My first taste of being part of a competitive team was in grade 6. I was offered a shot at trying out for the grade 7/8 basketball team at my elementary school, A.B. Ellis. This was a huge deal to me. I decided I was going to get onto the team no matter what it took. I would shoot baskets before bed in the cold winter air until my hands were completely frozen. I did sprints up the stairs. I tried desperately to be able to do 5 pushups in a row. I completed the tryouts, and finally it was the moment of truth. I walked down what seemed like the world’s longest hallway to where a single piece of a paper hung on the wall with the team roster. I saw my name and my heart skipped – I did it.
That was the start of an amazing 3 years playing with a remarkable group of girls and a brilliant coach – Mr. Bill Ouderkirk. A lot of character building took place those nights in the A.B. Ellis gym. I think we all learned a lot about dedication, concentration, and smart work during those years. I learned what it meant to be a good teammate. Sometimes we felt like Mr. O was hard on us, but of course that was what allowed us to achieve the greatness we did. He saw our potential and was relentless in helping us untap it. By the time I was in grade 8, our team was unstoppable. We ended up qualifying to play in the Rainbow District School Board championship game – a remarkable achievement considering we were one of the smaller schools in the area. I remember that day very vividly. Upon arriving at the school we were playing at, we walked a lap of the schoolyard and Mr. O told us how very proud he was of us for making it to that point, and that he had no doubt in his mind that we were capable of winning that day. We put in all the work, and now it was our time. In that moment, I remember an overwhelming feeling of love, appreciation and pride for my teammates and coach. I wanted to win for them, not for me. I wanted them to have the game of their lives, I wanted them to be happy. In true Cinderella story fashion, we won the game. The buzzer went and we jumped into each other’s arms – pure joy. Through everything I have experienced, it really is one of my fondest sporting memories.
I have been thinking a lot about my experience on that team lately. Those feelings that I felt for my teammates that morning of our championship game I now feel on a daily basis for teammates here at Western. Obviously I have always loved my teammates, but recently I realized how much. Because my season went so late this summer, I had a late start resuming my training. Usually I have 5 weeks of base training under my belt by the time the team is back training together in September, but this year I didn’t have any. Hopping right back into the swing of things after taking a month off from any physical activity has been a very interesting and humbling experience. I think I’ve felt more physical pain in the past few weeks than I have in my whole life, and I think that is part of how I realized how important my teammates are to me. There is something really special about suffering with other people in pursuit of a common goal. It has made me feel closer to my teammates than I ever have. We can be on our hands and knees gasping for air, trying not to puke, but still encouraging each other. We finish a rep, and automatically turn around and cheer the rest of our teammates on. We use our rest between runs to boost eachother’s egos and keep the positivity flowing. It’s a beautiful thing. A couple days ago we had a real doozy of a workout, and after leading the first six runs, I completely died on the last two. As my teammates were sprinting past me, they slipped in some words of encouragement. This was in the middle of an all-out 300m! That’s love, and that’s when I realized I want to make it my priority every day at practice to encourage my girls.
What wins teams national championships? When everyone knows they are valued, appreciated members of the team with an important and distinct role, I think only good things can happen. We’re going to keep working hard, we’re going to keep the morale up, and we’re going to keep encouraging the hell out of each other. I know we are capable of great things, and I can’t wait to see how this year plays out for us.
From “FIRE UP FIRE UP FIRE UP THAT BIG RED FLAME” to “GO STANGS GO”, I sure am a lucky girl to have been a member of some pretty amazing teams.
This Thanksgiving, I am without a doubt thankful for my team. I hope everyone has a wonderful weekend! -CARO