Thankful and Grateful

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I’ve stared at this blank page on my screen almost every night for the past week. I have been struggling to put into words an absolutely perfect goodbye. It’s not easy to express almost 16 years of pure joy playing on differing teams and creating memories that make an impact on your life in indescribable ways. Frankly, it is impossible. If I tried to go through all of the ups and downs that have come with playing the sport I love, I would be typing forever.

But how do you say goodbye to something you put your heart, body, mind and soul into?

My parent’s first date was a basketball game – it was predetermined I would fall in love with this sport.

When I walked onto the court at Ben Light Gymnasium in Ithaca, New York, I tried to push out the thought of this being my last game with my NEC teammates. I had a strong belief that we could move onto the second round, maybe even the Sweet 16. Mostly, I didn’t want to think about how I was unable to practice and play the last few weeks of my career due to health issues.

Going into halftime up by a point, I was feeling energized. We could do it. We could be victorious today. We could shock all of the Bombers’ fans in the stands, and the bracket analysts that counted us out before the tournament even started. The love I have for my team and for this game was coursing through my veins. But then the final buzzer went off, and it began to sink in. That was it. My career as a student-athlete was over, in the middle of nowhere New York, on an unfamiliar court.

There is nothing that can prepare you for that pit-drop in your stomach. You can’t practice those emotions or know exactly how to handle them. You’ve spent four years pouring blood, sweat and tears alongside a group of people, some you have been in the trenches with since day one, and some you met for the first time back in August. And just like that, there is no next year. There is no offseason. You are no longer part of the plan moving forward.

That was my last preseason, the last time I walk around with ice bags strapped wherever they will stay put. That was my last time trying to get comfortable to take a nap on a six-hour road trip to the first in-season tournament. That was my last time deciding who’s turn it was to sleep on the cot. That was my last moments riding on the bus to a must-win game and celebrating the big win on the way home.

Walking through Bridges Gym a few days later brought back an unsettling feeling of walking through my high school gym after graduation. The sense that it was no longer “my gym,” no longer “my court.”

It’s still home, it’s still a sanctuary, but it’s not the same.

Basketball is and always will be a huge part of my life. It has quite literally shaped me into the person I am today and has influenced the career I hope to attain after I am finished with school. I truly do not know where or who I would be without it.

With the news of Covid-19 rapidly changing the landscape for college athletics, my heart breaks for the high school and college seniors that had their seasons cut short or cut off before they even started. I began to realize how lucky I was, even though I could not physically play, to suit up with my teammates and celebrate on our senior day. I was able to cheer them on through our playoff run and feel the ecstatic emotions of being a conference champion for the second time. I got to make another trip to the NCAA tournament, even though our dreams were cut short. I could not imagine having those last moments of pure joy with my teammates being taken away from me.

This pandemic that has taken over the world is a serious issue, and I respect the very difficult decisions that the administrations of educational institutions and the NCAA has had to make in the last few days. But that does not take away from the pure heartbreak of the seniors that do not get the chance to celebrate their senior days, that do not get to make a push into playoffs trying to extend their career by one more game, that do not get to see how far their team can make a run in the NCAA tournament.

They may not get their last year back, this could be their final buzzer.

I am forever grateful for the last 16 years, and especially thankful for the last four years that I was able to be a student-athlete at New England College. This small school in Henniker brought me sisters that I cannot imagine not having in my life; we’ve created bonds and memories that will last a lifetime.

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Hannah is a Graduate Student, and Graduate Assistant in Athletics here at NEC, working towards her Masters in Sport & Recreation Management. She is a member of NEC's class of 2020 where she earned a BA in Communications, as well as Sport & Recreation Management. She was a member of the women's basketball team, the Sports Editor & Co-Editor-in-Chief of the NewEnglander, a Peer Leader, Student Ambassador, and President of the Class of 2020 during her undergrad. Her hopes are to land a job in the sports industry, either in front office management or as a journalist, after receiving her Masters.
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