T he clock was set and the stakes were high. The Senior Day ceremonies were over. My sister — a sophomore standout for Princeton — had returned to her bench and the Ivy League championship game was about to begin.

All of those 5-hour turn-arounds between late night bus rides and morning trainings , grueling lifts and tedious film sessions had come to this. Stick in hand, this seemed like a dream come true.

The only difference is that a cane had replaced my field hockey stick. For my team, those bus rides were from rival schools, and training was practice and conditioning. For me, it was car rides from out-of-state doctor’s appointments and training was early morning and late night physical therapy.

When I committed to Penn as a senior in high school, I could have never predicted how the next four years would unfold. Like every other student-athlete at Penn, I was fortunate enough to have found my passion at a young age. Ten years later and this passion was still consuming my life. I was living the dream.

The day of my injury, my life changed. While competing for Penn, I painfully reinjured my back which resulted in permanent damage to the lumbar region of my spine and subsequent nerve impingement. My dream came to a crashing halt and quickly turned into my worst nightmare.

In a matter of seconds, I lost what had become my identity.

This presented a crucial juncture in my life — I could dwell on the misery of the injury or take the situation at face value. When laid out on paper, it seems like an obvious choice: hang up the cleats and move on with my life.

Anybody who has found her passion knows that this is much harder said than done. I tried to put on a smile, but even this became a chore. The passion I once felt was sadly becoming a memory of the past.

I had lost a part of me.

The goal of playing had been replaced by the goal of maintaining my ability to sit and walk. This had become my reality, and my survival of the next few years with this condition can be attributed in a large part to the people associated with Penn Athletics and the friends of Penn athletes.

True passion is difficult to find, never mind to maintain and pursue in the face of adversity and distraction. And that is the daily challenge of a Penn student-athlete. Playing a Division 1 sport and attending one of the world’s top academic institutions is no task for the weary. Yes, everybody faces challenges. Yes, these challenges can define you. And yes, nobody at Penn comes here for a walk in the park and an easy college degree.

But in order to excel as a student-athlete at Penn, it takes more than just raw athletic talent and a little bit of brains. The loyalty, dedication, sacrifice and inspiration that are demanded in all aspects of life are exceeded by nothing else a normal 21-year-old encounters.

Immediately following the realization of the magnitude of my injury, the support I received from people was unmatched. Friends, teammates and friends of teammates reached out to offer a kind word, a ride to class or an open shoulder to carry my bag regardless of whether or not I knew them personally. The competition that is so salient at Penn dissipated in the blink of an eye.

A friendly hello from a fellow athlete in class has developed into a close friendship . A warm smile and hug from another athlete on Locust still makes my day. And an honest conversation with another keeps me grounded and focused. All this is two years after retiring from the field.

Penn Athletics is more than a collection of smart athletes or athletic nerds. It is a community that supports its own — whether that be a current athlete, an injured reserve or an avid fan. There is no one more deserving of respect than these young men and women. I am proud to have been a part of the legacy and tradition that is Penn Athletics.

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