Senior year of college is supposed to be the best one, right?
Well here I am, one year later from when my world got turned upside down, stronger than ever and more confident in myself.
If you asked me a year ago what I thought of my life, I would have told you I had it all. Good grades, a career path I was certain of, high school friends that hadn’t forgotten each other, a two year relationship with a guy I couldn’t foresee ending, two team National Championships and a chance at an individual title the following year (after coming off the best season of my life.) But gradually, all that started to change.
In high school, I lived in a world where I pushed the boundaries of how much fun I could have, while maintaining good grades and competing at a national level in swimming. Walking in step with the devil, I made it out of high school with only a few scars.
College wasn’t much different, still in a constant high-pressured environment to succeed as a student athlete for the University of Georgia. Coming in injured as a freshman, I felt the need to prove myself. From here forward, I constantly thought I was never good enough.
Slowly by junior year, I started feeling like I was getting it together. I was finally succeeding again in the pool, I had a great guy by my side, and my grades were good enough to get me into PA school. But all along nothing ever felt like it was “right.” I would think to myself, “You have it all right now, but why aren’t you happy?”
In July of 2014, just before the start of senior year life started to change. Slowly, everything I loved and defined me was stripped away. I knew I wasn’t happy and had to figure out who I was and so did he, so the two-year relationship was over. But merely a week later I lost what I loved more than him.
I went into my senior season with an undeniable determination to finish my career on top. Of course, I had experienced set backs, injuries, and months of lack of motivation like any elite swimmer. But I was ready for this last season to be the best one. I tried to ignore the constant pain in my knee while swimming. Until one Saturday morning at practice, I felt a pop. Two days later after talking to the doctor about my MRI. I had a choice to make.
Have surgery on Thursday and forego a shot at making any Team USA trips this summer, or swim my entire senior season with cortisone shots and constant pain. At this point I could barley walk, and I knew what I wanted. I wanted NCAAs my senior season to be the best yet.
I was more motivated than ever after surgery. Rehab and life was starting to go smoothly again. I knew I could recover. I might have been a month behind, but I had until March to train. I was still blinded by how much I was worshiping and clinging to swimming.
On the morning of August 25th, at 11 a.m. my life changed forever. It came crashing down on me, all at once. One of my good friends from high school had died, he took his own life.
My high school was tiny, and a group of about 18 of us spent every weekend together. Yeah we fought, gossiped, tried to one up each other, but that’s just high school. Four years later we’ve grown up and we all still love each other, we’re a family and I’m blessed to still have them. But on August 25th, 2014 we lost our dearest friend and the glue that held us all together.
I’m from Delaware, so the worst part of the day he passed away was that no one at UGA understood. My teammates, coaches and friends were supportive, but no one knew what to say. I didn’t even know what to say or feel.
This was my senior year, it was supposed to be the best year of my life. How had it gone from “perfect,” to devastating losses in just one month?
The next few weeks were a whirlwind. I headed home four days later for the funeral and to be with my friends. No one knew what to say, but we didn’t have to say anything. We all knew we were feeling the same things, loss, confusion, helplessness, thinking “why not me,” and how could I have saved him.
For months after his death, I struggled with wondering why I lived through the night of August 24th, but he didn’t. I kept asking myself, “Why was I alive, and why did he have to die?” Why did God take him, when he was one of the greatest guys I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.
Suicide is funny that way though, and you learn a lot through that type of loss. You never know what someone is going through, so be kind always. You learn life is precious, and someone you love can be taken from you in an instant. So value those you love, like today is the last day to love them.
When I returned to Georgia, I acted like nothing had happened. I pretended I was perfectly fine. At first I showed up to practice, went to class feeling completely numb. I started ignoring everything that was happening in my life. Each day I’d wake up and think, “You just have to get to tomorrow, you can do it.”
Everything I had been holding in came to the surface. I wasn’t okay. I had just lost the three things I cared about most. And now the last thing I cared about, school, was suffering. I was failing almost every class. I would go to class and stare at the walls, until I eventually stopped showing up entirely.
I stopped showing up to other things too. Practice became impossible, and anxiety about facing life daily left me in a panic. I was refusing to do everything I loved. Everyone was starting to worry, but no one could reach me. Not my roommates, friends, coaches, or even a therapist. I was in the depth of my pit.
Slowly, I started getting back into the pool. But the anxiety became so bad I would be sick every time I swam. The 5 a.m. morning practices were impossible, and it became undeniable that I was throwing away my senior season. The worst part was, I didn’t care.
Toward November, I started turning to anything that would numb the pain I was feeling. The worst part was now I just started turning to self-destructive behavior instead.
This was my pit, there’s no denying how far I had sunk. I felt completely unloved, I hated everyone for not understanding how I was feeling, and I was convinced there was no way life would get better.
When I look back on August to December I remember almost nothing, just a lot of dark days, and many days where I had to pat myself on the back for even getting out of bed. I sat on my front porch one morning, in the chilly December weather with a coffee in my hand and remembered this God, this Jesus I had learned about as a child. I remembered that he apparently loved me. When I felt completely unlovable, he loved me. That’s when I surrendered and called out to him for help.
I started pouring myself into learning more and more about this man Jesus. And I learned that I am loved, with all of my sin. That he is faithful, and that he has an amazing plan for me, that I cant even imagine. That everything truly does happen for a reason.
“Jesus replied, you do not understand what I am doing now, but someday you will” (John 13:7)
Its funny how God works in your life. He gives you what you need without you knowing it. He took away what I thought I wanted and he gave me the most amazing things in return.
It’s now been a year since my knee surgery and my world being turned upside down. Since then, my life has been forever changed. After Christmas I poured myself into learning about Jesus, back into swimming and back into school.
Step by step, day-by-day, I put my life back together. I found that I am not ever forgotten, that God loved me so much that he sent his only son to die for me along with all of my sins, so I can have a relationship with him.
By the grace of God, after nearly not swimming for 6 months, I made the NCAA championship. Georgia placed second, but for once I truly enjoyed the experience. I stepped back and was thankful for even being there, for being alive, for being saved and for ending my career at this championship. I didn’t swim how I wanted, but I was there. I was alive and I was thankful.
My life has been forever changed since July of 2014. I decided in February that I wanted to do something for those who could never repay me. So I applied and was accepted to a program called Dr. Interns. It’s a non-profit organization giving students the opportunity to head to third world nation and give back medically. I just spent 20 day in Surat, India volunteering time to learn about their culture and give back medically.
We worked with an orphanage with children who come from unthinkable circumstances. And to say that my life has been changed by the opportunities God has given me these past 6 months would be an understatement.
I’ve learned so much about myself this past year and I now know that I am deeply loved by our Creator. I know His love is and always will be enough. He pulled me out of my deepest pit, He never stopped perusing and loving me even when I didn’t love Him. “In my deepest wound I saw your glory and it astounded me.”
I’ve felt loss, heartache, and broken dreams. I’ve learned that life can blindside you but it’s a precious thing to even have. Some day, you’ll find strength to pull through those dark days. And when you do, I hope your heart is renewed.
If I could leave you with one thing, it’s this. You are always loved, even if you feel like you have nothing. Life will get better, hang on it may be dark now but the most gorgeous sunrise comes eventually.