Losing My Athlete Status

Guest Writer:  Darci Santella

In the late 1990s – early 2000s I had the honor of being a Division I Softball athlete. Since I started playing at 12-years-old, I had been riddled with back problems, arthritis, and extra weight issues. But none of these could hold me back from playing a sport I loved until it did. I went hard every day on the field, no pain could stop me, but it could slow me down. An injury led me to the coaching side of softball midway through my college career. I enjoyed coaching and went on to coach high school softball for over 10 years.

Softball on field

I would play in slow-pitch leagues just to play and keep the love alive until I physically couldn’t anymore. I would go 110% in these games just like I had in every game before, but my body could no longer handle it. I had gained a lot of weight, my back issues were more serious and I could barely run without any pain in my ankles. I don’t remember the last time I played in a game, but it was on that day I said goodbye to the athlete in me. Actually, I lost my status as an athlete when I stopped playing in college; when I stopped practicing, working out, and doing the things athletes do.

It’s been a few years and several surgeries later and I still long to play the game I love, but I am not in any shape to be doing that. The chronic pain can sometimes be too much to walk or even stand. I needed to find another way to exercise without all of the pain, and surprisingly, I found it in a machine that my parents had but rarely used; the ergometer (erg) or indoor rower.

I have come to a point in my life where I need to take care of myself. My love for sweets and junk food has gotten the best out of me and contributes to my daily pain. Any exercise I do is painful, but not the rower. The indoor rower gives me the opportunity to exercise, at my own pace for as long as I can. I was worried rowing would hurt my back more, but it didn’t. Luckily, I had a great coach who taught me the steps one by one and made sure I was doing it right. For the first time in a while, I felt my muscles being used with a limited amount of pain. I don’t do long workouts, I am building myself up again, but at least I am doing something for myself.

I am a long way from earning “athlete” status, but that’s not important to me anymore, my health is. If I never consider myself an athlete again, that is okay with me, as long as I am healthy and living with less pain day-to-day. The only status I need at this point in my life is pain-free. And maybe one day I can get back onto a softball field as a player, not an athlete.

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