During Regional Induction, I played basketball. It was just a pick-up game on a blacktop court between random strangers. No NBA all-stars here, no jumbo-tron, not even a decent backboard. And as for myself, I played terribly: I am not underestimating when I say made one shot the whole game.
At first glance there doesn’t seem to be all the much reason to celebrate. But I did celebrate, because it was the first time I played the sport I love, and one that has defined me throughout my life, since August 26, 2010, the date I tore my ACL, MCL, LCL, and Meniscus.
The intervening 10 months have been a period of intensely concentrated personal growth and hardship for me, and one that has, in a number of ways, begun to prepare me for the emotional trials of my time in the corps.
My injury was unfair. It cut short any potential I might have had going into my final season. It was random, there was nothing I could have done differently to have it happen. My injury didn’t care about how hard I had worked that summer to prepare, or how bad I wanted to play. It just happened.
But as much as my injury sucked, and the recovery process even more so, I learned a lot from it.
For the first 5 days after my surgery, I couldn’t contract the muscles in my surgical leg (that is, what little muscle remained after atrophy took its toll). For 2 months after my surgery, I hobbled around on crutches. I wasn’t allowed to run until 4 months after my surgery.
I made it through that experience because I learned how to do two things: to celebrate every single small victory for all it was worth, and to celebrate the triumphs of others as if they were my own.
The first day I contracted my leg muscles, I screamed as excitedly as if I had just completed the Boston Marathon. I made everyone in earshot come watch me do it, as if I were the first person in the world who was ever able to accomplish such a difficult feat. I repeated a similar process for each small milestone along the way: my first time on the bicycle, my first leg curl, my first steps, my first jog and so on and so forth.
As much as my habit probably drove my physical therapist and fellow rehabbers insane, quite frankly, this practice KEPT ME SANE.
The other thing that kept me sane was getting invested in others, specifically my teammates. Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I channeled all my energy into helping them succeed, and so I convinced myself, and truly felt that their successes were my own.
Brace yourselves, people, because I’m about to lay on the sap… hard.
My injury happened to me the way the achievement gap happens to kids all across our country. The achievement gap is unfair. It nulls the potential not only of individual kids but of our nation as a whole. It happens regardless of a specific child’s actions. The achievement gap doesn’t care how hard working a kid is, it doesn’t care how bad that kid wants to learn. It just happens. It happens because our schools have consistently and systematically failed our children.
I would not have emerged from the past 10 months emotionally intact without having gained these two skills. And believe me, they are skills, not innate abilities; they took practice and conscious choice to develop.
And I think, more than any other skill I will learn at institute, they will carry me through the next two years as I celebrate my kids’ (and my own) baby steps towards closing the achievement gap.