Click the link here to read Part 1 of this story.
There were just two minutes left in my disappointing junior season.
It wasn’t just disappointing for me either.
It was disappointing for our entire program.
We missed the playoffs for the first time in over ten years. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for us as I stood in my typical position on the sideline.
“Verdy!” my coach yelled.
I jolted upright and ran over to him.
“Yes, coach?” I asked.
“I want you to sub in. Take the last few minutes of playing time for the season,” he said.
We were winning the game, and our playoff hopes were already out of the door, so it made enough sense.
But even with the low stakes, my nerves flooded over me.
I trotted out onto the field at the next opportunity and settled into position.
One of our midfielders brought the ball down the field. He started to gain speed. Suddenly, he pulled away from the defender behind him.
We had a fast break.
A “fast break” means we would momentarily have one more player on offense than the opposing team would on defense. It’s a great scoring opportunity, but you must move quickly.
As our midfielder scurried across the midfield line, I stepped up, ready to receive the pass, like I have thousands of times before.
He threw the ball to me.
I caught it, drew a defender, and quickly passed it along to another attackman near the orange goal.
He drew away the final defender, leaving the middle of the field unguarded.
He made a perfect pass, just as the backside attackman came streaking across the face of the goal.
One on one with the goalie.
“Let’s go!” I yelled.
We huddled and celebrated, excited to put a goal on the board, even if it meant relatively nothing at this late juncture.
Personally, I was relieved. I did my job, made the pass, and had already tallied it in my head as a “hockey assist.”
“I’ll take it,” I thought.
Thirty seconds left in the season, and I made some small impact.
Little did I know that the lacrosse gods still had something up their sleeve…
Our team quickly won the ensuing faceoff.
The next sequence was a blur, but all I know is this:
We shot on goal and the goalie made a save. There was hardly any time left, so he quickly made an outlet pass to one of his teammates, who was still well within his own defensive end of the field.
Before I knew it, our team had jarred the ball loose, and I was standing fifteen feet from the goal, with the ball on the ground in front of me, in prime position to take possession.
So, I did.
I picked up the ground ball, looked up and thought,
“I’ll be damned”
I was one on one with the goalie!
I faked high, shot low, and watched in disbelief as the net moved.
I ran to my teammates and celebrated. We were all elated. It meant nothing to the game, but it meant something to me and my friends. It was a hard season, but it somehow had a story book ending.
What I didn’t realize at that moment was that for me personally, it wasn’t just the end of the season, but the end of my lacrosse career.
Standing in Lax World, it was the first time I had seen him since I quit the team.
“Hey Coach…” I said.
“Verderamo? What are you doing here?” he questioned.
“I work here after school now,” I responded.
“Oh that’s great. Well it was good seeing you, tell your dad I said hello.”
“I will, thanks Coach…”
I shouldn’t have been surprised I ran into Loyola’s head lacrosse coach at my after-school job.
I worked at a store called “Lax World” (lax is slang for lacrosse) for goodness sakes. It only made sense to see him there! But I was still surprised and uneasy about the interaction.
I remember wishing that I could have avoided him instead.
But I guess that’s how life goes. You can’t always avoid your fears.
In my early lacrosse years, we won countless championships, culminating with an 8th grade state championship that ended my middle school career on the right note.
In high school, playing for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, we won the U15 National Championship, beating teams from all over the country. I had a great tournament, but the exclamation point was made by my buddy, Kacy, who scored the game-winning goal in the championship, sending our team into a frenzy.
Yes, the same Kacy who recently said to me that I made my own decision to fall off from the sport.
Let’s talk about Kacy for a second…
Kacy and I have played lacrosse together since we were four years old (and we have the blurry picture to prove it).
There is hardly anyone in this world who knows me better, and consequently, there’s hardly anyone better who could have made the comment that made me address my decision to quit the Varsity lacrosse team my senior year.
Just like me, Kacy was always one of the best players on our teams, but Kacy never fell off. He made JV his freshman year, and then Varsity his sophomore year, leaving me in his dust.
And I knew why Kacy left me in his dust, but until recently I never liked admitting it.
What was different about Kacy, and so many of my other high school teammates, was that he always put in the work. He trained in the offseason, he lifted weights, he ran sprints, and practiced at his house almost daily.
On the other hand, I avoided those extra hours. I wanted to rely on my talent, putting in the work here and there, but really only when I wanted to. In short, I avoided pushing myself through anything uncomfortable that came my way.
Instead, I just felt bad for myself.
And feeling bad for myself made me feel small. Rather than doing something about it, I just complained under my breath. “Why am I not getting playing time? This is unfair,” I would say.
This avoidance of anything uncomfortable is what I have been neglecting all these years since. I didn’t like that I quit. Hell, I still don’t like that I quit! So instead of confronting that, I just buried it down and viewed it as a bump in the road to never think about again.
That all changed recently on that airplane.
“You made the decision for yourself to fall off.”
Kacy’s words rang in my head.
They weren’t mean words. They were as truthful and honest of words as you could ever hope to get from a friend. And they changed my whole perception of my situation.
I did fall off.
I did make that decision for myself.
The recounting of this story isn’t to make you feel bad for me, or to convince you that I’m some hero for finally confronting this part of my life.
Rather, it’s to share the lesson I learned going through it:
You are going to have failures in life. You are going to choose the easy path from time to time. You are going to disappoint yourself.
But hiding from those failures doesn’t do you any good.
As mad as I was at Kacy when he first said those words, now I couldn’t be more grateful.
I hate that I quit the team, but that’s in the past and I can’t control it anymore.
What I can control, is how I handle adversity in the future.
I am going to use that memory to drive me through my next challenge. When I hit a snag, I am not going to shy away and feel sorry for myself. No, I’m going to lean into that challenge and fight.
You know why?
Because I can’t stand the thought that ten years from now, I’ll be thinking about the opportunities I could have had if I didn’t quit.
I am going to get extremely comfortable being uncomfortable.
That’s the real lesson here.
Getting comfortable being uncomfortable is the only true way to achieve greatness. Push through the stress, push through the doubt, and take failure on the chin and keep going.
Even though I did choose to fall off, I’m happy to say I don’t have any regrets. I have learned so much from that experience, how could I?
I may have quit the Varsity lacrosse team, but that doesn’t define me.
The next challenge is what will define me.
And you won’t see me take the easy way out this time.
Thanks to all of you who have read along, I hope you enjoyed this story.
And shout out to my friend Kacy, who through his competitive drive, was a captain of Loyola’s lacrosse team, a captain of his Ohio State lacrosse team, and recently ran a 100-mile race that took him 26 hours to complete. Talk about getting comfortable being uncomfortable.
Cheers, talk to you all again soon.