Growing up, basketball was my primary passion. I picked up a ball for the first time when I was in kindergarten. By first grade, I was on a team with my dad as a coach, and I had claimed my spot as starting point guard- a position I would hold for the next ten years. It was around that time in my life- transitioning through grade school- that I went through my first major life changes. My family packed up our bags and moved states- from Kansas
to Missouri. We went from a nice house in a pretty neighborhood to a tiny apartment in a neighborhood I wasn’t allowed outside by myself. Starting over in a new school, I didn’t know who I was anymore. Part of me still felt like the smart girl I had always been known as, but I wasn’t the outgoing child that was friends with everyone like I had been before. In fact, I had very few friends at all. So slowly but surely, basketball became my identity. I didn’t realize it then, but I needed the game as much as my team may have needed me. It consumed me. It gave me a purpose. I raced off the bus everyday in the winter to grab my ball and head to the apartment basement, where everyone kept their storage locked away. It was relatively dark but the ground was cement and gave good bounce to my ball, so I would practice my dribbling for hours. In between my legs. Behind my back. In between my legs. Behind my back. Crossover. I’d dribble until my hands shook from the balls vibrations, and eventually felt empty when I stopped. When it got warmer, I’d wait everyday for my dad to get home so we could walk to the court down the street and I could practice my lay ups. He’d criticize my form over and over again, making sure I got it perfect. “Pretend there’s a string attached to your elbow and your knee”. “Count your steps”. “Don’t overthink it”. Until it became a rhythm. Until it became part of who I was. As I grew older and started playing with more competitive teams, I realized how much I truly hated losing. I couldn’t stand the idea that someone on that other team had out worked me- on the court or off- so in practice afterwards, when the coach would inform us we were running suicides for every missed free throw or every point we lost by, internally I’d cheer. “This may hurt now, but it’s going to make us better”. “If I practice harder, next time I won’t have to lose”. And I became passionate about practice the same way I was in the game. If I wasn’t sore, I hadn’t pushed myself hard enough. I craved the aching legs. The burning in my chest. They reminded me that I was making process. It’s ironic now that, when I experience similar pains now as a result of a career I claim to be so passionate about, my first instinct is never to embrace them, it’s always to complain. Perhaps somewhere along the lines I became entitled- I started thinking I didn’t need to work as hard. That I had done my suicides and my overtime. I had paid my dues. Perhaps somewhere along the line I forgot that everyday, the work that I put in isn’t “work”, it’s practice. It’s effort output to master my craft. It’s part of the process. During those times, I’ll try and channel my seven-year-old self who’d lay in bed each night tossing the basketball towards the ceiling, trying to strengthen my wrists and get the form and release just right. Would she complain that the day or game wasn’t going her way? No, she’d work harder to turn the game around. No excuses. Just actions. And at the end of the day, she’d be excited to hear the coaches feedback on what to work on because there’s nothing she wanted more than to learn how to become better- how to become the best- and she embraced not just the feedback but the work she had to put in because she knew every hour spent practicing was an hour spent bringing her closer to her dream.