Standing on the lacrosse field on a beautiful summer day, it wasn’t rare for me to get confident.
“I’m going to score the game-winning goal,” I said to one of my teammates.
The referee, standing in his zebra garb, blew his whistle.
We broke the huddle and hustled back out onto the field.
It was the start of overtime. After 4 quarters, the game was tied, and it was time to get some closure. Sudden death overtime. Nothing more exciting.
I was on the field, in my typical position behind the restraining line, on the offensive end of the field.
Our team won the faceoff and took control of the ball. My teammate scurried down the field and fired a shot at the opposing team’s goalie.
No closure yet.
That’s when I jumped into position.
I had a move that my dad always loved. It involved me screening the goalie as he tried to make an outlet pass. The goalie was safely within his three-yard diameter “crease”, which you may as well think of as his “safe zone”.
That meant I wasn’t allowed to contact the goalie, but I was allowed to make his job more difficult by jumping in his face and preventing him from getting rid of the ball easily.
My plan had worked.
He went to make a pass to one of his teammates, and at that moment, I blocked his throw, intercepted it, and gained possession of the ball right in front of the goal.
I gathered myself, shot, and….
I started sprinting to my teammates, as they ran at me from every direction. We jumped and screamed and celebrated our thrilling victory, excited to move on to the next round of the playoffs.
We gathered ourselves and glided through the post-game handshake line. The smile was still stuck on my face.
The game was over, and I made good on my pre-overtime promise.
“DUDE, you said you were going to have the game-winner! How did you do that?” said that same teammate.
I just kept smiling.
This wasn’t the first game-winning goal in my career, and it wouldn’t be my last.
I was 14 years old, and I knew my lacrosse career was right on track.
In 2012, I was a senior at Loyola Blakefield in Towson, MD. Growing up in Baltimore inherently means you’re a lacrosse junky, but at Loyola, we took that to the next level. Loyola is consistently a top 25-ranked program, playing in the best high school lacrosse conference in the nation, The “MIAA”.
My whole life I had dreamed of being a senior at Loyola, playing for a championship, and then going to Johns Hopkins University to continue my playing career.
I was one of the best players on every one of my teams growing up, so it only made sense.
There was just one problem:
When I entered high school, I quickly went from great to average.
In fact, freshman year, I got cut from Junior Varsity (JV) after two days of tryouts. I couldn’t believe it. The best freshmen were supposed to make JV, and I was out after two days. I still remember crying as I walked back to the locker room. I was crushed. However, I didn’t have much time to sulk, because Loyola had a freshman-only team, and I had to start practicing with them the next day. Eventually, I got over my disappointing start to the season, and ended up having a stellar year on the freshmen team.
“Everything is still on track,” I convinced myself.
Sophomore year rolled around, and I got cut from Varsity at the first cuts, but that wasn’t surprising. “No one makes the jump from freshman to Varsity,” I told myself. This time, I made the JV team, and overcame some adversity to get playing time and eventually made an impact on the team that year.
“This dream can still work,” I said.
But my junior year… oh my junior year.. I was in for a real awakening.
I struggled through tryouts, but eventually I made Varsity and it was a dream come true.. or so I thought.
We practiced every day after school for hours. Drills, sprints, scrimmages… the whole gambit. From day one, it felt like the game was moving faster than me in all directions. And it was. I was all the sudden way out of my league.
I got a total of two minutes of playing time my ENTIRE junior season. This was unheard of for me, and I couldn’t help but wonder, “what happened?”.
Looking back, I knew it exactly what happened, but I just wasn’t ready to admit it to myself.
Fast forward to present day.
I recently went on a trip that included old friends from my childhood, as well as newer friends from my college days. It was great to have that convergence of friend groups, and it turned into one of those trips that makes your heart feel full for weeks after. Lots of laughing, good times, and reminiscing.
As it often does while talking about my memories, lacrosse came up.
My childhood friends know all about my prodigious playing career, while my college friends have only heard stories.
Sitting in an airport bar, at one of those high-top stools, I launched into a classic line. “I was one of the best players on every team growing up,” I said to the group. “And then when I got to high school, I just sorta fell off.”
I felt that that was a fine ending place for that story and was happy to let it trail off.
Not so fast.
Kacy, one of my best friends since I was four years old, spoke up, “Yeah you fell off, but you made the decision for yourself to fall off.”
I was stunned.
I just looked at him thinking, “What do you mean by that? And why would you say that in front of all these people? Everyone just got better and I didn’t keep pace.. I didn’t make any decision to fall off. That’s crazy…”
Yet deep down, I knew exactly what he meant. And after all these years, I still wasn’t ready to admit it to myself.
So instead of responding, I just smiled and shrugged it off.
We left the bar, got on the plane, and took our seats.
The hum of the plane was meditative, and my mind kept drifting back to those words.
“You made the decision for yourself to fall off.”
Sometimes when your mind is relaxed, and the conditions are right, it can trick you into going places that you don’t want it to.
And finally, it happened.
I finally had a hard conversation with myself about something that still didn’t sit right with me.
Something that I avoid talking about when telling old stories.
Something that I always felt showed me in a negative light.
Something that was festering under the surface for years.
What was it about, you ask?
Well, that would be why, even though lacrosse was my whole life for as long as I remember, I quit the Varsity lacrosse team my Senior year, ending my career and shattering my long-held dreams.
Yeah, that conversation was way overdue.
And it taught me a huge message.
*This is part one of a two-part story. Please check back next week to read the rest. Thanks for following along.*