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Our online magazine provides a platform for the everyday athlete to inspire others, defeat stigmas, and receive recognition for their stories and triumphs. Upon submitting an article every athlete is immediately eligible to be voted for at the end of the year, by the board of directors, to win a scholarship. The number of scholarship awards depends on how much money we raise. Please enjoy their stories below.
My story is not a very happy one and it really never has been. It all started before I was born. My mother told my father she was pregnant and his response was that she should abort me. She didn't listen and he threatened to take me from her and never let me see her. After a court case a restraining order was decided. I have never met my father but I did have my grandparents. While my mom was working long hours I spent my time with my grandparents. I became a mini version of my grandpa who I followed around everywhere. We both loved books, the outdoors, animals, and guitar. One of my first christmases I remember was when he gave me a huge box to open and when I did it was a new pink electric guitar fit for me. That night he taught me my first song, twinkle twinkle little star. From that moment onward I always was asking for help learning to play.
But then the doctor's appointments came. Almost every week they were down in Traverse City at munson. At first I didn’t know what the reason was but soon I was told the truth. He had bone cancer and leukemia. I didn't know what cancer was at first but then I was told and I learned what it does to people who have it. And that's when I noticed the changes. He was skinner, tired, less active, had less hair, and even didn’t play the guitar as much. It was heartbreaking to see the one person I looked up to most stop doing the activity he loved the most. But at the same time I was little and only in about fourth grade. So of course I was still naive and I didnt want to believe it would end in death. So I started tennis at Bay Tennis and Fitness and I wasn’t bad. I got better slowly and at my first tournament my grandpa had a front row seat. I took second place and the first person I showed was him. He smiled and told me how good I was and that soon I’d be on varsity. And eventually I did make it to varsity but little me didn't know that. However I did know I wanted it. So I went to practice and tried my best and I moved up in the classes and I was doing well. But then everything seemed to crash down.
My grandpa became too weak to get out of bed and all the doctors and my family were saying how strong he had been and how amazing it was that he made it that long. They were talking like he was going to die. But I didn't want that and I wouldn't accept it. Who would be there to watch me play, to help me pick out a new racket, to take me to the music store and the book store, who would be there to hangout with me and listen to me go on and on about tennis. That last summer we had together I stopped playing tennis. I wanted to spend as much time with him as possible. And I did spend a lot of time with him. We had fun but then again there was always that little part knowing that this wouldn't last long. On August 22, 2016 he passed away late in the night. The following weeks were terrible. I was sad and didn't want to do anything. I became depressed and upset with everything. It took me a year before I picked up a racket again. When I did I got so angry. I was raging that my grandpa, the one person I looked up to most, would never see me play again. And that day I played like a beast. I was practically slamming the ball down on the court and every shot was fast and hit as hard as I possibly could.
Afterwards I kept coming back and the rage was turned into something new, passion. I was passionate and had the drive to get better. I was fueled with words I had heard from him. “Don’t give up, You did so well, who cares if you dont win you were amazing”. And there I was years later on JV being told by my coach that I should have been in varsity this year and that next year I have to try out. And now here I am. A varsity tennis player and soon to interview with Ferris State University for a shot at their team. I love tennis and I loved my grandpa. Yes losing him was hard but then again it gave me drive to do better and become better. I may never be able to personally thank him but I like to think that wherever he is he knows I am grateful for everything he has done for me.
As the third of four children, my life has been nothing short of boring. Our bicycles were our most thrilling form of transportation and often were used in creative ways. We spent hours cruising around our neighborhood and barrelling through the winding trails on our property. We crafted them to make use of a small hill that traveled through the trees and out an opening that met the retaining wall and separated the driveway from the beginning of the woods. The drop off from the woods to the driveway was a significant distance and required a sharp turn to keep from riding off the edge of the embankment. One afternoon, I ventured to the top of the trails alone and began riding down as fast as my little legs could go. As I rode down the hill, the chain slipped off the gears on my bike and rendered my brakes useless. I had no way of stopping or slowing down as I neared the retaining wall. I whimpered in terror and clutched my handle bars as the edge of the wall came into view. I made a quick turn hoping to miss the drop off, but my bike was moving too fast and I felt myself begin to fall. Suddenly, I was jolted back upright. My dad heard my cries and ran to catch me before I fell. For the first twelve years of my life this became a recurring theme. Whenever I found myself in trouble my dad found a way to rescue me. When I couldn’t sleep he comforted me, when my brother accidentally gave me a black eye he lifted me up and made me laugh, and when I was made insecure by an unpleasant teammate he reminded me of my worth. While he is no longer here to rescue me from the instability of this world, our story has taught me more than I could have ever imagined about who I am and what I value in life.
In April of 2015, my dad was diagnosed with glioblastoma, commonly known as stage four brain cancer, an aggressive form of cancer that can develop in the brain or spinal cord. In my dad’s case it developed in his brain, causing him to experience severe headaches. After several weeks of persistent pain, my mom took him into the emergency room to have doctors examine what could be causing the headaches. They located the tumor through an MRI scan and recommended emergency surgery. Throughout the surgery, I sat on the floor of the waiting room with the image of the surgeon's face replaying in my mind, his scrub cap held tightly to his forehead, falling just above his kind eyes. While I knew he was a tender man, I still couldn’t shake the image of him holding a scalpel above one of my favorite people that ever lived. Once the surgery was finished, we were able to visit him in his room. He lay in a pale blue hospital gown and had a large bandage wrapped around his head. My dad was a big man with sturdy muscles and a broad frame, but at that moment he seemed smaller than ever before. Regardless of how he looked, when I held his strong hand I felt an overwhelming sense of hope as I realized that the scar etched on the side of his head was not a sign of weakness but one of strength and resilience.
Over the next several months, my parents flew back and forth to Mayo Clinic. My dad went through numerous treatment plans and medications all the while coaching a pop warner football team, supporting me in my activities, and being the same dad he had been before the scars. In February of 2016, his vision began to decline and he struggled to keep his balance while walking. About a month later and roughly a year after his first symptoms, my dad was completely bedridden. He could no longer walk and had very little communication abilities. I spent time each night lying next to him and telling him about my day. He had no way of responding other than slowly running his fingers through my long, dark hair. Even if I said nothing at all he knew who I was based on this simple action. On one particular night, as I said goodnight, I thought to myself how blessed I was to have him as my dad. I contemplated with myself whether or not I should say it, but instead I opted not to. I knew that it would make me feel vulnerable and I figured I could always tell him the following day.
The next morning, my mom woke me up and told me that my dad was no longer with us but with Jesus. I never truly knew what it meant to have your heart broken until that moment. Even with the condition he was in, I always believed he would be healed. I spent most of the day hidden in the branches of the large maple tree in our front yard, watching as visitors came and went, only leaving my place to retrieve the various baked goods they had brought. As I leaned against the trunk of the tree, I remember feeling a sense of relief as I realized that my dad was no longer suffering, but I couldn’t help but regret not telling him how much I loved him when I had the chance. I began to realize how much I had been living my life in hesitation and in fear of what other people thought of me.
After these realizations, I began to take hold of my life as my own and learned many lessons about myself and life in general over the next several years. As I continued to grow, I began to discover things that I was truly passionate about. Ever since middle school running has been an activity that never fails to bring me joy. As I competed throughout highschool I have learned so much about myself and life. In 2019, my team and I were ranked at the top of the state and predicted to win the state title. As the race unfolded and our seventh runner crossed the line it became obvious that we had not won. While the following season we went on to redeem ourselves and win the title, I have found that I have learned so much more from the loss than the win. As I dealt with feelings of being unworthy, inadequate and invaluable, I began to realize that the root of these feelings were found in the opinions of others rather than who I knew myself to be. In the few years following this event I have learned to love myself for exactly who I am in the moment and pursue dreams that I want for myself rather than for the validation of others. Through looking at running through this perspective, I have learned to love the sport for reasons I never could have imagined as my passions blossomed and my fears diminished. Not only has running taught me so much about myself, but it has taught me to stay motivated in every aspect of my life. I have learned that giving up is never an option and that even if you may not receive the outcome you desired there is always value in the hardships of disappointment. Running has also provided me with a way to ensure I am making my Dad proud. He was never able to see what running brought to my life but I can say with confidence that he would be incredibly proud of the way I have carried myself on and off the course.
I will be attending Taylor University this fall to run cross country and track and pursue a degree in elementary education. The opportunity to continue the sport in college will forever be a blessing and I am incredibly excited to see where my story and my passions will take me in the coming years.
My name is Jaya Doggett, I am 13 years old. I am also an African American, lacrosse player in the 7th grade, who attends the Village Charter School. I enjoy skateboarding, playing lacrosse, watercolor painting, as well as baking. Although everyone has experienced trauma at some point in their lives, whether emotional, mental, or physical, I find that using my hobbies to manage and cope with my experiences makes me a stronger, more driven person. My story begins with the riots surrounding George Floyd’s death that occurred in May of 2020 as I continue to be emotionally impacted by how I view and connect with both police and protesters for reasons many people cannot relate to.
Protesters saw George Floyd as the sign to peacefully speak for justice during the day, as rioters put themselves and others in danger when they took advantage of an opportunity to cause chaos at night. Rioters would cause destruction to police cars, stores, and homes. I have never gone to a protest in person, but my dad has been on the front lines since the protests began and continues to be there for us all. As a police officer, it’s his duty to answer to work when called and protect and serve society. It is difficult for me to choose a side because protesters recognize and speak against the discrimination of African Americans like myself, while some protesters believe all cops are bad due to years of deaths, injustice and racial profiling.
Agreeing with both sides is hard for me, because some protesters only see the bad in some cops and point the finger at all cops. I of course agree with the cops because my dad is a police officer, but I also know that my dad is a reasonable officer. He studies the laws not just because he is a cop, but also because he strives to become a detective. As it is his job to serve and protect, he and many other police officers follow their duty. Unfortunately, I also understand that there are other officers who may see the job as a way to have power or control over others. I agree with the protesters because as an African American I can understand that too many people my age and older have been killed at the hands of police just because of their skin color, and at this point, it can be anyone. Many people may have old beliefs and see African Americans as less in society. As citizens of the United States, we all have the right to be as equal as any other citizen no matter our race, religion, or gender. When we speak up against social injustices for everyone, we make a bigger impact. When rioters take it upon themselves to damage our communities they cause kids, like me, to worry about their parents’ safety and well-being, when they’re working on the frontlines. Rioters may think their impact is only hurting the police, in reality, they are hurting our entire community, violence is never the answer.
I am starting to understand it is okay to take the side of the protesters and police. We need to raise awareness about racial profiling, as well as cruel behavior to police. People should not have to fear for their safety when interacting with the police. Police do a lot of good in our communities and we shouldn’t assume that every police officer racially profiles or uses their authority for the wrong reasons. Speaking our positive words will overrule violence. We have to stop damaging our communities, it helps no one. Using our anger makes it difficult to truly get the message across. I hope that my story will encourage other kids to identify the traumas related to the worries and fear they have about their parents in law enforcement and know that choosing to take the side of the police and protesters is okay.
Discussing my emotional traumas in this essay made me realize that I am not alone. All people have something that has traumatized them, maybe a scary movie or a car accident, trauma can be big or small. It’s unhealthy to let trauma dictate who you are or your decisions, instead of pushing trauma aside, it's important to learn and grow from it to make you a happier person. As a scholarship award winner, I would save for future college expenses such as my textbooks as I hear that gets very expensive. The college I hope to attend is either UCLA, or Princeton University, but I’m currently unsure of what I want to major in.
At the moment I’ve been selected for the SEEDS Summer Challenge Program which is a program that gives students the opportunity to earn scholarships and financial aid for independent boarding and day high schools all over the country. Many of these schools have college prep and go by their very own curriculums that focus on more than just the basic publicschool learning. The SEEDS Saturday school also prepares you for choosing your school and taking the SSAT. I have already taken the SSAT practice test this summer. Taking the practice SSAT gives us the idea of what it will be like taking the test in December if you’re accepted to their Saturday program. I was very excited to hear that most of the schools have sports programs because playing lacrosse helped me meet new people, and take my mind off of my anxiety. When I first joined my lacrosse team, I was unsure about playing because I’ve never tried it before, but it ended up being great. My teammates were kind to me even when I did mess up, I even made a few friends when I played on the team. Playing lacrosse helped me clear my mind especially when we did our drills. This scholarship will help with not only school, but funding for the sports I love to play, and transportation to the schools that may be in other states for interviews and tours. I appreciate this opportunity as it allows me to pursue my goals for eight grade and into high school and eventually college both academically, and athletically.
My generation has grown up in the most technologically advanced era in history, and yet, the constant access to social media and glimpse into the lives of others, has left us deeply wounded and insecure. Like many of my peers, I have had to overcome the challenge thinking and acting for myself, while not depending on the opinions of others around me to determine my self-worth. This constant access to social media has forced many of us to live a double life; one of perfection and glamour in front of the Instagram camera and another of deep hurt that we cannot share with even our closest friends. The circumstances I have been given have forced me to face this reality much sooner than my peers. I have learned to survive this paradox.
There is a Japanese proverb which states everyone has three faces: “the first, you show to the world, the second, you show close friends, the third, you show no one.” This proverb explains the paradox of social-media and my childhood. The first version is easiest to understand: happy, driven, brave and accomplished. This version was student of the year in biology, is an honor roll student, a varsity captain for track and soccer, and was accepted into the National Honor Society sophomore year of High school. For a long time, I believed I had to show this version of myself to be accepted and loved. For this I was rewarded for my leadership, persistence, and charisma.
Although this is one version of me, I struggled to square it away. While in the privacy of my home, when the camera was off, the issues were abundant. Holding back tears, I felt immense pain, fear, and depression. Torn in a custody battle, my mothers abusive relationships worsened. I felt responsible to protect her, as my attempts to intervene often left me hopeless and unsure of my worth. Outside of my doors was a scarier reality, of death and violence. Many times I mourned over the murder of friends or relatives lost to the streets of Newark, fearful that I could be next. I remember getting home to find there was no food available to comfort me before bed. This heightened stress was my reality, one I was uncomfortable with, so I like many, tucked it away behind an Instagram filter.
In hindsight, my struggle with sense of self and media, began at an early age, (probably around ten). I was being bullied at the time for not being the right complexion in an all-black community. As the son of an African American mother and Hispanic father, I was left feeling rejected by my peers for not being black enough. I was segregated, ridiculed, and physically abused as I yearned to fit in. These circumstances persisted for years, until one day, I stopped feeling sorry for myself. I decided to stop pretending, and stop acting like everything was okay, stop hiding behind a lens of perfection.
I began to open up the "third version ."I shared this deeply rooted part of me openly, as I ironed out how I felt about myself. Through music, I began jotting down my innermost thoughts and feelings. I shared my story and found community in my peers which felt the same pain as I did. I found that although the circumstances were different, the pain was the same.
From this moment forward, I vowed to be myself and show all my "faces" openly, as they are all parts of me. I no longer feel the need to change myself or alter who I am to make others feel comfortable. I am authentically me and encourage others to be the same because through authenticity comes healing and acceptance. Self - acceptance, self love and appreciation, three things I can bring to any community, three things I plan to share to make this world a better place.
Fear took over my body as my hands pushed open the gym doors. Sweat slid across the handle. Nervousness went through my body like a chill, as thoughts flowed throughout my brain. “What if they didn’t accept me? What if I was an outcast?” These thoughts circled through my brain as I opened the doors to my new school . The thought of me being the “new kid” once again made my heart skip a beat.
“Welcome to North Star Academy.”
At the sound of this sentence, my body started to relax. “The hard part is almost over,” I told myself. As I was introduced to the student ambassadors, my body tensed up once more. I was obsessed with making the best first impression I could make, and everything else was tuned out. Throughout my life, I’ve been the “new kid” at 10 different schools. However, because I had family at this school, I thought it would be easier. That was not the case.
As lunchtime approached I got my food and searched the gym anxiously looking for my cousin, heart feeling so heavy in my chest as I looked for somewhere to sit. “Hey Prince, over here!” I turned to see my cousin smiling and waving. The sight of him calmed my nerves as I hurried over to his table. He introduced me to those sitting at his table and we made conversation. Then one of the students asked, “do you play any sports?” As I heard this question, I could feel my lips curl into a smile, but I quickly retracted it back to a neutral expression trying not to seem too confident. Everyone has their own identity or is involved in something that makes them unique . For me, because I switched schools so many times, I used sports as a means of “fitting in”. Since I was a kid, I’ve always loved sports, but I was particularly fond of soccer. It just so happened to be that a good amount of the soccer team was at the table. After lunch, the day seemed to fly and my love for the school only continued to grow. It was only my first day but I felt a sense of belonging. As the final bell rang, I was overwhelmed with joy. “ I did it!” I told my cousin as we walked to my first soccer practice and I was filled with excitement ready to take on this new challenge.
Being the new kid so many times has taught me to adapt to all surroundings. I’ve grown to be a very social person. Whenever I see someone new and is struggling, I never hesitate to help them. Being the new kid has taught me how to build relationships and know-how to carry myself. It has taught me to treat others with the utmost respect and make them as comfortable as they can to be around me. These experiences have helped me become a better person and has helped me become a better leader. With this while in college, even when I am nervous, I know how to communicate with my professors. Therefore, I will be able to interact with different groups of people to obtain a common goal.
Family is defined as a group of people who love and support one another unconditionally, due to the ties of marriage, blood, or adoption. Moving to America in eighth grade, I wanted to join a “perfect” family. Naturally, I was excited to finally live with my biological mother, but over time my definition of family changed.
Prior to coming to America, I lived with my grandmother in Uganda. My father visited me weekly, but I couldn’t stay with him because of his wife’s conflicts with my mother. I felt neglected by him and it wasn’t until recently that I understood that he couldn’t take me in due to this reason. I also felt neglected by my mother, as she left me at eight months to come to America. My grandmother knew I yearned to live with my mother as I would often cry on the phone when Skyping with her, so it was arranged for me to move to America when I turned thirteen.
When I arrived, I was welcomed with a loving hug from my mother at the airport. I shared a big meal with all my siblings that evening and felt that warm feeling of belonging to a “family,” that I had become accustomed to seeing only through Skype. Over the next two years, I learned to share a room, chores and meals with my siblings. However, the hardest transition was learning how to be the oldest son and the man of the household since my mother was single. I kept track of the bills, took my siblings to school and babysat while my mother was working. With these responsibilities, my idea of family had turned into a full-time job.
After I found a balance between my domestic and school responsibilities, I got involved in school activities like the Soccer team and Robotics club. This led to conflicts between me and my mother as I was unable to complete many of the tasks she was used to me doing. She grew frustrated as I invested more of my time in school, and this provoked lots of outbursts from my mother. I faced physical and emotional abuse and was kicked out of the house frequently. Nevertheless, I stayed involved in these school activities that gave me a sense of independence and belonging to a new family. This family comprised of friends that I made in the soccer and track team, including my coaches who understood my domestic struggles and offered support. I sought refuge at my best friend's house when my mother permanently kicked me out during my junior year.
Moving in with my friend’s family was an eye-opening experience. Initially, I was afraid that I was a burden, but over time they made it clear that I was part of the family. I was included in activities as they came to my soccer games and celebrated my eighteenth birthday. I was also given the freedom to go out with my friends. Thus, though I was held accountable as a young adult, my happiness and mental health was taken into consideration. I was given independence and moral support to express myself in ways I was previously denied the right to. I realized that although I was initially surrounded by strangers, they allowed me to invest time in myself rather than igniting prolonged conflicts. This became my understanding of family.
Ultimately, lacking a strong relationship with my biological family made me realize that although family should comprise of those I share blood with, I also have the power to create my family. If there is anything my new family has taught me, it’s that I am capable of being accepted and loved by those who are not blood-relatives. Thus, as I go into college and the real world, I will not hesitate to lean on friends for support as they will become my new family.
Glenn goes on live video broadcast after his usual discussion of NYCFC training to promote our Goals and Glory mission, his involvement, and what finding our first scholarship winner meant to him. This is at around 2:20 in the video. View here. Thank you Glenn!!!
Parents of Tyler Hilinksi, the late quarterback from Washington State who took his own life, are sending the message loudly to the NCAA: more needs to be done for athlete mental health.
Trauma can affect anybody - whether someone had one traumatic experience or many. It can impact how people see the world, how they behave, and their self-esteem. Clinical social workers are having great success healing trauma using the Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy model. This is a multi-phase treatment plan that helps the client define, identify and understand their experiences, their thoughts, feelings, and their behaviors.
One of the most important steps in recovery is to write a trauma narrative, one's story - not of defeat - but outlining what they have been through in order to process it. Writing in a way that is about what we overcame, not what broke us. This therapeutic tool allows us to turn a difficult experience, and memory, into a source of pride. It is a tribute to oneself for making it out of adversity.
If youth need inspiration, professional athletes are utilizing writing to express themselves on the Players Tribune, the online magazine run by Derek Jeter's Turn 2 Foundation.
We want to bring that platform for celebrity athletes to all players and coaches.
Often times, these pieces of writing are very inspiring and moving - even to strangers. As the director of Goals and Glory, I had several traumatic experiences through my developmental years. As an athlete, and away from the field, these challenges impacted me emotionally, spiritually, and socially -- until I got help. Often times writing about it was the only way for me to discover what I felt about it, and turn any pain into pride.
Before I got help, I dealt with intrusive memories, self-hate, fearing the worst all the time, anger and depression. In the end, one of these stories was my college essay, and one was my essay for graduate school. For scholar-athletes, writing is an important professional skill to master, and we think the ability to help people express themselves and inspire others is critical. Please consider sharing your story, not only to be eligible for a scholarship award, but to inspire others and help end stigma.
Goals and Glory, Director
Check out this great video from CLS in Michigan about disability awareness and anti-stigma!
It is with great heartache that we announce Schyler has passed away this Halloween. Schyler was one of our very own Goals and Glory athletes and despite being diagnosed with leukemia at 15, playing goalie at her prestigious and elite club put on hold, she was making a difference helping inspire other young leukemia patients. Read her truly beautiful and powerful message below. We have named our inaugural and annual scholarship in Schyler's honor.
Wow it’s already been 11 months since I’ve got diagnosed. Time does really go by fast. Childhood Cancer Awarness Month is this month! I have learned so much just in these past months. I look at the world differently! I’m a completely different person than I was before and that is a great thing for me. No kid should have to go through all of this. But along with this there is a huge sense of maturity. You have to grow up before you are suppose to. All of these kids are so strong that I have met and it has kept me strong! I saw a kid that I am very close to just the other week, and he is puking but has the biggest smile on his face, that’s what I call positive to no end! Positive vibes make such a huge impact believe it or not. I believe that when your mind is strong the rest of your body is reacting in a strong way that lets you keep fighting. To all the kids out there, you know this is all hard but you can power through!!! You can beat this!!! Happy Childhood Cancer Awarness Month!!!
This is a college essay of a DUSC Academy Soccer Player. We are forced to conceal his identity due to current threats on immigrants from certain regions, many who are just here to seek refuge and liberty, like this young man.
5:00 AM: The streets of the South Bronx have become familiar with the song of my feet running all the way to Freeman Street to go to my favorite place: school. My alarm clock has become my mother, waking me up and pushing me out of the door. My Puma backpack is my best friend. To it, I entrust my whole life: my soccer cleats, books, pencils and a flash drive for my videos. This backpack became my pillow and companion while I bounce from house to house.
5:00 AM has become a daily reminder that I’m not defined by my story.
I was born in Ivory Coast. By the time I was eight years old, I was abandoned by my father, and I witnessed my mother struggle with health problems, poverty, and an abusive marriage. I juggled between different cities and countries. Senegal. Mali. And Guinea. I was never able to spend more than six months in the same school. I routinely lost everything and could not pursue what I wanted most: school, soccer, and film technology.
By the age of 15, I learned what it meant to be an orphan. An orphan is a child who travels to the United States alone in pursuit of an education. It is having to navigate the streets of New York without knowing English, while simultaneously having to cope with his mother’s death three months after his arrival to the “Big Apple”. It is having to sit on the train with an empty stomach, trying to figure out when his next meal will come.
But before my mother’s death, she left me with a passion that motivated me to not give up. In New York, I was given the resources that my mother and I had been seeking for my entire life. For the first time, I didn’t have to worry about getting kicked out of school because my mother could not pay the fees. In September 2016, I finally started school in New York, ready to take advantage of every opportunity given to me.
I wake up every day to go to school, with images of the people who died from bullet wounds in Ivory Coast’s civil war, the millions of people living without electricity, and the young girls living through the same experiences that my mother went through. All of these images come to me at 5 A.M., when I am getting ready to go to a classroom filled with students who only know me as the kid from Ivory Coast.
After school, I go to one of my two jobs, where I endure everything that comes with the term “undocumented immigrant.” But the discrimination, the mistreatment and the feeling of not belonging have never stopped me from working hard to make the restaurants a better place for my customers and coworkers.
After work, I go to soccer practice for my club Downtown United and pursue the other passion I brought with me from Ivory Coast. Even though I’m usually tired from school and work, I’m still passionate about performing well for my teammates. At around 10:00 P.M., I walk into my makeshift living room: Starbucks. It is here that I have internet access and can finish my homework. It is the Starbucks employee who encourages me with free drinks and reminders: “One day, all of this work will be worth it.”
My education is the only thing that has never left me. It followed me from city to city, and country to country. It is the only thing that I can truly call my own. College is where my ideas will be born, and a place I will finally be able to call home. Because of this, I believe in my passions; I believe in my dreams; I believe in the power of education.
5:00 AM is the beginning of my journey, the journey I’ve nicknamed, “hope.”
A high school soccer player at North Star Academy in Newark, NJ - born in Nigeria - Abiola illustrates how he mastered his challenges with language, reading and bullying to become a confident and successful student athlete. Recently being accepted to Lafayette University with a scholarship. Read his inspiring message below.
By: Abiola Olofin
May 10, 2006 was a hot spring day in Lagos, Nigeria. I was sitting on the floor playing with my new toys and my baby brother when my parents came rushing in. “We are going to America! We’re going to America!” they exclaimed with tears in their eyes. Although I was a little boy, I knew that this was a life changing event.
Upon my arrival to the United States, I felt hope for my future that I could live a better life. However, moving to a new country meant adapting to a new lifestyle and especially learning a new language. Coming from a Yoruba home, I struggled speaking English. I came to school every day worried about never being able to fully communicate with my peers and becoming an outcast. I was continuously bullied by my English speaking counterparts. It got to a point where I would just sit in class and not say anything. Realizing that I was under a lot of pressure, my parents decided to help me by putting me in a ESL (English as a Second Language) class. When I heard this, I was scared because I did not want to enter another environment where I would be criticized for my uniqueness. To my surprise, the ESL class became my sanctuary and a place where I grew as an individual. From the first word I said correctly to the first paragraph I wrote by myself, the class became an impenetrable fortress where I understood the meaning of metamorphosis. Soon after I left the ESL class, I became more confident in myself.
The confidence I obtained in my ESL class continued on when I got the opportunity to travel to Italy for a week in my junior year. When I got the news that I had been selected to go, I was elated. I was bouncing off the walls and could not contain my excitement. When I finally calmed down and thought about what just happened, I realized that deep inside, I was apprehensive about going to Italy. Although it was an extraordinary opportunity, the thought of leaving the United States and my family baffled me. I thought excessively about what I was about to do. Then I realized that this was a chance for me to enter another environment and see how well I would adapt to it. I thought back on my experiences coming to America and the ESL class and immediately, I knew this opportunity was for me.
Despite my hesitation, I ultimately decided to go to Italy. From speaking Italian to interacting with Italians, I completely immersed myself in the new experience. I remember having a conversation with one of the store owners when I was ordering food. At first I was scared that I would do it incorrectly, but I said, “Ciao! Voglio prosciutto e Fanta limone per favore. Grazie!” which meant, “Hello. I want a prosciutto sandwich and lemon Fanta please. Thank you!” I will never forget the store owner’s smile and surprised facial expression. “Ciao” she replied, “Parli italiano?” She really thought I was Italian! She was impressed by how I had embraced the language and culture. As I continued to talk, I realized that I had immersed myself completely into something I initially had second thoughts about and that I continued to become confident in myself. As a result of this experience, I can now stand, unafraid, at the edge of the unknown. I no longer fear daunting experiences. When that hot spring day of May 1, 2018, comes, I will courageously and confidently say in front of my family as my heart beats rapidly and proudly like the sound of the djembe drums, “I’m going to college! I AM going to college!”
By Maddie Hart, Contributor
Read a powerfully written account of Maddie's battle with stress fractures as an elite level (now Division 1 college) soccer player, eventually learning of a condition that continuously kept her off the field and from the game she loves. Her perseverance also enabled her to now help other young female athletes stay healthy and safe in pursuit of their goals. Well done Maddie!
I started playing soccer when I was 4 years old. At the age of 8, I was playing for an elite soccer club and training multiple days a week. With each year, my training became more rigorous, more miles per day, more hours per week and more pressure in every way.
By the age of 16, my sophomore year at Cranford High School, I was exercising six days a week; two days of training with the team, two days of league games and two days of individual running. Finally, I broke. The impact of training on my 100-pound frame led to my first stress fracture. Many more would follow.
Sophomore year is among the most critical periods in the life of a student-athlete. It is within this small portal in time that college coaches recruit their future players. The offers to play in many schools are closely followed by much coveted scholarships.
As I entered into this critical period, I stepped onto the field most days in significant pain. I dismissed the discomfort as “shin splints,” a term that Mayo Clinic defines as “pain along the shin bone (tibia) – the large bone in the front of your lower leg” which are caused by “repetitive stress on the shinbone and the connective tissues that attach your muscles to the bone.”
In the world of youth soccer, shin splints among female athletes are almost a rite of passage. A sign that you had put in the work, you had trained hard and you had arrived. The mantra that followed: Ice, ibuprofen and move on.
Unfortunately, in my case, the pain was a warning sign and the shin splints were a precursor to a much greater issue plaguing me: a large stress fracture of my right tibia. The Mayo Clinic defines stress fractures as “tiny cracks in a bone ... caused by repetitive force, often from overuse.”
The Growing Up Today Study (GUTS), which analyzed “physical activity and risk of developing a stress fracture among preadolescent and adolescent girls” reported “stress fractures were nearly twice as common in girls who participated in sports for eight or more hours per week than in girls who engaged in sports for four or fewer hours per week.” I fit the description.
After multiple X-rays, doctors’ visits and a voyage into the daunting tunnel of the MRI machine, I was put on crutches for two weeks and benched for the next four in the spring of 2014. My recovery was unremarkable and I returned to play on the first day I could. Feeling that this issue was forever in my past I resumed playing the game I loved.
In the Fall of 2017, I found myself fully immersed in my collegiate soccer career at Loyola University Maryland, when the pain recurred. Discomfort quickly progressed to debilitating pain. Once again, I was catapulted into the familiar whirlwind of various doctors’ visits, desperate for an answer.
My X-rays were normal. Physical therapy provided no relief. I found myself laying perfectly still again as I took another trip into the MRI machine. This time the test revealed a left sacral stress fracture.
I would be benched much longer. I was relegated from a starter on the soccer team to a regular civilian on campus. Two crutches and a backpack full of school books limited the activities I could participate in around campus. My years of endurance training were used to overcome the boredom and frustration that ensued. After several weeks, I recovered and resumed my training.
Then, this summer, 11 days before I had to report to Loyola for preseason the pain returned. An MRI revealed a stress reaction; the precursor to a stress fracture. I felt more defeated than I had by any game or competition in my life. Why was my body failing me?
After years of enduring multiple visits to the orthopedic surgeon, sports medicine specialist, gynecologist, nutritionist, physical therapist, podiatrist and the dreaded MRI tunnel to nowhere, the answer would become apparent. My misfortune had a name, a diagnosis recently described as the female athlete triad.
This disease state is characterized by prolonged periods of low energy availability and undernutrition due to mismatch of nutrition intake and exercise expenditure. In female athletes, this subsequently leads to irregular menses, estrogen deficiency and impaired bone health with an increased incidence of stress fractures and early onset of osteoporosis. The triad is most commonly seen in female athletes who participate in endurance, aesthetic, and weight-class sports.
Unfortunately, I learned my experience is not unique. According to Dr. Alexandra Kondratyeva, Pediatric Orthopedic Surgeon at Saint Peter’s University Hospital in New Brunswick, “In orthopedic practice we are seeing more and more female athletes being diagnosed with stress fractures. It is important to understand that female athletes are at a higher risk for stress fractures.
"Reasons such as amenorrhea, higher energy expenditure than calorie intake, vitamin and mineral depletion, individual anatomical biomechanics that lead to improper running and exercising techniques, (and) too intense of training all need to be closely examined and evaluated before coming up with the right treatment plan for an individual. Identifying these risk factors, performing preparticipation screenings, running modifications as well as educating coaches and parents can help reduce the rate of these injuries.”
As I examined my health closer, tests revealed I was Vitamin D deficient and was not consuming enough calories. According to Beth Lanzisera, a Cranford-based nutritionist and dietician, “When you have low energy availability, not an adequate amount of calories to support your needs, your body protects itself and shuttles the calories that are available to more important functions. As a result, reproductive health and bone regeneration are the first functions to be given less priority.”
Lanzisera maintains that “adequate and quality calories such as carbohydrates, proteins, and heart healthy fats are very important. Carbohydrates are very important, especially since everyone is getting messages that a low carbohydrate intake is ideal, which is a dangerous and untrue belief for athletes.”
Finally, many female athletes like myself experience irregular menses. According to Dr. Manjari Gupta, an obstetrician and gynecologist from East Brunswick, “Irregular periods are often times overlooked as a natural consequence of training hard but may have potential consequence and should be addressed.”
Gupta explains that “irregular menses in females over long periods of time can have far-reaching implications. Girls with infrequent or absent menstrual cycles are at risk to have low estrogen levels, which have a negative effect on bone health.”
I had always dismissed my menstrual irregularities not realizing the detrimental effects they could have on my overall health.
The same rigorous hours of training to perfect every aspect of my game were the same hours that lead to my breaking points. While historically the focus of my training revolved around a ball and a field, the female triad forced me to look inward. Many of my years as an athlete were fragmented by injury.
Perhaps the training of a successful female athlete should be thought of as a more holistic process. Focusing on the field, but never forgetting the female. If we give our girls a strong foundation, one that includes the health of the body, they will surely break less under pressure.
Maddie Hart of Cranford is a junior at Loyola University Maryland and plays center midfield on the school’s Division 1 soccer team.
Article source my centraljersey.com.
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