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.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Warrior IG

I have always been very proud to have earned the title of Olympian.  It is an honor and something I have taken very seriously.  I believe an Olympian must carry themselves a certain way and continue to live life embodying the Olympic ideals even beyond sport.  I represented my country and I find it important to continue to make my supporters proud of the person I have become.  I have tried to live my life with integrity, respecting the Olympic Rings and the Olympic movement.  

Many athletes have done everything right, trained hard, lived a life of honesty and purity, but are not recognized.  My teammate Irene Gardner is someone that embodies an Olympian.  She is a warrior.  Although she was left off the Olympic roster, Irene has done everything she can to help USA Rugby and our team be as prepared for Rio as possible. 

She is selfless, pushes her teammates to be their best and continues to be a sounding board.  Irene is one the most determined hard working people I know and is completely deserving of being celebrated.  Her work ethic is impressive, but what separates her is the size of her heart.   Irene may be small in stature, but has a huge heart.  She is kind and giving and has an unprecedented ability to make the people around her better.   It takes a special person to push aside personal disappointment for the benefit of the team.  To me, Irene represents the foundation of what the Olympic Games is built upon.  Because of this, in my eyes, Irene is an Olympian.  I will always look up to her as an athlete, but more importantly for how she presents herself.      

Monday, July 11, 2016

Any life changes can prove to be difficult.  Change is defined as doing something different and transition is the action of undergoing change.  I am learning that the more I can prepare for change in my life the smoother the transitions is.  In 2014 upon retiring from bobsled I was faced with an enormous amount of change.  I moved from my home in Colorado Springs.  I needed to find a new way to support myself.  Additionally, I encountered a huge shift in lifestyle change after being provided for by an Olympic Training Center.  Simple things like grocery shopping were completely overwhelming.  On top of everything I was dealing with the disappointment of missing the 2014 Olympic Team and faced with the challenges of trying to figure out what was next.  I was completely unprepared.  I was ready to move on from bobsled, but struggled daily with the face that it was not on my terms. 

The enormous amount of change I was experiencing seemed to compile and paralyze me from moving forward.  I tried to be brave every day to work towards an unknown goal.  Although my family couldn’t completely understand what I was going through they have been patient and loving with me as I’ve worked to figure myself out.  I was not pushed to move forward quicker, but was allowed time to grieve the loss of my life and gradually explore the overwhelming amount of future options. 

I have learned that along with preparing a plan, surrounding yourself with people who support you, not judge you and will love you unconditionally, helps the process.  I have been fortunate to have been able to use the past two years to explore different career options and narrow down what direction I want to go.  I think I have learned that I may never know exactly what I want to do, but it is important to be brave and dive into options.  I can still continue to explore and move in and out of jobs as I see fit. 

Soon I will be going through more major changes.  I am still nervous, but I feel significantly more prepared this time.  I have learned that I thrive in the routine that athletics provided me, so it is important for me to create a similar structure as I begin school in the fall.  I will be surrounded by my family support and I am more confident than I was a year ago.  Although change can be difficult, it can also be very fun and exciting depending the perspective you chose to take.  I know I will continue to be overwhelmed but utilizing the tools that made me a success in sports I am confident that I can achieve anything that I want to. 

Monday, June 13, 2016

Future Rugger! #GrowtheGame

Rugby in America is in its infancy, just like little Avery Marie.  I have only been playing for two years and have seen incredible growth, especially in Women's Rugby.  I am excited to see the growth of the game after the Olympic Games in Rio.  I know the Nation will fall in love with everything about rugby, just as I did.  I can not wait for the opportunity many young girls will be given in the future because of rugby.  Some colleges have begun to make rugby a varsity sport and are offering young women scholarships.  I am hopeful by the time Avery is on her way to college Rugby will be mainstream and supported by most colleges. 

Sunday, May 29, 2016


I have always valued my personal space and have never been much of a hugger.  Every now and again I would grit my teeth and suffer through an occasional hug when socially necessary.  A simple high five has been my go to form of acknowledgment for many years. 

When I started playing rugby I quickly learned that a personal connection with your team is a significant part of the culture and the game.  I observed that hugging is a big part of this.  For the first 6 months that I played rugby I weaseled my way out of many hugging interactions and was ‘forced’ into others.  My teammates began to catch on to my disinterest in hugs, but over time I have grown to appreciate and understand the importance of them.  I have since made a list, so that future ruggers can be prepared for all the appropriate times to hug your teammate.

Appropriate times for Ruggers to Hug:

·       When you are saying “Hello”

·       When you are saying “Goodbye”

·       If a teammate is sad

·       If a teammate is happy

·       When you do something well

·       When you do something not so well

·       If a teammate is injured or sick

·       If your teammate is healthy

·       When you haven’t seen each other in awhile

·       If you saw each other yesterday

·       If you just think a hug is needed

·       When you don’t think a hug is needed

·       After surviving a terrible workout together

·       To celebrate victory

·       To mourn defeat

·       Any other situation not listed above

I have learned that a hug is appropriate in any situation and is a small piece of showing your teammates you love and support them.  I am sure when I am done with rugby the connection with my team will be something that I miss.  I am thankful they have ‘taught’ me the importance of a simple hug and how it can positively effect a person’s day.    

Sunday, May 15, 2016

I came across this blog post recently and can very much relate.  I have learned to appreciate the silence and am grateful that rugby has given me the opportunity to cherish the last moments I have as an athlete!   

Without The Game by: Lexi Panepinto

For every senior collegiate athlete whose season is about to end or has already ended, this one's for you.

Silence is usually described as a feeling of stillness; a state of peace, a split-second of quiet, a season of serenity. It’s harmonious and soothing and usually portrayed by unruffled waters or someone sitting in tranquility. This is what silence looks and feels like to a lot of us most of the time. We long for a moment of silence in this loud and crazy world. We crave it and when it finally comes, we close our eyes and hang on tight to it, for it is ever-fleeting.

But, what if this isn’t what silence always looks like? What if there was a silence that hung around for a little while? A silence that is deafening, unwanted, and conflicted. A silence that looks more like someone struggling to stay afloat in rough waters rather than someone sitting peacefully near unruffled ones. What if silence looked like this instead? What if silence felt like this instead? What if I told you that this type of silence actually exists? Would you believe me?
Almost all elite-level athletes—college, semi-pro, or pro—experience this kind of silence. There comes a time, whether due to injury, retirement, or ineligibility, where the silence sets in. No more cheers of the crowd chanting. No more recognition for record-breaking performances.

No more noise, clamor, or commotion. Just silence -- echoes of what used to be.

Some might say that this is too drastic and dramatic; that sports are just a silly game us athletes play and that we need to get over it. But what those people might not understand is that losing the game is like losing a part of ourselves. We’ve spent most of our lives dedicated to our sport—years preparing, conditioning, competing. We’ve not only invested ourselves physically, but mentally and emotionally as well -- becoming consumed with the wins and losses, the highs and lows. It defines us in a way. Gives us purpose. Gives us an identity. It becomes our world and we become wrapped up in it. So that is why, when it’s all said and done, when the final buzzer buzzes and the last whistle blows, it’s a big loss -- probably the biggest loss in all of our athletic careers.  At this moment, we’re left to undergo some serious life re-evaluation; left asking who are we? What do we do now?

As the collegiate fall season nears an end, the first wave of senior student-athletes begins to face these questions. Less than 2 percent of collegiate athletes will go on to play pro, leaving 98 percent subject to the silence soon. Sure, there are adult leagues and beer leagues we can go on to join, but it won’t be anything like the game we played in high school or college. We’re competitors; we love the thrill of a rivalry, the pressure of a playoff game, the grind of going to practice every day, the feeling of being victorious, the locker room celebrations, the long bus rides. We live for that. And while recreational sports may still have all of that, it won’t ever have quite the same feel as it once did.

This transition is something that we rarely talk about. But, I say, if every athlete is bound to go through it at some point, why not bring it to the forefront and acknowledge it? Through sports, we have been  lucky enough to create more friendships and memories than most people dream of. We have grown as people and learned more lessons from athletics than school could ever teach us. So, when that moment comes, when the clock strikes 0:00, and it’s all said and done, while inevitable sadness will strike, I’d like to offer a little bit of advice.

Take it all in. Take a look into the stands to see your family and friends who have been there to support you every step of the way – remember to be thankful. Take a look at your teammates to the left and to the right of you, and think about how these people, who have become your family, have shaped your life – remember to never let these relationships go. Take a look at playing stage, whatever it may be, one last time and replay all of the great victories and celebrations – remember to cherish those feelings of triumph. Take time to reflect on all the years you’ve played – remember to never take those years and opportunities for granted.

Finally, no matter how deafening it may be, take the time to listen to the silence, because while our sport has certainly molded us and inarguably impacted our lives, it is in no way definitive of who we are. Remember that, and more importantly, believe that. Believe that you are just as important and just as valuable to the world as you were when you played your sport. Because if there's one thing I know for sure it's that being a good person is what truly matters in this life. Who you are without the game is what matters and how good of a person you are doesn't change just because your playing days are over.

The silence will only begin to fade, once you believe that.