From elementary school to high school, soccer was my life. I played on anywhere from three to five teams at a time and thrived off of being an athlete. After school, it was home, dinner at 4 p.m. and then soccer the rest of the night. On the weekends, I would play three to seven games, often back-to-back. As a result, I was in the best shape of my life—or so I thought. I was underweight, but people never hesitated to comment on how good I looked.
My entire identity was soccer. It was what I was good at. My family came to every game, my friends cheered for me, and I impressed my coaches. Senior year my team played in State and played very poorly; it was one of the worst losses I’ve ever had. My body was tired, I was tired, and that game was really just the cherry on top, so I stopped playing. I was officially drained from soccer, but I wasn’t aware that I’d have no idea who I was when I stopped playing. I know I needed to take a break and that my body needed time to heal after over six years of no rest, but I wish someone would have told me what to expect.
My purpose had been soccer, my people were my team and my role models were my coaches. Nobody told me I would be lost when I stopped. I didn’t play soccer; I didn’t have a team, and I didn’t speak to my coaches anymore. My body was changing. I gained 20 pounds freshman year and my clothes didn’t fit right. I felt like I had lost my value. Who was I if I wasn’t playing soccer? Who was I if I was 20 pounds heavier? My confidence was centered on being good at soccer and being thin, and I had to learn how to love myself without soccer and with those 20 pounds.
I was not prepared for how much I would hate myself. I hated that I felt different without soccer and I hated that by not playing, I had lost my confidence. I couldn’t look in the mirror. I hated that I didn’t recognize my body in the mirror, and I hated that I wasn’t playing soccer. I didn’t know who I was. I didn’t realize how much of my self-worth came from being an athlete and the body that came with that. It took me an entire year of avoiding my mirror and hating myself almost every day, to figure out that I had to teach myself how to love me because nobody else could. I stopped running to lose weight, started eating to nourish my body and took a hard look at myself. My grades suffered, my mental health suffered and my body suffered. I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror without feeling disgust. All this because my body was healing after years of being overworked and it was time to give it the rest it needs.
I still don’t love my body. I’m still not in love with who I see in the mirror, but I’m learning to be. The body I see is strong. She endured years of nonstop soccer, a year of being ignored, and she still holds me up. I am learning to appreciate that she keeps me alive, that she is healthy, and that she is beautiful. She will be beautiful to me. I don’t have to love her yet; I just have to appreciate her. As for my identity beyond soccer, I’m still working on that one too. Now I see more than another washed-up high school athlete. I have options beyond “soccer player” or “athlete.” I am finding the value in myself in the little things; and teaching myself that I am good. I am simply me right now and that is enough.