My freshman year in high school, I was determined to make the varsity softball team. And why wouldn’t I? I played softball year-round on competitive travel teams. I’d been playing since I was seven when I was the only girl on the baseball team. I worked hard, conditioned hard, practiced hard.
And then I tore my hamstring.
It was October. I was doing routine base running with my travel team when suddenly there was sharp pain in the back of my left upper leg. I tried to keep running, but I literally couldn’t make my leg move. I tried to play again after a week, but I was done. It was too damaged. Thus began what would be a long, painful process.
I remember tears in my eyes even walking from the store to the parking lot, trying to ignore the pain. I remember hours of physical therapy. The physical therapist told me it might take a year to heal. But I didn’t have a year. I only had three months.
I tried out for the team that February. I was still limping when I walked. My run was ridiculously awkward. But I was going to make that team.
Girls were eliminated by the handful every day during tryouts week. Finally, it was the last day. I was still in with the varsity group. Two more girls would be cut.
I was one of those two. I would be on JV.
I was devastated.
That was my first major crushed dream. It didn’t matter how hard I had worked. I still failed.
Did I always wonder, if I’d tried harder, if I could have made it? Constantly. Did I watch the varsity players with a tight chest, longing to participate in their swift movements, when I was instead teaching teammates to throw properly? Absolutely.
I tried out the next year as well, but the coach had already made up his mind about me. I was a JV player. My double plays and grand slam didn’t matter. I wasn’t one of his girls.
There’s no crying in softball, but I cried then—in secret, of course. I cried for crushed dreams. For knowing I had botched my chance. Knowing I would never make varsity, and that my college prospects would be slim without it.
But I got a second chance. I switched schools and played on varsity there. Things started looking up. I was offered a college scholarship.
Then, at the end of my senior year, my throwing wrist was crushed by a metal cleat.
I finished the season in a brace almost all the way up to my elbow. I mastered the technique of setting the ball inside the palm of my brace and launching it like a catapult to throw. I batted one-handed. I was still on the field, battling through the state championship games. Of course, that wasn’t good enough when we faced a major rival, a rival known for power hitting. I was a pitcher, and for this particular team, it seemed only I could ever thwart their hitting, but I was unavailable. Though we should have been slated to win state, or at least place, we ended up in seventh. I couldn’t help myself that time. The end of my high school career ended in failure, and it was my fault. I cried in front of my teammates.
But I still had that college scholarship.
Well, not so much. My wrist didn’t get better. I was still wearing a brace. I tried so hard, but it’s difficult to hit home runs with one hand. I couldn’t get my wrist to turn and move to throw the six different pitches I once possessed. My fielding throws were off target. I went from a promising recruit to a bench sitter.
Long story short, I lost my scholarship. That was the worst phone call of my life. I was allowed to come back my sophomore year and play without a scholarship, but I declined. I worried about how on earth I would pay for college. I needed to work to make up that money. I didn’t have time to play a game anymore.
Thus twelve years of softball, of blood, sweat, tears, scars, scores of injuries, screaming coaches, cruel teammates, no social life, and no time for being a teenager came to an end. I gave up everything for a game. And then I lost it.
It had been miserable. Painful. It was a series of disappointments, failures, and plenty of coaches (not all, but plenty) who liked to remind me with a good dose of screaming and cussing just how worthless I was.
In the end, I did achieve my dream. Supposedly. I got a softball scholarship to my first pick school.
But even that was another failure.
Was it worth it? Absolutely not. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Would I change it if I could? No. Because I learned things I never would have otherwise.
The story continues. Now I’ve been diagnosed with dysautonomia/POTS, for which there is no cure. I can’t run anymore. I can’t walk or stand for very long. I’m always dizzy, fatigued, and have been known to faint multiple times in a day. I can’t regulate my body temperature properly, so I’ll drop in the heat. My peers go to writing conferences while I lie in bed.
The athlete has fallen.
I’m ashamed to see my former teammates at school. I’m afraid to go back, to the judgement I fear when everyone sees what looks like a perfectly normal girl so disgustingly “out of shape” she can’t even take the stairs.
I never accomplish everything I want to do in a day. Though sometimes I can’t sleep at all, more often I sleep an obscene amount, slug-like, unable to function, and I can’t stand it. Just like with softball, I always wonder, if I just tried harder, could I do it?
What do you do when you fall so low? When a decade-long dream is crushed? When you fail and there is no do-over? When you’re ashamed to see the people who once knew you?
Well, this is the important lesson softball has taught me: Grace.
I’m not the type of person to give myself grace. I’m more of the “get going, you sluggard, stop being such a trash heap” type of person. Anything less than perfection has never been tolerated. It would be rewarded with my own special brands of inner torture.
Well, obviously that’s not possible anymore. I tried my hardest and it wasn’t good enough. I have two options: get upset, or get off my high horse, recognize I’m a mess, and go with it.
Perfection is impossible. “But shoot for the moon and you’ll land among the stars,” some say. No. Dream big, yes. Go hard, absolutely. But give yourself grace. Laugh at your own mistakes. Accept your flaws. They don’t give you any less worth. Do what you can, and don’t worry about the rest. You’re human. You’re loved. Don’t waste time hating yourself or regretting the past when you can do the next best thing now.
Yeah, I won’t be as “successful” as I hoped. But that doesn’t matter. I’m loved. I have worth beyond what I achieve and joy that is independent of my circumstances. So when I mess up, oh well. It’s not the end of the line. Just another step in the journey.
Yep, this former athlete is a slug-a-bed and a failure. My best wasn’t good enough. But with all that I’ve learned, I’m not sure that I can say it was a failure after all. Maybe it was a successful lesson in grace.