We were finishing our pregame warm-up last week before our match at the University of Virginia when one of my teammates’ parents arrived at the turf. A few last shots on goal, a few run-throughs of some set-piece plays and then it happened—she ran to the sidelines and embraced them after being away from her home in the United Kingdom since June.
As the sherbet-colored sun set in a brisk Charlottesville sky, I knew the feelings on the side of that field in that moment. Eyes welled with humid emotion, all I could think about was the next time I’d see my parents—whenever that’d be.
Life as a college athlete has been rich with experience—to the extent that 21 years of age can allow. I have been spun around and dizzied with sentiment, emotion and rage. I have been pushed and bruised and ripped up. I have been lifted up higher than words can describe, and I have never been so thankful for anything more than I am for my parents’ support through the ebbs and flows of this irrational, incredible, inimitable experience.
Mom and Dad, I know you’re reading this. For everyone else, I trust you share this sentiment indelibly in some strain, so please, read on, and thank your parents for what they do, too.
I have put my parents through emotional turbulence in the last four years, mostly because parents who love their children so unbelievably, so overpoweringly, so fervently—these parents live the emotions that their children live.
When I watched my teammate embrace her parents, one arm slung around each of their necks, bundled with scarves and jackets in the Virginia cold, I knew exactly what she felt in that moment, and I am thankful for the reminder that she gave me.
Mom and Dad, I’m sorry for going to school so far away from home. Mom and Dad, I’m sorry I’ve lost my phone more times than I can count. Mom and Dad, I’m sorry for the nose ring, I’m sorry for the tattoo, I’m sorry for the time Dan and I broke the vase in the living room when you were out to dinner. But most of all, Mom and Dad, I’m sorry there’s no physical, verbal, conceivable way to thank you. For everything.
People talk a lot about taking things for granted and the opportunities they’ve missed out on. People talk about other people. People talk about the things they wish they’d done, the things they wish they could do, the things they want to be. I’d be a fool to think my parents didn’t want for me the same opportunities that I swiftly chase down. They’ve always wanted me to play. So I’ve played. They’ve always wanted me to win. With them, I have won. I have won, and I cannot ever imagine an appropriate way to repay them.
When I was a sophomore in high school, I lost a field hockey game to a conference rival in overtime. I made a mistake—a game-changing mistake—and knew it immediately. We lost, and I harshly threw my gloves to the ground in an immediate fury.
I still remember this game—an October match at Ocean Township High School—not for the loss. I remember it for the conversation I had with my dad when I got home that night. He told me about character and how without high character, you can be the best athlete in the world and won’t get any respect from anyone. You might sweep your matches or pitch a perfect game or score a hundred touchdowns. You might be the best of what’s around, but you’re going to fail sometimes, too. And when you fail, my dad said, you have to do it with your eyes up.
He told me that I needed to be like Joe DiMaggio. I needed to be a class act. He said Joltin’ Joe was that kind of class act.
“There’s always some kid who may be seeing me play for the first time or the last time. I owe him my best,” DiMaggio once said. My dad told me this some six years ago, but these words burn brighter than ever before.
This Saturday is Senior Day for Duke Field Hockey—our last home game, our last regular season match. The last match I’ll ever play at Duke—my new home, the home I’ll be leaving in seven months, likely for good. And this weekend—this Saturday at 1:00 p.m.—there’s gonna be some kids who might be seeing me play for the last time. Those kids are you, Mom and Dad.
I’m no Joe DiMaggio, Mom and Dad, but you’ve always treated me like I am. On Saturday, you’re the kids in the stands that I owe my best. The kids who are seeing me play for the last time. An incredible 17 years have passed where I’ve been on some kind of sports team—hitting balls off a tee at the little league fields in a Pirates uniform at the South Wall Little League fields, fouling out of biddy basketball games, playing Division I field hockey. Seventeen years, and you’re rooting for me still.
You’re the kids I’m playing for, and you always have been. I’m playing for you for the last time—but I’ll always be on your team.
Ashley Camano is a Trinity senior. Her column runs every other Tuesday. Send Ashley a message on Twitter @camanyooo.