What It Means to Be a Buckeye

Over the Summer, I was asked to write a personal statement on What it Means to Be a Buckeye as part of the internship program I was involved with (HBGP shoutout!) at Ohio State. It took me nearly the entire summer to finish the assignment. How was I to answer that question simply in words?

How was I to answer that question without physically standing with someone in the Shoe during a night game that was a black out against Penn State when your cell phone doesn’t work due to the crowd and your vocal chords feel like sandpaper from cheering so loudly? How was I to answer that question without showing someone what it feels like to drag yourself (and your cup of coffee) to your car every morning at 6 o’clock because you LOVE what you do and the lack of caffeine and sunlight at that hour doesn’t seem to matter or even register? How was I to answer that question without taking someone to Caldwell and sitting in the lab with them working on a one-problem homework assignment for HOURS  then finally getting the code to work and feeling so triumphant? And my goodness I actually feel out of breath even from just typing all of that! It was seemingly  impossible.

So I decided to tell my story of what it means to be a buckeye. Because what I’ve realized as a Buckeye is that a persons story is one of the coolest parts about them. I’ve never once regretted sitting down with someone and listening to their life story over a (strong) cup of coffee or (rather large) bowl of ice cream. I’ve also never regretted sharing mine. Life- stuff happens to all of us. So why not share it? Why live it alone when we can live it together?

This is my Buckeye Story (and also what I eventually ended up submitting for my What it Means to Be a Buckeye Personal statement):

“Hang on Sloopy, Sloopy hang on! O! H! I! O!” My five-year old self sent my pompoms soaring across the TV right as the Buckeyes snapped the ball off the 1-yard line and drove it into the end-zone. I turned around and gave a high-pitched-kindergarten-shriek. “GOOOOOO BUCKS!!!” I flashed a huge smile at my Dad as the Block O tattoos on each of my cheeks (yes, I wore two of them, wearing only one was bad luck) crinkled up into the wrinkles of my squinty eyes. At the time, I imagined that there was nothing in the world my Dad would love more than his five-year old daughter emphatically cheering for the Buckeyes. Little did I understand that it actually took every ounce of his patience not to quiet my creative cheer routines as he missed touchdown after touchdown due to my beloved pompoms (the instant replay became his best friend). If you’re an Ohio-State Football-Loving-Dad with a five-year old daughter that owns a Buckeye cheerleading dress, bless your patient soul.

My Buckeye loving family on game day against TTUN

I grew up in a Buckeye loving family with dreams of attending The Ohio State University. Both of my parents are alumni and by the time I was in fifth grade, I probably could have been leading campus tours. Not bad for a fifth grader.

But being a lifelong Ohio State fan does not even begin to scratch the surface of my story. As a Buckeye, I’ve realized that everyone has a story, and it’s our stories that make us unique, interesting, and treasured individuals. It took me a long time to find the right words to tell my story—my real story— not the shiny, glistening fairy-tale-esque, “Go Bucks!” version. The real one.

I grew up with a Dad that loved me so much. I grew up with a Dad who would braid my hair like a princess, shoot baskets with me in the driveway, and let me stay up past my bedtime- promising not to tell my mom.

But I also grew up with a Dad who was an alcoholic.

I grew up in this place where I was stuck in a constant battle between knowing that my Dad loved and cared for me so dearly, but I would still see him fall into his addiction time and time again. For anyone that has grown up with a family member that struggles with any sort of addiction, you understand that it truly is a disease. It is incredibly hard to watch loved ones suffer and be so severely affected by a measly 26-ounce blue can. But it happens.

Alcohol addiction freakin sucks, people. But my Dad had been sober a long time here, and these memories are the ones that I love and celebrate!

My sophomore year of college, my parents decided to get divorced. Up until that point in college, I appeared as if I had it all together. I was on the pre-med track, I had a great athletic career going on, and I had some awesome friends and teammates. But on the inside, I was still fighting this battle, trying to work through years of the mental and emotional aspects that come with living with someone addicted to alcohol.

My parents announcing their divorce was the tipping point of everything. During that period of time, it took all of my energy just to walk to class. Athletics, which had previously been the place I felt the most peace and security, all of a sudden gave me anxiety and made me feel restless. I can honestly say that it was during this period of time that I realized being a Buckeye meant having a family. To someone whose family was going through a lot of life challenges— having my Buckeye family meant the world to me.

I had teammates and friends who would build me up in my faith and encourage me with truth when I was struggling. There is a girl on our team who would make me coffee nearly every single morning and then just sit and listen to me talk while I was sitting on her couch. I had coaches who were there as mentors. They refused to let me give in, and forced me to keep fighting.  I had people on staff with Athletes in Action (a campus ministry at Ohio State) that would pray with me and listen to me. Quick shoutout to Sarah Schweisthal, you are the absalute best for all of those truth- filled mornings at Panara! I had a Buckeye family. My Buckeye family.

There have been times throughout my college career, especially my sophomore year, where it would have been so much easier to throw in the towel or to settle for mediocrity. But my Buckeye family would refuse to let me do that. They push me to be a better version of my self. They push me past the mental and emotional barriers in athletics and life in general. They help me to realize that I’m not alone in the real version of my story. They each have stories as well. Some are similar to mine, some are different. But that’s the cool part about having a family, you learn from each other, grow with each other, and care for each other through the unique stories that you each have to offer. And being a part of something as magnificent as that– that’s what I believe it means to be a Buckeye.

Side Note: My Dad and I now watch the games together and he no longer has to make use of the instant replay… I gave up on my cheerleading dreams when I grew to be 5’11’’. So to all you fathers that can sympathize with my Dad—it does, in fact, get better☺

So that’s my story. I love Ohio State. I love the maple-cream-stick at Buckeye Donuts. I love the cobblestone path by Thompson that I always fall walking down. I love my roommates, teammates, friends, and everyone else in between. I love how God has used this university and my experiences here to work in my life because He is the ultimate ruler of my life. I love my Buckeye Family!

Oh ya, and Maverick says to beat TTUN tomorrow!

The Bouquet of Roses I’ve Been Missing All Along

It was May of my freshman year, and I vividly remember sitting in Coach Vergote’s office next to a box of tissues. I was lucky number 49. For those that might not understand what the number 49 means to a Division One Track Athlete, number 49 on the East Regional Performance list, after all the scratches have taken place, is the first person NOT to qualify on to the First Round. It’s the person that is almost but not quite. It’s the person that sits in their coach’s office crying and feeling sorry for themselves and awkwardly trying to smile and laugh and hold back tears all at the same time.

My ever-wise (and incredibly patient) distance coach spoke to me through my tears and shared with me one of the harshest truth’s of running and athletics in general:

“Rachel,” she said, “Running track and running cross country is like 100 punches to the face for just one bouquet of roses. You’re gonna get punched. And knocked down. And then punched again. But we don’t do this sport because it promises us a painless ride into victory. We do this because at the end of the day, we believe that we’re going to get that bouquet of roses in spite of being pushed to the ground 100 times.”

Over the past four years, I’ve been figuratively knocked down and punched by this sport more times than I can keep track of. There are pages and pages in my log that detail every single bump, bruise, and cut that have been caused by this thing called running. Besides just being number 49 my freshman year, there was the Cross Country Season of 2014, where I was forced to deal with the mental and emotional injury of my parent’s divorce and Dad’s alcohol addiction. There have been hamstring injuries. There have been periods of time that I have been sidelined with the instructions of no physical activity under any circumstances. There have been periods of time when I’ve been stuck and can’t seem to break a certain time barrier. There have been mental struggles and times when it seems to be me racing against my brain instead of me racing against my competition. There have been times when I literally have ripped up my log out of frustration and then tapped the tear-stained pages back together because I can smell the bouquet of roses….. just to name a few.

Last Outdoor Track Season ended with another punch to the gut. I was sitting outside our hotel after the NCAA Regional recapping the season with Coach. She was giving me the you-need-to-freaking-race-like-you-deserve-this-and-just-freaking-do-it speech that she didn’t give me my freshman year but probably wanted to when I was upset in her office about being 49th. I was holding back tears. I had been knocked down again, and was trying to pick myself back up.

“I feel like I have had a million-trillion punches to the face, Coach. Like, too many punches to even count. But I’m still just waiting. I’m waiting on this bouquet. I feel like I’ve gotten a couple of singular roses. This team has had some great moments. But I haven’t gotten my bouquet.” I told Coach Vergote.

I went in to my senior year of Cross Country determined that this team was going to get that bouquet. We were going to go to Nationals. Those punches and moments that had knocked all of us down were all going to be worth it because we would have that bouquet.

At team camp at the beginning of the season, I knew we had a special group of women that were going to toe the line this season. We had 20 women that were all on the same page. 20 women that were willing to put it all out there for each other. 20 women that understood that it was going to take everything, including some punches to the face, to make it to nationals. 20 women that were ready to roll.

And we did roll. Right through the punches. We had people sidelined because of injury. We had people dealing with life stuff. We had people dealing with relationship stuff and family stuff. We had people running with one shoe on at The Big Ten Championships (Lilly you are such a stud). Just like every other team in the NCAA, we had people dealing with punches. And we took care of each other through these punches.

The women on this team are some of my best friends because I get to see how tough they are. I get to know their stories, their backgrounds, their experiences. Being on this team, we get to see each other’s real pain because of the punches of running and of life. And we get to pull each other though that pain. We get to laugh until we cry. We get to cry until we laugh. We get to talk for 16 miles at a time. We get to dance to Rebecca Black on a Friday workout day. We get to share life over cups of coffee and Dunkin’ Donuts post long run. We get to know each other’s families and hometowns without actually visiting. We get to encourage one another and build each other up. We get to give each other weird nicknames which incidentally are usually some kind of food. We get punched together, we get up together, and we focus on getting that bouquet together.

This past Friday, we were ready to get that bouquet and punch that ticket. And it made sense in our minds that it was going to happen. Every workout, every race, every practice was on point. We truly believed that we were going to get that fairy tale ending; we were going to get that bouquet. That’s what made all of the other punches worth it. We just hadn’t even considered the possibility that maybe we weren’t going to be the ones that got it. When you’re getting knocked down, you’re never thinking about the fact that maybe it will all be for nothing. That maybe the sacrifices and pain you are putting yourself through just wouldn’t be enough. That maybe you’ll never get the bouquet.

We finished 6th as a team in the NCAA Great Lakes regional. After finishing that race, the weirdest 90 minutes of my athletic career ensued. Our ticket to nationals, our bouquet, was completely dependent on whatever happened in the other regions. It felt like we were just stuck in this place of not being able to control anything and just having to wait and hope for things to shake out in our favor. We cooled down, did our strides, and then we all followed coach around like little ducks. She knew how to interpret the results of the other regions. She believed we had a shot, and that’s what kept our hope alive. We sat in front of our tent while coaches continued to refresh results. Some of us just sat around and nervously laughed and chatted. Others (freshman) laid on the ground and ate goldfish. We all were waiting on a bouquet.

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Post Regional-Race Waiting Shenanigans

And that’s when it hit me. I didn’t want to go Nationals just to say we made it to Nationals. I didn’t want to go to nationals to get cool gear. I didn’t want to go to nationals because I believed that it was the end all be all to my existence. I mean, I kinda wanted to go to nationals so I could dramatically throw my spikes in the shoe tree at Terre Haute. But the real reason that I wanted to go to Nationals, the reason that I wanted all of this so badly, was because I wanted to buy myself another week training with these women. I didn’t want the season to be over yet because I wanted to spend three hours a day at practice with them this week. I wanted another week of Antrim loops. I wanted another week of van rides filled with laughter.

I wanted another week of Abby crawling around on top of the lockers. Of Kaitlyn updating all of us on the current events and going out of her way to serve everyone. Of Lilly making sarcastic jokes. Of Brittany yelling, “Dooooooood!” Of Emily being the epitome of “Very British Problems.” Of Grace laughing at herself and telling stories about Annie. Of Olivia thinking of ways to make people feel awkward and also having a dance that goes with everything. Of Erin cheering, “Have a nice run, ladies!” Of Rachel L. asking questions and talking about skinny calves. Of Maddie and I twinning and looking identical as we run stride for stride. Of Sarah calmly encouraging us, “three minutes to go!” as we near the gazebo on the back of the Antrim loop.Of Claire being the most thoughtful person and giving the best hugs. Of Kelsey’s unexpected joke that comes out of nowhere but is perfectly timed. Of Annie’s drawn out stories that she tells all of us.Of Courtney being the best artist I’ve ever met and talking about creative ideas. Of Devin loving nature and picking up the bugs instead of stepping on them. Of Christine being a fighter, a mamma bear, and a kind friend all at the same time. Of Jess answering all of our health questions because she’s gonna be a freaking awesome nurse one day.  Of Lainey being a mini Lilly and giving some of the most mature advice and encouragement.  

I wanted another week of us. I wanted to go nationals because at the end of the day, getting the bouquet was never about going to nationals. The bouquet was about extending the time of doing what I love the most with the people I love the most. I’ve had my bouquet this whole season. In fact, I’ve had my bouquet for the past 4 years.

Turns out, we lost on a tie breaker with UCLA and we were one of the first teams NOT to qualify to Nationals… which is a feeling I’ve become pretty familiar with over the years. It sucks, every time. It is a punch to the face, every time. But standing there on the top of the hill at Wisconsin, I didn’t feel the punch to the gut like I normally do. As the women around me huddled together, I felt like I was being handed the most beautiful bouquet of roses. Yes, we were sad, we were heartbroken, but we also were encouraged. We were encouraged by the future potential of this team. We were encouraged because we were the bouquet, and I had been missing it all along.

Always in life, God offers a sweeter bouquet. He knows my heart far better than I know my own.He takes our almost but not quite moments and turns them into something beautiful. Sure, I knew God had blessed me so incredibly much with the people that He had put into my life on this team. But I didn’t realize that these people were the bouquet He was choosing to offer me so graciously. And if these people are my bouquet, I will take 10 trillion punches to the face for them, because they are worth every single hit. They are worth every single knock down. They are worth every single almost but not quite. They are my bouquet.

After 4 years and several thousand punches to the face later, I would like to modify Coach’s statement she made in her office from my freshman year. Running track and cross country is not one hundred punches to the face for one bouquet of roses.

Running track and cross country is so many punches to the face you won’t be able to put a numerical value on it. But every single punch, every single hit, every single knock down is worth it as long as your team is your bouquet.

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Ohio State Track and Cross Country, thank you for being my bouquet.