The summer after I stopped playing softball, the earth felt different. It was a lazy June afternoon and I recognized this feeling halfway through my run. I was headed along Hanson drive, the road that twisted around the sports complex where the gravel crunched dry and gritty beneath my feet. Since the end of my season I hadn’t wandered down this way, purposely avoiding the path to the practice area where I spent most of my days playing victim to a bat and a ball.
I held my breath as I turned the corner, the athletic center looming in the distance and coming into view with every stride. I thought, as I passed, I would ache for the familiar, for the sound of metal cleats on concrete, the thud of a composite bat against a ball. I thought I would yearn for the smell of dirt on my palms, or the wild beat of my heart as I stepped forward onto that pitching mound.
I thought that in passing I would be reminded of the woman I used to be.
But to my surprise I felt nothing. A hollow absence—not the desperation to go back, to rewind and bring myself to the sun beaming down on my forehead and the sweat dripping from my brow; not the desire to open those double doors and step onto that turf again; not the longing to get away and never look back. Nothing.
Nothing but a deep breath of peace, the acknowledgement of something left behind.
The game had been a part of me for years, written into my soul, second nature. I had woken up with the drive to practice every single day; I arranged my schedule so that I always had time to be at the field early to take grounders, to stay later and throw pitch after pitch. I overexerted myself, never getting enough sleep, never feeding my mind the positivity and encouragement I so desperately needed. I questioned every lift, every throw, every play. I doubted myself at the plate almost every single time, constantly fighting a battle between what I wanted and what I was afraid of.
I worked and worked and worked until my body ached, and my hip flexor tore, and I was analyzing my eating habits in relation to my game performance like a crazy person. I was teetering on the edge of a breakdown until finally it was all over.
And I had nothing to prove.
I had let the game I loved consume me. To the point that the end of my career became a big sigh of relief. And now, as I picked up the pace, running by the building I had become a slave to, there was nothing. No regret, no remorse. No ache, no pieces that were missing. Nothing.
Nothing but my heartbeat pounding in my chest, my legs coming back into their own strength again. Nothing but the pull of a hip flexor remolding, learning how to be celebrated instead of ridiculed. Nothing but breath leaving my lungs, this time with patience and ease.
Nothing but a reminder of what I used to love and simultaneously let destroy me—a lesson learned, an affirmation that I had survived.
And here I was, turning the corner, heading down another path, redefining myself.