Dear Her

[This is a letter I wrote for Convos With Coaches. They are writing a book that will be a collection of letters specifically for young girl athletes on what the journey of being an athlete entails. The letters are written by people like me, describing our own journeys and experiences to our own path to greatness]

Dear Her,

As I sit down to write this letter I start to cry. I don’t know why, I guess I’ve never actually sat down and thought about how sports has directly shaped my life, and I feel strangely emotional when I think about it. Sports have molded me into who I am, they have molded my body, my self confidence, my mind, my friendships, and I am so STOKED for you that you’ve found sports.

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I believe in the pureness of sport. The pureness of when a bat hits a ball in just the right way,  those moments that get you off your seat in anticipation of a goal or a bucket, it’s creative expression, and the most basic form: free play. But it’s also about the pureness you find within yourself. The mental game, the toughness game, the courage game, the am I having fun game. The “how do I get 1% better every day” game? What do I need to do make my mind sharper and my body stronger?

Sport is all about the individual and the team. You learn to work together, share, and figure out problems as a group. As an individual, sports can take you wonderful places. I am not a professional athlete or even a highly sought after college athlete. I could never compete at that level, but I am still an athlete. I’ve continued to pursue my physical fitness and to learn different sports as I age to not only challenge myself, but also to have fun overall because FUN is what it really is all about. Your definition of fun might be different than mine. You might enjoy putting your body through some pain so you can look back and say “hey, that was fun”. That’s what we call type 2 fun. It might suck in the moment, but after the fact, that feeling will keep drawing you back because you feel most alive when you are challenging yourself and feeling a sense of confidence and freedom  that you might not get in any other aspect of your life.

And there will be failures and missteps, injuries and setbacks - but those are the things that will make you stronger. They will open up doors for you that you didn’t even know existed because failure isn't there to knock you down. It is there to lift you up and redirect you so you know you can do better, be better, next time, and that that was not your path. Channel your failures and they will drive you because if you didn't fail, winning or success wouldn't be as exhilarating as it is.

My journey started as a little girl on the playground in New York City - the ultimate concrete jungle. I was an energetic child, alway climbing to the top of the monkey bars, running around the park, free playing all over the place. I went to tennis camps and did gymnastics. I learned to ski and snowboard, and sail. In High School I played field hockey, softball, and ran track. I was a 3 sport Varsity Athlete. I enjoyed the competition, the camaraderie of my teammates, and the confidence I began to build about myself and my body in terms of what it could accomplish when I put my mind to it.  I was good, but I wasn’t the best, and that’s ok. I always gave it my all, the best I could do, and that is the most important thing you can do.

These days will go fast, and I urge you though - do not take these days for granted, because as they say hindsight is 20/20, and you may not be thinking about it, but these are the days that you will look back on when you get older, to understand where you came from, why you do the things you, how you got to where you are today. They will be some of the most difficult days but also all some of the most rewarding filled with laughter, excitement, and self awareness.

In High School, I was not only just an athlete, but also a girl who loved watching and talking sports. I’d take myself to the Bronx and go to Yankee games, catch US Open matches with my mom, ditch class to watch March Madness. Being a female who is an athlete and who loves sports has taken me many places and opened lots of doors.

I attended the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor because I wanted to go to a big school, with an even bigger sports program. As an incoming Freshman, I secured season football, basketball, and hockey tickets and I was so excited to be a Michigan Wolverine. At this point my dream was to work in sports. If I couldn’t be a professional athlete, at least I could be close to the action. I was a Sports Management  and Communications major in the School of Kinesiology where I took classes that ran the gamut from Sports Law and Journalism to Human Anatomy and Nutrition. I pretty much ate, slept, and breathed sports. Because when I wasn’t attending games, or studying for my classes I was taking part in recreational sports. This was a great opportunity to stay fit and to socialize. I played club field hockey, intramural soccer, pick up tennis, and started taking Pilates classes which opened a completely new door for me.

I know we see on TV and Social Media that being an athlete is a job, a lucrative one, but you do not have to be a professional to be an athlete. It is important to not take ourselves too seriously and that being an athlete can mean that you play sports recreationally and are interested in fitness. Health and Wellness has always played a role in my life. It has always been important to me to be strong so that I can take on any physical challenge that is thrown my way. When I am feeling strong I am feeling confident and I feel like I can conquer the world. I try my best to do my due diligence to eat healthy-ish (I mean let’s be realistic here, french fries and chocolate are my favorite) and get to the gym so that I can continue to take my body to new and exciting places. Pilates and Yoga have helped me strengthen my body and my mind in ways I could never imagine and I wish I started both those practices at a younger age because they bring out a different type of toughness in me.

When I got to that point in college where everyone asks you what are you going to do with your life, working in sports was the obvious answer. I had already dedicated my entire life to this passion. During college I interned with the Detroit Pistons, Major League Baseball Productions, and IMG testing out which path was mine. Did I want to work in communications for a sports teams? Did I want to be a broadcaster or produce videos? Did I want to be an agent? These are all important questions to ask yourself and important things to shush out. You DO NOT have to go down one path - you can try many different ones to see what actually fits. I had no idea what I wanted to do, all I knew was that I wanted to work in sports. After college I ended up getting a job in the Public Relations Department at Major League Baseball’s Office of the Commissioner. It was exciting and, to be honest, mundane at the same time. I came in bright eyed and excited to learn, but came out disillusioned by the sports industry, and that I was childish and naive to think that the pureness of sport is actually what drove sport - it’s not, it’s money. I also realized that I am not a desk person.

All those years of being an athlete, running around, recreating, made me recognize my bountiful energy, and that I needed more fresh air in my life. I needed to be moving my body, outside, in the fresh air. So I moved from NYC to Vail, Colorado to work in the ski industry. I wanted to be a ski bum. I was 23, and that decision was the best decision I made in my life at that point. As Yogi Berra once said “if you see a fork in the road, take it”.  Being in the mountains and snowboarding a 100 days a year changed the trajectory of my life. I made adventurous friends who were all about getting up early to go shred, hike, or mountain bike. I learned that the mountains and nature can fill you up with so much gratitude and joy, and that all you need to access those feelings are your own two feet. I felt freedom in the form of the wind rushing past my face, my body taking me places I never thought I’d ever go, and a place where I found my creative spirit. I look back fondly on those 6 years I spent living in the mountains, and I encourage you to follow your intuition. You do not need to rush into a career. Have experiences letting your mind and body take you places you never thought you’d go. Say “YES” to new experiences that scare you a little and will ultimately enrich your life because that is where change happens. When you find yourself at the edge of your comfort zone peeking over asking yourself “Do I dare?” and oh, you should.

My life has been built upon pursuing an active lifestyle. By writing this letter to you, I have fully realized that it has been my life’s driving purpose to constantly be moving, feeling strong, and confident within my body. I love feeling strong - like I can do anything. I’m okay not being the best among others as long as I’m my own best. I’m at my best when I am outside being active no matter what anyone else is doing.

I now live in San Francisco and I work in the Outdoor Industry in Public Relations and Social Media. I was able to finally mesh my love of sports and being outdoors into a career. It didn’t happen overnight. It’s a journey, a process, where you go through many phases to figure out how you can create something for yourself that you are passionate about. My one constant passion has been sport. Even though at the beginning of my journey I thought I’d be working in “traditional” sports I still found a niche that affords me the lifestyle I like to lead and working in an industry I am passionate about.  

The journey of being athlete is a rewarding one. It definitely comes with ups and downs, but always embrace the good with the bad and don’t take it all too seriously because in the end it’s all about who is having the most fun, who is being their truest self, who is stepping into their power, who is determined to improve themselves that 1% every day.

Enjoy the journey because the journey is the destination.

Rachel
 

Rachel Friedman