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To the sport I can no longer play

Breaking up with a life-long love

Growing up as a high-level athlete, there was always that fear in the back of my mind that it could all end in an instant if I made a wrong move or a klutzy mistake. But as an athlete I stuck with it because it’s a love like no other. 

I said good-bye to all sports in November 2017. The final straw was when I saved a shot with my face and ended up with my third concussion – the worst one yet. 

I started playing soccer when I was four. While other kids were picking dandelions, I was running up and down the field trying my best to learn every aspect of the game.  

As I got older, when people asked to hang out, I probably replied with something along the lines of, “can’t I have practice.” Although I was disappointed I couldn’t hang out with my school friends, I knew I’d be hitting the field with my teammates who were like family.  

I feel lucky, that like so many other athletes, I got to play with most of the same girls growing up and to have had the same coach for the majority of my career. The bond we made is unbreakable. 

How it began

I started my soccer career as a striker and then slowly made my way around every position on the field. By high school, I was playing a mix of defensive back and back-up keeper. By university, I was a full-time keeper. This wasn’t a common switch for players. But it was one I was happy to take on when the team’s previous keeper ended her career after one too many concussions.  

I know it should have been a red flag right then and there –– but I loved the thrill of saving a goal.  

Sports for some people are no big deal. After dedicating 16 years of my life to playing a sport, it became part of who I was. People knew me as an athlete; they knew me for being a good teammate, who would do whatever it took for the best of the team.  

When it all ended, it wasn’t just an “Oh well, that was fun,” moment –– it was like breaking up with a life-long partner. I’ll no longer get to spend three times a week with people I had played soccer with my whole life. I won’t experience the rush of making a big save. I will forever be in love with this sport.  

For me, soccer was where I could take out all the emotions I couldn’t express. It was like a friend you could count on to be there no matter the problem. 

Some of us are lucky and get to choose when we say good-bye to our beloved sport. Others, like me, not so much.  

I knew this was it. But I tried my hardest to finish out the season. I took the necessary time off and went back to my team for the final weeks of my season; a farewell to the sport that’s been with me through every bump in the road.  

I felt so many things in that moment.  

Anger at myself, at the person who had caused the injury and the doctors who told me it was time to stop. So much anger and I didn’t have an outlet to deal with it.  

I also felt so much regret. I thought about all the things I should’ve done while I was still healthy. “I really should have tried harder to get first string,” and “Wow, why did I ever skip practice?” 

And so much sadness. The thing that once gave me a large chunk of happiness –– even on my worst days –– is no longer there for me to put my emotions into. What are you to do when you feel like crying or screaming into a pillow? I could no longer go kick a ball around, or let people take shots at me.  

Although there were all these negative feelings of anger, regret and sadness there is one feeling that rules them all – thankfulness.  

I am so thankful that I had 16 years of doing what I loved. Thankful for the coaches, the players and all the lessons I learned in between. It’s the hardest good-bye I’ve ever had to make, but I’m glad I had something I loved so much in my life for so long.  

I guess all this is to say, it’s not you, it’s me. So long sports, you’ve been good to me. Thanks for a wild ride. 

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Jessica Briand

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