Dear 17-year-old Dani,
You are just coming from your last-summer ball tournament you will ever play. You’ll miss it. But volleyball is starting up. Everyone in the family is gearing up for this next school year and your last year of high school is right around the corner.
Preseason. You’re excited. It’ll be day two of preseason and you’ll experience something like you never have before. A pop in your right shoulder. You’ll be scared, not knowing why your shoulder is hurting is scary. Dad will tell you its because you throw a softball way too hard for someone your size. You won’t get an MRI until after season, though, because you are dreaming of that State Championship medal hanging around your neck. Don’t worry though, because volleyball will save you.
Senior year will be the last of so many things, but overall, it’ll be a great year (especially when you hit a home run and now dad has to get you a car because of that bet you made him earlier in the year). You’ll surprise yourself a lot this year, but most of all, you’ll surprise yourself and everyone when you commit to Geneseo.
Best. Four. Years. Of. Your. Life.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lot of work, but you will meet some of the best friends that will stay with you for your entire life. You’ll make memories that’ll last you beyond your lifetime. You’ll get to experience life in a whole new way. You’ll play all four years of volleyball and get to experience college as a student-athlete. But most of all, Dani, you’re going to learn about yourself- what you want, who you want to be, you’ll finally start to understand the TRUE meaning of life, love, happiness, sadness. Every emotion that you could possibly imagine you will challenge head on.
Your freshman year will be much like you expected. A whole lot of work and stress, but unimaginably fun. Getting this “college thing” under your belt isn’t always going to be a walk in the park, but you’ll get there eventually. Turns out you really did hurt your shoulder though! No worries though, the athletic trainers at school will help you out more than you will ever begin to imagine.
Skip ahead to junior year. It’s December. Remember when I told you volleyball will save you, just keep repeating that to yourself.
Your grandmother will become sicker. To the point where she’ll be living with you so mom can take care of her. There will be some mixed emotions about this, but it is what she wanted. What she needed. And this is, sadly, what happens in life. But, you’ll spend every moment with her that you are physically able to. So, there is nothing to be regretful of.
School starts back up in January. You’ll return back with all of your friends. And then something indescribable will happen that shakes the entire campus, especially your team. The loss of someone on campus is hard enough, but the loss of two people, and your seniors best friend, will be so unimaginable to the point where to this day you still don’t know how to register it. But there’s a quote, “out of tragedy comes new strength.” And every single day you will see that new strength come throughout campus, your teammates, your family, and yourself. Suddenly, #OneKnight has a deeper meaning then anyone could have imagined.
A week later you’ll receive more earth-shattering news. The news you knew you’d hear but never wanted to accept even the slightest idea of. Dad will call, things aren’t going so well at home. Two days later. Two. You’ll call dad after receiving an unexpected, “I’m sorry,” text. “I’m on my way to come get you.” You won’t need anything further. Just collapse to the ground. Want to know the weirdest thing about it though? When he gets there, you can’t help but smile.
You can’t even shed a single tear. Just smiles. They won’t last for long, in fact this will be the last time you will be able to remember smiling for a few months. Home will be much needed. As good as it can be. Having the family there is therapeutic, even if it’s not for the greatest of reasons.
“Bad things come in threes,” or so you’ve been told. The following weeks are going to be hard enough with the loss of a loved one. However, in addition to that finding out two other family members have cancer too? Heart wrenching.
Now I don’t mean to say these things to scare you, Dani, but to prepare you for what will be the toughest part of your life thus far. You’ll battle with your inner thoughts that will keep you up all night and haunt you during the day. Trap you inside your own mind. You’ll be spending a lot time at home. Mom and dad are going to drive up at midnight just to pick you up and take you home because that’s what you need- Abigail too. And Dani, gosh, they love you so much. One day you’ll be able to repay them for everything that they have ever done for you.
I’m also going to throw a “scary” word out there; something that isn’t always talked about. Mental illness. Depression and anxiety.Things that you never thought could never happen to you. Something that people think athletes don’t have. Here’s an oddly surprising thought, one in four college students have some sort of mental illness. The statistic is actually alarming.
Volleyball will save you, right? Well, after being diagnosed with this mental illness life seems to get a little bit better now that you know you aren’t actually crazy. What will really get you out of bed every day is the thought of being able to get into the gym later that day. You will learn how to shut out the outside world. The gym will become your Mecca- sacred. Having the ability to get back in the gym and take rep after rep, beat yourself up so much from diving on the floor, using the last bit of energy in your body so you have the ability to close your eyes at night and not just toss and turn. Volleyball will not only be your escape from what is going on around you but a type of self-release. Reconnecting with what love is, even when you thought it was all lost.
The year will end and you will have the best summer of your life. Israel, Florida, Canada, nannying the kids that you love so much, family, the boat, kayaking. Everything about your last summer ever will be amazing.
I want to leave your senior year as a surprise to you, because you’ll never get another experience like that in the world.
I can tell you this, throughout your four years at Geneseo you will figure out who you are and nothing can hold you back. You have the greatest support system. Don’t stress the small stuff, kid. You’ve made it this far- and there’s so much life ahead. You’ve learned how to cherish and live in the moment, seize every opportunity, never let a moment pass you by, and most importantly how to love yourself and everything around you deeper than ever before.
Best of luck,
A little something extra:
Mental health, in my opinion, is often over looked. It is important to educate yourself about the signs and symptoms of someone who may be suffering. If there is one thing I want people to take away from this story is that it may be scary to think about mental illness, but it’s normal and there are people there to support you through whatever you may be experiencing. I encourage everyone to take some time and learn about mental health, it’ll help you better understand yourself and the people around you. Seeking help was one of the most difficult things I could have done to help myself but with the support I received I am happier than I have ever been. Everyone deserves to be happy and there are steps you can take to achieve happiness.