Monday, August 29, 2016

Who am I?

I have been an athlete my entire life.  It is literally all that I have known.  From an early age I became accustomed to being celebrated for my athletic achievements.  When I was a kid I competed in gymnastics and played youth soccer.  Every kid on my team received an award merely for participating, which was a concept my young, competitive brain couldn’t quite reconcile.  I have never really liked attention and have always been the quiet introverted kid, but without even knowing it being celebrated as an athlete became a staple in my life.
I knew early on that I wanted to be a collegiate athlete.  I didn’t know what sport I wanted to participate in, but I always knew that I wanted to continue to pursue my passion for sports.  I initially tried out for soccer at UCDavis and was devastated when I did not make the team.  After licking my wounds and after much pressure from the coaches, I reluctantly made my way out to track practice.  It didn’t take me long to realize that track and field was where I belonged.  I worked hard and I could directly see my work pay off in times and results.  I competed against myself every day, received praise when I succeeded and picked myself up when I failed.  I knew the emphasis was student first and then athlete, but in my heart I was always an athlete first.  I dressed and prepared for practice every morning before school and consistently biked to class, fully outfitted in spandex and covered in bags of recovery ice.  Without even knowing it I became addicted to identifying as an athlete. 

After finishing my four years of collegiate athletics I struggled to figure out what was next.  I watched my boyfriend at the time sign an MLB contract and have the opportunity to continue to play baseball.  I was envious of his opportunity and anxious to find my next athletic ‘fix.’  It came soon after, in the form of bobsled. 

I can’t say I immediately fell in love with bobsled.  Our relationship has always been complex.  I loved competing and I loved pushing my body in training, but there were many other complexities that took some adjustment.  As time went on, I learned to love the integral details necessary to be successful in the sport.  At some point our relationship and I was head over heels in love and 100 percent in.  My identity evolved from athlete, to bobsledder.  It was who I was for eight years.  My daily successes were celebrated as I easily settled into the lifestyle.  In the back of mind I knew I could not be a bobsledder forever, but I was willing to sacrifice my entire self for one goal.  I convinced myself I had balance in my life and that I was prepared for the inevitable end of my career.

In 2014 when I did not make the Olympic team and chose to leave the sport, I realized how unprepared I really was.  I felt like a kid who had just graduated college, riddled with extreme uncertainty and unsettled that the college experience was over.  It was almost as if I had excelled in sport and regressed in every other aspect of my life.  I had to relearn what seemed like basic domestic skills.  I was overwhelmed by simple interactions and felt like an alien trying to assimilate to a life that was very unfamiliar.  I desperately tried to just be normal. 

I vowed to be courageous and brave throughout my major life transition.  I did not have any idea where my life would take me and I was scared of all the future unknowns.  It was incredibly overwhelming and admittedly often still is.  Thankfully my sister and brother in law opened their doors to me with no questions asked.  They were patient, kind and didn’t push me any harder than I needed to be pushed.  They weren’t hard on me, but also helped to give me a little nudge when I needed it.  They knew that it is my nature to hold myself to unreasonably high standards under every circumstance, so offered what I needed most; unconditional love and support.  If it was not for my family I would have never been able to use the last two years to explore different opportunities.   

My sister and brother in law gave me the gift of time.  It is a gift that I don’t know if I will ever be able to repay them for.  I was able to try different paths and see what fit for me.  I knew when I was done with bobsled I would never go back to the sport, but I was not satisfied with the athletic footprint I left.  My family supported me when I started playing rugby, even if in the back of their heads they thought I was crazy.  It was different this time around.  I was a recovering bobsled addict and I was well aware of the consequences if I did not continue to maintain the balance I had fought to find.  

After ten years of elite athletics, I gave rugby what I had left in my body and mind.  I gave it what I could as I simultaneously worked hard towards establishing future plans.  I ended my elite athletic career on a high note and can be at peace with the legacy I left.  Rugby has given me lifelong friends and a community I will always be a part of.  I am very proud to have contributed to the first Women’s Olympic Rugby Team and to have competed for the National Team.  I know celebrating participation ended with youth soccer, but in this case participating was one of my greatest athletic achievements.  Crossing over to rugby, learning the game and the skill was arguably one of the most difficult athletic experiences of my life.  It is an achievement I am very proud.

I am now in training for the next Olympic quad, but this time in a different capacity, as a student.  When I am doing schoolwork I often think of the days struggling on the rugby pitch when I thought I had nothing more to give.  Those days remind me just how tough I am.  I think in the midst of everything I lost sight of that.  I know my classes will push me and I will often feel just as uncomfortable as I felt the first day I slid down the ice or tied up my rugby cleats.  I know it may never get easier, but I will adjust and it will get more comfortable.  My identity will continue to evolve as I take risks and discover who I am.  I have learned that there is not just one element to who I am, but instead my identity encompasses many.  I am an Olympian, a former student-athlete, a retired bobsledder, a rugby player, a student, but most importantly… I am a fighter

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Guest Blog By: Geneva Azevedo

Very rarely do all four Azevedo girls end up in the same place at the same time. In the past few weeks the four of us have been fortunate enough to be in the same town multiple times.  For anyone outside of our family, it can be a bit overwhelming to be around all of us at once.  We are loud, talk over each other and laugh at inside jokes that our audience may not be privy to. 

It has been about 15 years since Emily and I have lived in the same town, and now we are a mere bike ride away. It may not seem like much, but it has been amazing to have been able to have dinner with my sisters multiple times this week.  However, having all my older sisters nearby can also have its downfalls.  At some point one of us is bound to look at the other the wrong way or say something in the wrong tone and it can quickly progresses downhill from there. But what I find so great about having siblings is one minute you can be arguing over the smallest thing and the next you are laughing at a shared moment from earlier that day.  A bond like that is irreplaceable and one-of-a-kind…or in our case, four of a kind. 

Now that Emily and I are living in the same town, our bickering will probably increase, but so will our dinner dates, our froyo runs, our road trips together and our time just hanging out together. I wouldn’t trade this bonus time with my sister for anything in the world, even if it involves a few squabbles along the way.