The Loss, Recovery, and Rediscovery of My First Love: Basketball

I remember when I tore my ACL, probably the worst moment of my life. It wasn’t my inability to play, or even a misstep on my part. All it took was a girl to turn the corner the last second and take my knee with her. In movies, you see that these kinds of moments alter the character’s life forever, taking the character into whatever direction the movie was intended to go. This was my movie. This was the scene that altered my life forever. Throughout my recovery, all I wanted was to get back to playing basketball. I put myself through extra training at home so that I may speed up the process, constantly telling my therapist to push me harder every day with more weight, more concentration, any sliver of effort I can give to get back to what I love. At this point, one would assume that all the hard work and determination would help you excel, as you’d beat the odds to prove to the world you still got it. My reality sang a different tune. I was never the same when I got back. The fear of getting re-injured loomed over my head, as if a dark cloud followed me everywhere I went, waiting to send a lightning strike down to destroy me. I remembered the exact spot I got hurt. The image would never go away; the memory of it was haunting me. All I could hear was myself screaming in agony while the gym fell silent, just wandering eyes watching me wither in pain because for the first time, I didn’t get up. I wasn’t invincible. I wasn’t “Wonder Woman”. I was human and I was broken inside. 

Regardless of the way my season turned out, I found myself playing college basketball. My dream rediscovered, and I was at home…or so I thought. A new environment, new people, and new coaches who kept telling me I’d never be good enough. The fairytale college career was thrown out of the window. This, on top of wrestling the pressures of college as I tried to keep up with my grades, failing relationships with my loved ones, topped off with me slowly isolating myself from everyone because I lost sight of who I was. What the hell am I doing here? Is this even worth it? When did the court feel like a burden? Do I even want this? Every day I tried to push through those negative feelings and thoughts given by my coaches, I needed to reevaluate myself. Growing up, I had a coach who was and still is a very dear father figure. He always told me, “Always remember, you cannot play this game for other people. You must play this game for yourself.” 

The first time I ever picked up a basketball; I absolutely hated it.

My mom forced my sister and I to participate so we wouldn’t be stuck in our house all day. She told us to give it a season to see if we’d like it or not; I fell in love. The thrill of running up and down the court, the racing of my heart when I would shoot a shot, the determination in my eyes to stop any opponent on defense, it all encompassed this pure love and admiration for something I felt powerful in, completely myself, because I was home. These emotions were addicting, to the point of fueling my fire to play, the burning passion appreciating every skill I acquired, every win and every loss, encompassing an experience I never wanted to end. Yet, as I grew and I got into college basketball I didn’t have the same drive. The passion I had for it lost its way along my journey.

I had to ask myself: Who am I?

Regardless of all the strife and pain, no one could take away the experiences I had as a player, the lessons I’ve learned, and in the end, the realization that I would never want to put any girl through what I had to go through. I decided to quit my senior year because I decided to stop allowing myself to suffer for the feelings I lost. When I graduated from college, I got home and helped my old coach lead his high school girl’s basketball team to their first championship in school history as an assistant from the bench. I’ll never forget the moment I held that trophy – sheer ecstasy. I didn’t have to prove anything to anyone anymore. I loved the game of basketball, but I had to accept my destiny wasn’t as a player, but to give back to those who need to realize their inner “Wonder Woman”. My passion for the game was never lost, for it evolved into something special. 

Being an athlete is a difficult path, filled with valuable lessons in your sport that you can carry on when you decide it is over.

Here are the lessons I learned: 

  • If things are meant to be, it will be. 
  • Play the game for yourself, not others. The more you place your self worth in others, the more disappointed you’ll become.
  • It is okay to say you’re done; we are all on our own timeline.
  • If your passion for sport still exists, find a new way to love it whether it is coaching, training, etc. 
  • It is okay to not be okay. Open up to someone you trust and it is okay to ask for help.
  • The game is 10% physical and 90% mental. 
  • No one can take away the experiences and lessons you have learned. Use it and move forward. 

Whatever path you decide, remember this is your path, your lessons, and your life. Lead it the way you want to.

Nerissa Periola
Current MS Sports Psychology student