completely changes, and, suddenly, it is hard to figure out who you are or where you belong.
This is a struggle that millions of life-long athletes go through every year, and I hope that all of us will be able to someday find our place in the world outside the competitive athletic community.