I have built my life’s work around teaching others about the life-changing values of the sport of triathlon. I fully believe that sports culture is an important part of our lives, even if imperfect. I love being in the center of it all as a coach and athlete.
Over the past several weeks, I was reminded of the many ways that engaging in sports gives humans opportunities to grow while cheering on my sons in their varsity basketball playoffs. Rather than witnessing and feeling this through the lens of coach or athlete, I was able to participate as a mom, and super fan; as well as a friend, wife, sister, daughter, and a member of our small community.
All of these lenses are also very familiar to me. I grew up as an athlete and fan in a small town where the student body and community rallied around sports. I played volleyball and basketball for the love of my friends and to be engaged in movement. And although I sincerely loved to play volleyball, I admittedly enjoyed the hype more than playing the game of basketball. I can still tap into memories of the excitement and nerves of my younger years. The feeling of rushing the court when your friends win a regional title and the hope that it will only end when it has to—in a state championship. But I sadly also know the disappointment that comes with a soul crushing loss before reaching that pinnacle.
I have cheered on my husband, brothers, kids, nieces, nephews, friends’ kids, and kids in the community in a multitude of sports throughout my life.
Sports give us so much more than wins and losses. The life lessons for individuals are invaluable: vulnerability, work ethic, confidence building, selflessness, collaboration, joy, growth, commitment, compassion, acceptance, teamwork, kindness, and communication (to name a few). While I am reminded daily of the importance of these individual lessons through my coaching and writing, it was amazing to see the influence that sports have on a community.
Our small town, like many, has been very divided through political and personal unrest. The pandemic has also caused suffering and much conflict over masks, testing, and quarantines.
So it brought tears to my eyes to see the community support of our team during our last home games of the season, and then again when literally over 1,000 fans traveled to sectional games. Masked or unmasked, people showed up to cheer on the TEAM. Those who didn’t feel comfortable coming to the gym watched at home on our local cable access channel and send words of encouragement and congratulations. For 90 minutes at a time our community was united, and it gave all of us hope for our future.
United. So much more than just a game.
Jamie and I both have large families. And with the busyness of life it has been easy to take time and people for granted throughout the years. But, our families show up through the connection of sports. And now through available streaming, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and great aunts and uncles watch each other’s kids play weekly with lively text threads about each game. This connection led to a vested interest which has resulted in many of them attending in-person as well, including almost my entire family coming to the regional championship game, and continued support through sectionals.
Connection. So much more than just a game.
At the end of the regional championship after the team ran over to share the plaque with their student fans and peers, they spent time giving high fives to the excited young girls and boys who lined the court. These youth players look up to these teen boys. My hope is that by witnessing humility, teamwork, unselfish play, and kindness, they will take these lessons into their own experiences with sports. And they were there to see the humbling loss at the end of the season, watching the team hold their heads high while their eyes welled with tears. They show these young players that although it hurts to end, it is always worth it to show up.
Leading and teaching. Learning. Showing vulnerability. So much more than just a game.
Although triathlon is not a “game,” these lessons and connections can ring true for triathletes if we continue to work on ourselves personally and collectively. I have been humbly blessed many times by the amount of loving support I have received at Ironman races from my family, friends, and members of my community. I co-own a local team where our mission is to unite and connect athletes in our town and beyond. I work for and with others at Feisty Triathlon who see a need to shift our culture through sport and movement to create more space for women to thrive. I have showed up to have it end in disappointment, but the journey was still well worth it.
You don’t have to make a love of sports your life’s work or try to cultivate it as your burning passion. We can all work toward this together through and for our sports in simple ways. Share your experiences. Show up with transparent authenticity and a willingness to lead and learn. Encourage and assist others. Be open to new ideas. Ask for support. Try new things.
Give high fives. Smile.
Our Panthers had an amazing, historic season that ended one game short of a state tournament berth. It is sad that it’s over and I will grieve some of the losses for awhile. But, I will always smile because it happened. And I will nurture the bonds that the season created and strengthened.
Sports are so much more than just games.