A Letter to Student Athletes

To Whom it May Concern,

As school is starting once again, I am reminded of you. I am reminded of that nervous excitement you may be feeling. I am reminded of double days, school activities/events, and loads of homework. I am reminded of stress and joy, excitement and anxiousness, confusion and frustration. I am reminded of my life as a student-athlete.

Your sport is not your life. You are not defined by your athleticism. The game does not dictate who you are or who you will become. Your identity is elsewhere.

I don’t say this to make it seem like your sport is unimportant or less than. I say this to reassure and free you in some small way.

I was in your shoes (as smelly as they are) not long ago. I was a collegiate DII volleyball player being recognized for my accomplishments as a freshman starting libero. I also was doing quite well academically. Everyone knew my name around campus. Teachers gave me some slack because our school takes its sports pretty seriously. Guys gave me a good amount of attention. My volleyball team was like a second family. Life seemed good… from the outside.

I kept myself busy (and I mean busy) throughout the first semester. My boyfriend now jokes about how he and his soccer team thought I was a commuter because they never saw me outside of the gym or walking to my classes. All I’d ever do with my short time outside of volleyball & school was watch Netflix in my room or sleep. I could barely eat from the rising pressure I put on myself to look and perform a certain way. My roommate at the time would urge me to get more than a bowl of salad every time we went to the cafeteria. Feeling a pang of embarrassment for being called out, I started to avoid eating out with friends. I mentioned everyone knew me, but I honestly didn’t know any one. My health started to suffer. I was at one of the lowest weights of my life and felt tired all the time. I took 3 trips to the hospital that semester because nothing felt right. I was sometimes crippled over with horrible stomach pain from all of my anxiety. The doctors said I had borderline low blood pressure and my pulse was very weak. Then they sent me home with a recommendation to rest, eat, and relax (easier said than done).

But I was still successful in volleyball and school and that’s all that matters…. right?

By the second semester, things started to slow down a bit. We were in off-season and I learned from my mistakes by taking my 18 unit semester to 15. I was able to breathe. But with that breath came the unavoidable realization that this wasn’t me. This wasn’t my life. This wasn’t who I wanted to be.

I’ll never forget the occurrence of events. I told my parents first over skype with tears in my eyes. I was more asking for permission than anything. Even though my scholarship wasn’t that substantial, it was helping to pay for a private Christian university. My parents were very supportive after we got to the bottom of it, which brought even more tears to my eyes. Afterwards, I broke the news to my roommate, teammate, and best friend at the time. She was disappointed and discouraged but also showed unconditional love for me and my decision. I waited until mid-semester to make sure my decision was final before meeting with my coaches and the rest of my teammates. I will forever be grateful for how each of them handled the news. Their reactions could have broken me in that instance but they showed grace and mercy. They showed me Jesus.

I kept in touch with most of them throughout the rest of college but also had to keep in mind their time and focus was still on volleyball while mine was not. I tried going to a couple games but had to leave every time because my stomach would turn and my heart would hurt. That summer was my hardest one yet. To be quite frank, I was depressed. I locked myself in my room most days in isolation from family and friends. I didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything because I felt unworthy, undeserving, undefined.

The missions trip I signed up and trained for was quickly approaching and I was becoming anxious, wondering whether it was too late to back out. I wasn’t close to God and didn’t feel equipped to handle an overseas missions trip at the time. But little did I know, that’s exactly when He wants to use and teach you the most.

The 3 week trip to South Asia brought me outside my comfort zone and forced me to think of others much more than myself. I clung to God and He met me there. I served and did as much as I could but I still feel the people of South Asia served me more. It was an unforgettable Summer to say the least.

Erin Loachner said it well in her book, “It takes only one visit to a third world country to understand how far I’ve gone off course.” (Chasing Slow, pg 144). She changed her mentality from chasing more superficiality of the world to letting the slowness find her. I was changing my self-centered way of thinking to a more Christ-centered way of living. P.s. Erin is a Christian blogger and I highly recommend this book to any one who’s been caught up in the fast-paced ways of American society. Here’s the link to her book {Chasing Slow} and blog {Design for Mankind}.

The next year of school, I went to counseling on campus, read and prayed daily in order to be closer to Christ, and kept in the back of my head these two words; “My identity”. My identity wasn’t lost because it was never found in the things I thought. My identity wasn’t volleyball or school or popularity or success… it was Christ.

You don’t have to quit your sport, go on a missions trip, and change your life in order to realize all of this. You simply need to look to Jesus to help solidify what He’s already trying to tell you. By all means; train, sweat, compete, and enjoy the sport you have worked so hard in. Give it all you got. And when you walk on and off that court or field, glorify God through it all. God’s purpose in your life is the most important part of your existence. Your sport will end one day, but your life will keep going. I urge you to know now where your identity lies. That former roommate, teammate, and best friend I mentioned before used a perfectly eloquent verse to find peace in this same situation; “My heart and my flesh may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” – Psalm 73:26.

This will probably only hit home to a handful of readers, and I am perfectly ok with that. Most of you might have even stopped reading by the second paragraph. If this little snippet of my life and short advice that I’ve shared has helped just 1 or 2 of you come to terms with the fact that you are not defined by your sport, I’m one happy girl. Now go hit a home run, make that dig, ace that serve, shoot that goal, throw that touch down, and feel great using the talents and abilities God has blessed you with!

Thank you so much for reading. I am praying for you.

With love,

Katie Rotondo

2 Comments

  1. Katie Ann,
    I’m in tears. Thank you for opening up and sharing your heart, your vulnerabilities, successes and failures. I’m proud of you and especially blessed to know you and know you deeper. I pray this reaches the one or ones needing to hear this! Love you ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

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