By Emily Betteridge
This day was inevitable, but the magnitude of it was nothing I could prepare for. Spending more than a decade, more than half your life investing your heart and soul into a competitive sport, a day like this never comes easy. Like many people in my position, I wasn’t sure how that weight would feel on my shoulders, or how I would manage the heaviness of it all. But this morning, waking up to the understanding that the previous evening I had played the last Ryerson University volleyball match of my career, I felt light.
In moments like this, I don’t find myself thinking about little things, individual plays, specific games, detailed exchanges. Instead, moments like this bring about a focus on the bigger picture. They evoke intense feelings of gratitude, passion and fulfillment.
The weekend of March sixth our team had a theme of playing in the moment, even setting some Instagram locations to “The Moment” but what I’ve realized is that The Moment is not singular, it’s continuous and it’s vast, and it’s not something you can hold onto. But that’s why The Moment is so significant, because while it is both magnificent and fleeting, the feelings it creates manifests in memories that last a lifetime.
My volleyball journey has been nothing short of complex, but the complexity of it has allowed me to learn and grow in ways I never would have been able to had it been otherwise. I remember defying the odds at the age of 15, winning provincial championships in both my age group and the one above mine. I can vividly recall being curled in a ball on the bed of my dorm room, sobbing to my mother on the phone, trying to decide what I was willing to sacrifice to keep playing the sport I loved. I still have the image of walking the track at the Canada Games opening ceremonies embedded in my memory. But along with it comes the memory of the school bus we took back to the village after losing our final match, and the distinct smell of the vinyl seats as I pressed my forehead into the one in front of mine, trying not to cry. I’ve memorized the exhilarating feeling of a solid block, and the fiery adrenaline of a close match. Most recently, I can recall the lump in my throat as I stood on the baseline awaiting my silver medal.
Sport is funny like that, it takes you on physical, mental and emotional roller coaster rides. It throws you to the ground, and then propels you to the top of mountains — sometimes within months, sometimes within hours or even seconds. These last few weeks have been all of that and more, but the persistent reminder echoed from coaches, family and friends alike, was that life is so much bigger than the 9×9 court that I play on every day. And they are right — volleyball is certainly a huge part of me, but more than that, it is the catalyst to so many relationships and experiences. Between the moments on the court, there lies lessons, friendship, connection and passion — those moments are what make up who I am. And it is for that reason that I am indebted to this sport.
I read an article recently that explained how immediately after their final season ends, many athletes describe a feeling similar to the one I felt, though it is almost always followed by a profound heaviness. Unsurprisingly, that weightless feeling didn’t last long — dissipating around early afternoon that same day — and since then I have most certainly felt the immense reality of this chapter’s ending, but I refuse to meet that heaviness with fear. It would be of disservice to myself and all those whom I have learned from, if after all these years I up and ran at the first sight of rain. And besides, volleyball has taught me that I am capable of withstanding storms. The mere fact that I could feel light is proof enough of the brightness that lies ahead. The lightness to me is hope. It is the promise of a blank canvas, it implies possibility, and I know I am ready for whatever comes next.
So as I sit here on this sunny March morning, I feel the cool breeze curling through the open window beside me, and I feel light.