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Diligence Pays Off
Author's note: I wanted to share my story.
There were twenty seconds left in the water polo sectional championship and we, the Maine South Hawks, were up 9-8 against our rivals the New Trier Trevians. The game was tight. No mistakes could be made. As the goalie, I was the last line of defense and needed to step up for my team and save every shot that came my way. Not only was it win or go home, but New Trier ended our season at sectionals last year making this our big chance to redeem ourselves. The Trevians had possession and were moving the ball around looking for an open shot. All they needed was one goal to send it to overtime and have a chance to head to the state tournament for the second year in a row. With time minimizing, they found an open man and he rifled it from 5 meters out as the buzzer sounded. I surged out of the water the instant the ball left his hand and swallowed it into my chest. Game over. Redemption. Finally.
Going into my freshman year I had no clue as to what high school had in store for me. Whether or not I would play any sports was uncertain because I had never excelled in any sport prior to high school. When I was younger I played football,basketball and soccer but whether I would have the same opportunities to play at the high school level were doubtful. This made me question myself as for what I would do in high school because I loved to play sports but I didn’t want to sit on the bench. Needless to say, I had a lot of thinking to do. A lot.
When school began my freshman year I passed on trying out for soccer because my experience in the park district league wasn’t comparable to the kids who played travel soccer all of their life. Trying out would have been a waste of time. Then my brother advised me to join cross country. After all, I always was one of the best runners at my middle school and since it was the only criteria for cross country it seemed like a perfect fit. I joined the next day. My first practice went harder than I expected. The four mile run I was assigned was a hell of a lot more than the lap around the football field we did in gym class. A mile or two into the run I was completely out of breath. I kept pushing myself thinking it would only help, but it didn’t. I puked. Just all of the sudden my body couldn’t take the run anymore and it gave in. When I got home from the worst physical experience I had endured in my life, I was clearly exhausted but I wasn’t willing to give up. Not yet.
The next day went much better for me and so did my season. As the season progressed, my endurance improved greatly making the workouts easier. By the end of the season, I had broken thirteen minutes for two miles and the coaches had high hopes for me. Cross Country was something that I had connected to and it felt right. It seemed as if high school had something in store for me after all.
After cross country season was over I wanted to stay active as best I could to stay in shape. Some of the other freshman on the cross country team were running in the offseason but I thought I would take a break to relax. I ended up joining swimming. One of my cross country teammates, Alex Sulek, was doing swimming and convinced me to join since it is a great way to stay in shape. Plus, he told me that swimming is like running in water. The benefit of it is that you work your heart and muscles, like running would, but at the same time it gives your legs a rest from all of the ware and tare that running puts on your body. I decided to give it a go.
My first week of swimming went rather difficult because, well, I was an awful swimmer. Abysmal. It wasn’t long into practice before I realized that I had never swam before in my life and I struggled because of it. Also, I had thoughts of quitting but with my diligent mindset I stuck with the sport even though it was awful at times. Fortunately, I improved over the course of the season and became in great shape. With the end of the season looming I was eager to start track because the seasons overlapped and I didn’t want to fall behind. After all, cross country and track were supposed to be my primary sports and swimming was just a supplement.
When the swimming season finished, I informed my track coach and said that I would be starting up the following week. The next day in the locker room, I heard all of the other guys talking about water polo. Nearly all of the swimmers on the team were water polo players and the sport seemed interesting. Some of my teammates were trying to convince me to play water polo because they thought I would be good at it. I told them I was committed to doing track that spring and I couldn’t do both sports. The thought of water polo intrigued me but it seemed like a tough sport and I didn’t want to take the risk of being a bench warmer while I had already proven myself as a runner.
Things all changed one day when I had a conversation about the upcoming track season with my cross country and swimming teammate Alex Sulek. “Hey Alex, I am going to start up track this upcoming Monday, do you want to start running with me this weekend?” Alex replied, “Oh I forgot to tell you, I am not running track this spring, I am going to play water polo. You should join too.” I responded shockingly, “Wait, what? Why don’t you want to run track? You were just as good as I was in the fall, aren’t you worried about falling too far behind?” Alex replied, “Well, I am actually quitting cross country too and i am going to focus on swimming and water polo. I like this group of guys a lot better.” I replied, “I guess that makes sense, but I am still unsure about joining water polo. The only reason I did swimming was too stay in shape for track and I feel I have a lot of potential.” Alex replied “Come on, you are one of the most athletic freshman on the swim team, you would be really good. Plus, wouldn’t you rather be on a team with us(swimmers) than the cross country guys?” This was true. “I’ll think about,” I said.
That night I put a lot of thought about my conversation with Alex. He did have a point regarding teammates. I had a much better bond with the swimmers than the cross country guys. Plus, Alex was one of the guys I was closest too on cross country so without him there it wouldn’t be as enjoyable. Truthfully, I was humble that he and all the other guys thought so highly of me but I was nervous that I would suffer from my lack of experience compared to the other guys. Plus, I didn’t want to throw away my Varsity potential in cross country. Even though running track did seem liked a safe solution, I felt that it wouldn’t be as exciting as water polo. Also, if I did cross country, swimming, and track I would have done all individual sports and all my life I had preferred to play team sports because you can’t rely on one person. In the end, there were several pros and cons for each case and I only had a couple of days to decide since water polo tryouts were that Monday. What did I get myself into.
That weekend, I asked my brother what I should do. He told me that I should join whichever sport I find more enjoyable. This made me realize that the most important thing is to have fun. If I am closer to the guys on the swim team then it would make the experience much more enjoyable. He also told me that I may not start out as an all-star from the start if I play water polo but I put a lot of work into it both in season and out of season I can work my way to a Varsity starter. Besides, I was only a freshman and I still had four years of high school ahead of me to improve. This was good advice. My brother really cleared things up for me and that Monday I showed up for Water polo tryouts.
My first water polo experience was something I would never forget. The sport was all new to me and I had no idea what position I would play. There were a lot of other guys on the team so I figured whatever I played my playing time would be limited. During practice, I noticed that there weren’t that many goalies on the team and all of them were upperclassmen. I realized that if I became a goalie I would be the Varsity starter as a junior. Without looking back, I told my coach I wanted to be a goalie and joined them in their drills. It didn’t take long before I realized that I was a natural. Unlike my first practice of cross country and swimming I was able to do the work out. I was blocking nearly all of the shots from the underclassman and once in a while I would make a save against a Varsity player. It turned out that my teammates were right. I was a pretty good water polo player.
The rest of the polo season went pretty well. Even though I was the backup goalie on the Junior Varsity, I still got a good amount of playing time especially in tournaments. This was because JV tournaments are only frosh-soph and since I was the only goalie who was an underclassman I played the whole game. I really enjoyed being a goalie and even though I didn’t get the fame of scoring all the goals I still liked being relied on. By the end of my freshman year, I had became really close with the guys on the team and I knew I had a promising water polo career ahead of me. Even though I knew I probably would never be a Varsity cross country runner, I stood by my decision to play water polo.
That summer I spent most of time at water polo camps improving my skills as a goalkeeper. By the end of the summer, I was a much better goalie than I was earlier that spring. My brother was right. Hard work does pay off. In the fall of my sophomore year, cross country started up again and I decided to join the team to maintain a three sport athlete. A lot of the other sophomores on the team had really improved and I was no longer one of the best. The season was quite difficult for me because I saw a lot of my teammates fulfilling their potential while mine seemed to have gone to waste. I had thoughts of joining track that upcoming season but I bypassed the thought thinking that I had committed to playing water polo and I would have my chance there.
The rest of the year went great for me as my swimming abilities improved and I was the starting goalie for JV water polo. The summer after my freshman year, I spent most of my time at water polo camps as I did in the previous year. I also did the cross country camp to stay in shape and build up muscle.
This year cross country went as it did my sophomore year. A mediocre season for a mediocre runner. Oh well. I really didn’t care about running anymore as my primary focus was to exceed as a water polo goalie. Fortunately, I did. This season my hard work and summer training really paid off for water polo. I was the starting goalie for the Varsity team. After sacrificing my time and seeing my cross country teammates fulfill their talents while I merely trained, I had my time to shine this past spring. With one year left I have no regrets in choosing to play water polo instead of running track. Even though I sometimes wonder how far I might have gone as a cross country runner I am thrilled to be playing water polo. Besides, I have come to love the game and enjoy the competitiveness it brings. Team sports are my strong suit and it makes water polo seem like a perfect fit for me.