Pushed to the Limits This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

June 6, 2013
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Through my experiences in both school and sports, I have been pushed to the edge. Often these experiences serve as a test of whether I'm able to get back up, whether I can succeed where not everyone would. And it is during these moments that I believe my life is best defined.

The most memorable experience of being pushed to my limits was in the summer before I started high school. I had just had a successful final year of middle school, finishing with a 4.0 GPA and my football team ranking ninth in the state. I had been accepted into one of the most prestigious high schools in the state. This was a new year at a new school with new people. I had to prove myself all over again.

It was the first day of summer ­football practice, and I didn't know the playbook or my way around school. Worst of all, I didn't know any of the other students. It seemed like everyone else had someone to talk to. As I looked around, I saw smiles, laughter, and happiness. No one seemed as alone as I felt. I assumed this was my fate, being that I was an out-of-town freshman, practicing with the varsity football team. I thought I wouldn't fit in. I thought I was destined for failure. I didn't think I would last a week here. I was definitely out of my comfort zone and not sure what to do. So I did the one thing I knew how to: play football.

As we practiced, I made some eye-catching plays. Soon enough, I was no longer alone. I had peers who appreciated my football prowess and intelligence. However, I was still encountering problems. Without even realizing it, I had managed to put myself in a competition for a starting position. I didn't want to make an enemy on the very first day of practice, but this was a real possibility. I knew the only way to avoid it was to confront my fear and talk to my new teammates.

I had had coaches who worked me hard, but never this hard. I was positive these new coaches were determined to destroy not only me, but the rest of my team too. We practiced twice a day and were brutally punished for each mistake. For every dropped pass, we had to do ten pushups. For every fumble, a lap around the field. For every mistake we were physically punished.

To complicate matters, we were practicing on AstroTurf, which intensified the heat. I could feel the sun's rays pounding down on me. It felt like the sun was taunting me and encouraging me to quit. Again, I was being tested. I was exhausted physically, mentally, and emotionally. The coaches wanted to see how far they could push us before we broke. And we found out that first day – when a few people quit. I was determined not to be like them.

I once had a coach tell me, “Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. Quitting, however, lasts forever.” This quote stuck with me, especially as I was being encouraged to quit. I loved playing football and would not let anyone or anything push me to give up. I had worked too long and hard to give up. I continued practicing, happy to be playing football and continuing to earn my right to play on the team for the upcoming season. I lined up at positions I had never played before and continued to be a playmaker. I felt confident heading into the upcoming season.

After all the physical punishment of practice, we thought we were ready, but our coaches knew better. They tested each and every one of us. They criticized and insulted us, stirring our emotions, daring us to quit. Profanities were flung around as often as the footballs, cutting into our spirits and emotions. We were being tested mentally as much as physically.

After more kids quit, I knew we were ready to head into the season. I was ready for any challenge. I had true friends who were willing to fight alongside me to accomplish our goals. We built a unity that I had never experienced before.

Being pushed to our limits in practice paid off. On the football field, we experienced success, winning more games than any season in recent memory. We developed personal bonds, knowing each other's emotions and how to react to them. We were becoming young men without even realizing it.

We were able to overcome the odds, the naysayers, and all the doubts. When we were pushed to the edge that first day, it was just the beginning of the tests we would face during the season. And as credit to both our individual strength and team unity, we were able to beat the test, as seen through our newfound success. Although our season ended before we would have liked, we were happy with the results. I could tell that all the tears flowing were not merely tears of sorrow, they were tears of remembrance and happiness for the shared experiences and the memories that would last a lifetime.

Being pushed to the limit in an unfamiliar environment taught me important lessons that will stay with me forever. It was here, in the miserable summer heat playing football, that I understood my passion for the sport. I learned to value teamwork, discipline, and perseverance. But more importantly, I learned what it feels like to be pushed to the limit – to face a crisis and overcome it, to be knocked off my feet and not just get back up but continue fighting. I was not willing to give up until I reached my goal. I was able to overcome my early fears through my love of football.

This game affects your emotions like no other. It's pure ruthlessness. It's controlled chaotic warfare. It has the ability to unite people. But more than anything, I love football because during every play, every year, and every career, I witness people being pushed past their limit, counted down and out, but still persevering and succeeding. For these reasons, I live by the motto, “No matter the circumstances that you may be going through, just push through it.” It is a simple yet true saying that I have learned through football, but it's ­applicable to all parts of life, be it sports, education, friendship, or ­personal well-being.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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