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More Than a Sport: How Sports Taught Me Resilience, Self Discovery, and the Strength of Community

My name is Lauren Murphy and I am going into my third year at the University of Minnesota. This summer I had the pleasure of interning at Her Next Play as their Play Bold Intern. During this time I edited and reworked the Play Bold curriculum in order to create the most effective and enjoyable camp experience. I directed multiple camps focused on helping develop sports and leadership skills in young girls. This internship gave me the opportunity to spark a passion for sports in so many girls. I have been able to watch their attitudes and self perception change as they fall in love with athletics. Personally, sports has taught me a plethora of important lessons, but one of the most pivotal and influential moments in my athletic career taught me the power of resilience, self discovery, and community.

I have played soccer for my whole life. I started playing when I was four years old, and I did not stop playing for one second; nothing could keep me off the field. My senior year, as coach and player elected captain, I was ready to help lead my team through a record breaking season. Halfway through the season, I was on cloud 9, we were undefeated, on our way to our 2nd year in a row winning the conference championship. During game 6 of 12 against our cross town rival team, I received the ball on our defense line, made a move around my defender, and started making my way up the sideline. Then, all at once, the grass at my feet was gone and all I saw was black. The defender guarding me had tripped me from behind and I went flying into the ground.

As I laid on the cold grass, I reached up to feel my head and in doing so, I felt a pop. The trainer rushed over and ran her fingers across my collarbone. She tried to whisper to my coach but I heard the murmur. I looked up at my coach of five years and through increasingly tearful eyes I said, “I can still play with a fracture right? Please say I can play?” She didn’t have the heart to respond. 20 minutes later, I was sitting in the emergency room waiting for my x-ray results, my cut off jersey, and captain's band laying at my side.

Once the x-rays came back, my season officially ended. I had snapped my collarbone completely in half. With both sides displaced and overlapping, I needed reconstructive surgery and months to recover. The surgery occurred a week later. I had seven screws and a metal plate installed into my collarbone. The physical recovery was long and hard, but the mental recovery was much worse.

My identity at the time was constructed by two things: soccer and my achievement in academics. After I was taken away from soccer, I fell into a deep depression. I had no idea who I was without soccer. I had never known myself without soccer. During this depression, the other aspect of my identity started slipping as well. I stopped going to school and doing assignments. I stopped caring. As my grades fell, my identity crisis grew. I had no idea who I was anymore, I felt so incredibly lost.

But, with time and therapy, and so much love and support, I started to feel better. My team, my family, and my friends became my saviors; they were my everything during this time. Their love helped me laugh, and smile, and feel happy again. My team went on to finish the season undefeated, and win the conference championship. And as much as I wished to be playing, I was still incredibly happy and thankful to be a part of the team at all, whether in my cleats or not.

Although I didn’t get to end my season the way I wanted, my injury taught me more about myself than I had ever known. I was forced to find an identity outside of my sport, and I am forever grateful for who I have become because of the hardships I have encountered.

Another positive outcome of my injury was my decision to join track in the spring of my senior year. It was my first year participating in the sport, and I ended the season with a conference championship in hurdles and a lot of new memories and friendships. I was also able to play one last club soccer season with my best friends, which helped me secure a stronger sense of closure in my athletic career. Through a lot of hard work during the second half of the semester, I got my grades back up and graduated with the 4.0 GPA that I had worked four years to get.

The game that brought me off the field also gave me an opportunity to grow as an athlete and a person, both mentally and physically. I look back at my high school soccer career with a sense of pride, and although the sudden ending was not what I had dreamed of, it allowed me to step back and examine my life from a larger perspective, granting me a greater sense of gratitude for everything soccer has done for me.

After 14 years, I was forced off the field, but nothing will ever keep me off for good. Soccer is, and always will be, a part of me. It no longer defines me as a person but instead, it is just an aspect of the multidimensional individual I have become.

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