As I begin my senior year, I want to take some time to reflect on my Penn experience. Although it's not over yet and there are many months to go, I think it's important for me to start coming to terms with what my time at Penn has both given me and taken from me. Our time as Quakers not only shapes us into who we are as people, but also reveals a sense of who we will become in the future and how we will confront the adversity that life will throw at us.
Adversity is how I define my time here at Penn.
In April of 2017, I wrote what ended up being a controversial column on switching sports from field hockey to women’s rowing, something that has defined my Penn experience in its totality. While at the time leaving the field hockey team and joining the women’s rowing team was something I needed to do for my mental health, it completely affected who I am and how I live my life every single day. My entire identity changed, and having to struggle with trying to find a new identity was a daunting task — one that I still struggle with today.
Am I a rower that played field hockey? Or a field hockey player who rows? Am I a field hockey-playing rower? Or am I just a rower? At first it didn’t make sense to me, and while in the heat of switching it did not matter as much, it is now something I think about every single day. When people ask what sports team I am on, it's always a complicated question for me to answer. My heart tells me one thing, but reality tells me another.
Who am I? Does my past factor into my identity or is my identity just the person I am now? When you commit to play a Division I sport in high school, coaches prepare you for what is to come and the competition you will face. You are trained mentally and physically to prepare for what is ahead of you so that you can be the best athlete possible and perform at your highest capabilities. But to be honest, no one ever prepared me for this. Yes, people change in college, but no one ever told me I’d be a completely different Reina by the time I left Penn.
I went to a field hockey game recently on campus and as I sat there watching, some things dawned on me. What does it mean to be on the other side, watching the game go by versus getting the chance to physically be on the field? The field was just right over the fence a few feet away, but what made it so difficult for me to pick up my helmet and start playing again?
My old life was flashing before my eyes, and I finally realized that I wasn’t that person anymore; that freshman picking up her helmet and excitedly running to the goal on her first day of preseason, or that sophomore crying in her helmet during practice depressed from feeling helpless and discouraged. I was someone different, and while a field hockey goalie will always be who I am deep down, I wasn't that goalie anymore.
So I ask this question: What is your identity and where do you find it? Does Penn give us our identity or the sport we play or the people we associate ourselves with? I’ve come to realize that identity is something no one can create for us, but rather something we create for ourselves. We can choose to be something and not another, and we are ultimately the deciding factor in how others see us.
But what if I can’t identify with what I physically do anymore? I went from a field hockey goalie to a rower overnight, so did my identity change or just simply an activity I do every day?
I am having an internal identity crisis, one that so many Penn students have throughout college. I’ve noticed that very few people understand what it feels like to be in my shoes, but the experience of not being able to self identify is something almost every college student can relate to. While I get tongue-twisted about which sport I play, someone else is going through the same thing with another part of their life. This crisis is part of a much larger mental health issue that is happening on college campuses everywhere. Not knowing who you are can affect your entire Penn experience and leave you questioning your purpose.
I don’t know if I will ever entirely feel like a rower, but it doesn’t mean I am not a rower. Yes, it is as confusing as it sounds. Little of this has to do with the rowing team itself; my teammates are my best friends and the coaching staff is very supportive and passionate. It has more to do with the fact that my mind will never be at ease from my detrimental past on the field hockey team, and the fact that I was forced to leave behind my favorite thing in the world. I believe that your past is always a piece of who you are, and when your past is unsettling, it makes some aspects of your current life hard to accept. It is almost two years later and watching the game fly by that day made my heart race and gave me a lump in my throat as I tried to hold back the tears. I don’t miss being on that field, but I wish I could be on a field again.
I am a senior, and I still don’t know who I am. Students are starting to look for jobs and are making future plans, and I still have yet to figure out what I identify as. I do not regret my decisions, for they saved my life and I am tenacious and stronger because of it. Coming to terms with that fact that I will never be “okay” with leaving my passion behind may be the first step to settling my heart and moving forward. It is something that seems so impossible now, but something that I hope to achieve once I graduate from Penn and enter into the real world.
My story is different from most. While I never wanted to face it, I think it is time that I attempt to embrace my past and allow these last few months at Penn to redefine who I am.
I dropped my helmet, took off my goalie pads, let go of my stick, and picked up an oar. I am a rower now, and I think it’s time I start believing it.
REINA KERN is a College senior from Freehold, N.J. She is a member of the women's rowing team and a staff reporter for The Daily Pennsylvanian. She can be reached at email@example.com.