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Lessons, some victories, and fresh worry: Is there life after college sports?

November 19, 2009 – 11:08 AM
Odell (in blue)

Odell (in blue)

By Sarah Odell

The other day, the Wellesley College Squash Team — my team — opened the 2009 season at home against Smith College. This is my last home opener. As a senior, who has spent four years holding the number one spot at Wellesley, I can’t help but reflect.

Sure, I’m not the QB at UMich or the top scorer in field hockey at the University of Delaware. That would be Tate Forcier and Casey Howard.

There was no scholarship on the line when a back injury put me on the bench junior year. We’ve never contended for a national title.  But playing squash and being on a team has been an integral part of my college education. Squash has taught me patience. After our first game, I had a long talk with our coach: several on the team are just learning the game.  It is a very special opportunity to learn to play a sport in college, and – wow, compete – at the intercollegiate level.

Wellesley students strive to be the best; the best scientist, the best writer, the best art historian, the best politician (just ask Hillary). To be thrust into an environment where they not only are not the best, but “learning on the road” as my yoga instructor says, is hard. I won my match last night in three straight sets. My teammates teased me about how many balls I hit into the nick, and how many ace serves. What they do not know, is that my first year in college, I was one of them.

I arrived at Wellesley having played at Exeter, but my highest ranking on the Exeter squash team was number three. At Wellesley, I was thrust into the number one spot. I won only one match my freshman year. Yes, I had played before, but I was forced to compete at an advanced level. I desperately wanted to be good – no – I wanted to be great. But even keeping the ball in play was hard. I wasn’t fast enough. I wasn’t smart enough. I wasn’t keeping the ball tight enough.

Three years later, I’m just starting to win some matches. It has taken a brutal summer of working at a competitive internship in New York City until 5, being on court by 5:30, and working hard night after night. Lessons. Matches. Weight lifting. Cardio. Finally, it’s starting to click. Coach says she can see that the work is paying off.

Squash has taught me how to measure success. (Hint: it’s not always W’s and L’s). Sometimes success is forcing myself to run for a ball that I believe is un-gettable, and surprising myself when I return the shot. Other times, it is the look on a teammate’s face as they stand behind the glass wall of the court, cheering my name during a match.

There have been other lessons, like how to work with others, motivate peers, and achieve goals from within a group. Most importantly, squash has given me my best friends in college. After a frightening week at home last year, where I endured tests, MRIs, and multiple doctor visits, a spine specialist in Wellesley diagnosed me with a disc problem in my spine — but wanted the MRI to prove it. With parents miles away, it was my teammate Ashley, now my doubles partner and co-captain, who went with me to get the scan that last year put me on the bench.

It is strange – and a little scary – to imagine the next phase of my life. I wonder if I will make the same connections without varsity athletics. But bet that I’ll try. Wherever I end up, it won’t be far from a squash court.

Sarah Odell, a regular blogger at FairGameNews, is a senior at Wellesley College and co-captain of the squash team.

  1. 3 Responses to “Lessons, some victories, and fresh worry: Is there life after college sports?”

  2. For a so-called blog about equality in sports, interesting to see such a focus on women as little more than incapable victims. Seems pretty sexist and hardly empowering, if you ask me…

    By Rev on Nov 21, 2009

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  2. Apr 1, 2010: fairgamenews.com » Blog Archive » Youth may bring it, but sometimes age (and experience) crushes
  3. Feb 22, 2011: Once an athlete, always an athlete? | Life after College Athletics

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