I truly cannot believe that it has been a year since I have posted on this blog. A year of healing, recovery, and embarking on new journeys as I continue to get to know myself and my needs. My last post came during the pandemic, which surprisingly was the turning point in my recovery.
Matt, my now fiancé, and I have been together for almost seven years, but have primarily been long distance throughout the majority of our relationship. When Matt’s minor league season was cancelled last year, he came back to Chapel Hill to be with me and Poppy. It had been nearly five years since Matt and I had been in the same city together for longer than a month. However, the pandemic changed all that, allowing us to be together for nearly eight months. Having that constant support and connection with Matt really kickstarted my commitment to recovery. I was constantly being reminded of my goals, my future, and my worth, which were all things I was still struggling to remind myself.
The other piece the pandemic provided was space from softball. At first, the space was scary for me because softball had been such a crucial area of support and connection, but over the course of the pandemic, I realized the harm it was doing to my recovery. I started talking to my therapist and primary care doctor about the realization I had come to that if I continued to stay in the sport of softball, I would not be able to fully recover. I would always be teetering between recovery and relapse. I wanted to be all in on my recovery, my life, and my future – a life and future that a year prior, I didn’t believe were worth seeing through.
This growth and realization allowed me to come to the decision to medically retire in August of 2020. It was one of the hardest but best decisions that I have ever made. I committed to being a student coach and still being involved with the UNC Softball program but removed my name from the active roster and ended my career as a student athlete. I think there was a piece of me that had already retired honestly. Throughout my recovery, I stopped seeing myself as just a softball player, and began seeing all the things that I was really good at beyond the sport. I was one hell of a dog mom, a good friend, a talented writer, a dedicated student, and most importantly, a good person. I ended my career knowing that the personal growth I had experienced throughout my time as a student athlete was beyond anything I could have ever imagined. In no way am I saying that remaining connected to the program and retiring was an easy transition. Watching my senior class enjoy their senior moments as players and being out of that uniform was trying at times, but I always knew I made the right decision walking away.
I continued the student coach role into the preseason and beginning of the 2021 season, pitching at practices, and also babysitting for my pitching coach’s baby on certain days of the week. I was content and happy in this new role and chapter of my life. To put a cherry on top, Matt and I got engaged on February 7, 2021. Everything just felt right. Mind you, I am only giving the highlights here and we all know there were ups and downs along the way, but I was truly the happiest I have been in years.
Now I will bring you to March of 2021, when we lose our two starting pitchers to serious injuries. While in years prior I would have been eager to gear up, I was retired and this was out of the question, or so we thought. The following week, we went down another pitcher due to a positive COVID-19 test. At this point, the thought of, “Could I be an option?” popped into my head, but I had never heard of someone coming out of a medical disqualification. So as any millennial would do, I googled it and found that it was in fact possible if the athlete and providers could prove an unforeseen change of circumstances. In March of 2021, I had been deemed to be in remission from my eating disorder, as my recovery had accelerated quickly after my medical retirement and step back from the sport. This was the change of circumstance we provided to the NCAA in hopes they would grant a reversal.
I went back and forth for days wondering if this was something I truly wanted. I was going in circles considering the risks, the consequences, the benefits, and the rewards. My whole career, I would have done anything for my team, even if it was detrimental to my own well-being, and this time, I was not willing to sacrifice myself and my recovery for anything or anyone. I had worked too hard. However, as I thought through it all, I realized that I needed to shift my perspective from, “I am doing this for the team” to “I am doing this for me.” Pitching was a massive trigger for my anxiety, and this was an opportunity to feel all that fear and do it anyway. I am never not going to have anxiety, and I cannot spend my life trying to run from situations that provoke it. SO I chose to provoke it and work through it by applying to reverse my medical retirement and gearing up to pitch on Easter weekend against Clemson.
Stepping foot on the field again was surreal and monumental, not to me as an athlete, but to me as a person. I didn’t care how I performed or what my pitches looked like. I didn’t care how many runs I gave up or if I walked the batter. I was winning just by stepping foot on that field again, a field I thought I would never cleat up on after the 2020 season. That weekend I threw a seven inning game, and while it wasn’t pretty, it was the first time I had thrown a seven inning game since the first weekend of my freshman season in 2018.
Throughout the rest of the season, I threw better than I had in any year prior. We travelled to places like Pittsburgh and Louisville, which were fields and places that held some really dark memories from my sophomore year. I was able to reflect and acknowledge how far I have come while continuing to make new, brighter, happier memories in those same places. There were so many moments were I would look at my pitching coach and just say, “How did we get here?” We had come so far, and I say “we” because she was my biggest supporter in every single moment of this journey, and I cannot even describe how special it was to be able to experience this entire, full circle journey with her always in my corner.
I got to rewrite the ending of my career, and while I would have continued to be proud of myself had I remained medically disqualified, I was overwhelmed with pride knowing that I had stepped foot on that field again and not only maintained my recovery, but actually strengthened it by facing my fears and anxiety in a way I didn’t think was possible. I am proud of who I am, and I am proud of what I have done. And I am overwhelmingly thankful to everyone who showed me unwavering love and support throughout this journey. There is not a single smile, hug, or pep talk that went unnoticed. Sometimes the smallest gestures can change someone’s day, week, or life, and I will always be grateful for those who changed mine.