Thursday, July 19, 2012

For the Extremely Driven

I read an article today about the Olympics that said athletes are extremely driven people.

Well of course they are, that's a no brainer.

But then I got to thinking about it, and it really goes beyond simply being driven. To improve and excel as an athlete, you have to have something driving you to improve, to press on. For some, that may be the gold medal, the prize waiting at the end. It may be titles and records and recognition from the top seats in the world. Or it may be a lot smaller.

I was thinking about this driven-ness in my own athletic career, short though it may have been. And though it earned me an award and recognition from my team, that wasn't what drove me. In fact, I really had no aspirations of winning any awards, or really achieving any recognition. My drive was internal.

I started college not thinking I would try out for any sports. Of course I had always wanted to play college basketball, but that dream faded like all the others I left behind when I moved from my home state of Texas to Michigan. By my sophomore year of high school, I had given up on just about everything I had wanted for so long, including basketball.

But somehow, one day after class, I found myself standing on the gleaming wood floor of a basketball court, waiting to sign up to start my one-year college basketball career. I think, even if I had known what I do now (that practices wouldn't kill me as much as humiliation and I would have to turn in my jersey for a job the following year), I would still have signed up. That's how badly I wanted to fulfill one tiny dream.

So I went to my physical, got cleared to play, and that was it. No try-outs, no trial runs, I was a college athlete, getting my butt handed to me. But that was where my drive kicked in. Looking back now, I probably seemed like a crazy person. One year of high school basketball and two years of junior high under my belt, and I was stepping onto a court each day, holding on for dear life.

Practices looked like a lot of running, wall sits, plays, fast break drills, free throws, suicides, down-and-backs, happy feet, defensive slides, weight training, and did I mention running? But in my mind, failure wasn't an option; showing up 110 percent, was.

It started with a drive to improve, to not be the weakest link on an already small team. It grew into a drive to never back down, and it ended with a drive to never quit. I told myself, no matter how hard it got, no matter how many things I had given up on before, no matter how times I rode the pine express, I was not a quitter.

So every day I pushed myself a little bit harder, thinking the rewards of time on the court during games would make everything worthwhile. When my first game came and went and I stayed in my seat, I went into a bathroom stall after the game and cried for one minute. Then I never let the emotion show again.

All star in practice, humiliated bench warmer in games became my status. My teammates always said things like, "You push yourself harder than anyone, I don't know why you don't get more playing time." I told myself, forget about playing, it's not going to happen. Just keep pushing and oh yeah, you're not allowed to quit.

One of my friends on the men's team threw in the towel half-way through the season. His reason? Not enough playing time. I understood more than words would express, because "I know" is never sufficient. But I did know, and I strongly considered following suit during another practice when my muscles were burning and I knew I wouldn't get a payoff.

But quitting wasn't an option.

I saw the most action during "easy wins." Which actually ended up being my time to shine. Blocks, steals, baskets. I knew from those fleeting minutes that I had what it took, and if I kept with it, one day I could be more than a sideliner. Quitting became like a bad taste in my mouth. I told myself that if I quit at basketball, I'd quit at everything for the rest of my life.

So maybe I had something to prove. That a random girl with a broken past could succeed at something. Maybe that's what drove me. Or the fact that I knew if I stuck with this, I could stick with anything for the rest of my life. No matter what, no matter how hard, I conquered something once, I could do it again.

The season ended and we each met with the coach to turn in our votes for team awards. I scribbled down names and honestly didn't once think about getting one. When awards night came, I felt like a deer in headlights as my name was called for the most improved player of the year.

My reward on top of a reward. Because the real reward had been making it through the season still a member of the team. When the final seconds ticked down on the clock and I was still wearing that blue and white uniform, I knew I had done it. And when I was handed a plaque engraved with my name and a basketball medallion I finally saw it in tangible form. There was the desire, the drive, and the proof that the lowly bench warmer could be so much more.

No, I wasn't MVP, but to me I got the best reward of all. It was the reward that said, you, yes you, can conquer anything in the world. Anything at all.


john mcclung said...


camille nicole said...

Write these things more often. Please.
You are amazing.

eliseloyola said...

Thanks guys. :)

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