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The privilege of being on a team is an irreplaceable experience never to be forgotten. Athletes around the world find a purpose that drives them to reach their potential. Being a member of a successful team is one experience, but being on a team with a true purpose is an entirely different experience.
This year, I’ve had the opportunity to play on a team with a true purpose. Our purpose wasn’t to achieve a conference championship. Or a District Championship. Or a Regional Championship. Or a state berth. It wasn’t to make a statement as the youngest team in our league. Our purpose wasn’t even to have a winning record. Although we accomplished all of these things, our ultimate purpose didn’t involve winning or losing, in fact it didn't involve any kind of score. We play this year for something much bigger than ourselves, bigger than this game, we play this year for Olivia Current.
Olivia is one of my best friends, she's a friend to all. Olivia is a senior who has always been involved in high school's community. A fellow Student Council member, my partner in Spanish 2, a leader on the volleyball court, it’s always seemed as if Olivia was right by my side in every capacity of life. Aside from Olivia's talent of being a leader in the community, Olivia has a gift of attracting people with her bright smile and personality. Among her multitude of other success, perhaps her most admirable quality is that Olivia is a fighter. She stands up for what she believes in and stays true to who she is. She's steadfast and immovable, what rich character Olivia possesses. She also just happens to be fighting cancer, in the form of blood cell attacking leukemia. While we are focused on fighting to beat the cross town rivals, Olivia is fighting for her life
The day Olivia was diagnosed was one of the saddest days of my entire life. She called me and told me what the doctors had said, and I cried all day and night. Reassuringly, she told me everything would be just fine, that this was just a bump in the road. It seemed as if I was more upset about it than she was, which was shocking. I listened to her words and allowed her to comfort me, rather than the opposite which is the way it should have been. As all those who loved her cried for Olivia, never once did it cross my mind just how severely Olivia was crying from the inside out as well. But she was, she was terrified. She didn’t know if this would be the end of the road for her or what pains she was to undergo in the coming months. She didn’t know why this happened to her or how she was going to deal with being away from her friends, family, and her home. She didn’t have any answers, but Olivia never stopped believing.
Throughout the summer, Olivia’s absence became continually more noticeable on the volleyball court. When you become part of a team, there is an unexplainable chemistry that occurs. The ten or so players mesh together, bond, and truly become one. At the beginning of the summer, we were a complete puzzle. Each one of us played a significant role and were a crucial piece of the puzzle, that made our team succeed. When Olivia’s piece was suddenly missing, we fell apart. At our summer tournaments our youth and inexperience showed. I know Coach Stetson believed in us, and she did her very best to give us everything we needed to succeed, but we were missing something she couldn’t give us back. We needed Olivia to complete our puzzle and for that wound to be healed.
It took us collectively as a team until the regular season, to figure out Olivia was always there. If she was having a hard day at the hospital coping with the pain, her heart was running laps in practice with us. When we felt unmotivated, Olivia’s contrite spirit was our fire. If we felt complacent or lazy, Olivia was our silent reminder to be thankful and to work hard. Her spirit was in each one of us, each time we touched the ball. Everywhere we went, with everything we did she was there. Olivia became just what we needed to conquer our daily challenges, overcome adversity, strengthen us and bind us together once more. Olivia became our purpose.
Before I knew it, Olivia was able to be with us physically once again. I held her hand as the announcers called her name and she stepped forward to wave to the crowd, wearing her jersey proudly and the mask the doctors forced on her. Her courage to fight back the pain and emotion was astounding as she laughed and smiled. On the bench, I listened to her advice carefully on where to place my next shot or how to help the team. Off the court, I rubbed her smooth head and massaged her back until she fell asleep. I laughed at her jokes and thanked her for letting me come visit her in the hospital. Looking at her it's hard to not forget she is sick, but I love her more than I ever thought possible. She radiates from the inside to the outside, and you can’t help but feel the warmth from her good heart and her love of this life.
I know each one of us has benefited from Olivia’s sickness, which is probably the most selfish, heartless statement one could make. But she has made the difference. All of my teammates hold a special place in their heart for Olivia, much like my own. Whether it has been talking to her on Skype, listening to her pre-game inspirational words, watching her cry, seeing her smile, sleeping over with her in the hospital, visiting her, or just proudly wearing an orange ribbon. Olivia has made the difference in our team, and helped us get where we are today.
When I feel discouraged or want to complain at practice, I'm thankful I even get to play and say a prayer for Olivia. If I am sweat soaked, breathing heavy, and don’t think I can take one more step, the sight of Olivia in her hospital bed pushes me past my old limits. I have found a purpose to keep going, to fight, and to realize life is bigger than myself. I now know life is a truly beautiful thing.
Our volleyball team is a young one. Everyone expected our team to have a rebuilding year. This year’s team is conference champions. District champions. Regional champions. And headed to the State Tournament this weekend. This year’s team has a girl sick with cancer on it, her jersey is number 5. No one knew that weaknesses would make us stronger. This year’s team is a lot of things no one thought we would be, but above all we are a team with a purpose bigger than the game we all love. As we run laps, our steps are unified. We run together, our steps hitting the floor in one rhythmic flow. One game, one love, one Olivia.
A state championship team testifies of success. A super bowl winning team testifies of standard setting. A billion dollar business testifies of strategy and persistence. But a team such as our varsity volleyball team, testifies of heart, unity, strength, battle. Of pride, tradition, and excellence. We testify of having a purpose, and that cancer can’t stop anyone.