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December 6, 2012

For nearly twenty years of the twenty five I have had so far on this planet, I have been an athlete, a teammate, a “passionate lover of life and sport” (Jaime VanEnkevort, via email). I have been the grunt, the doer, the muscle, the brawn, the face, the one to whom they either say, “Wow, you played great” or “I can’t believe she just did that.” I got juice boxes at halftime and all-state awards at the year-end banquet. I talked with my teammates and listened to my coaches.

Time moved forward and I moved up: rec leagues, to middle school, to junior high, to Junior Varsity, to Varsity, to college. But, eventually, there was nowhere else to move; I call this my retirement but that would insinuate that I had been a part of that decision. I hadn’t: the road simply ended.

The day after I returned from Europe this fall, I attended a Cadillac Varsity volleyball game. It was the first I had been able to attend in nearly six years. I stood up against the bleachers, looking at a court that used to be mine. And I liked what I saw. After the match I went up to Coach Brines to congratulate her on a good match, another Viking win, and she asked if I was up for helping out. “Absolutely,” I said.

I started coming to practice. And even running a little practice from time to time. I was working with players who I had coached in summer camps when they were fifth and sixth graders. Now, they are grown-ass women, and here I am, six years removed from their lives, trying to catch up. Life moves on after you graduate, eh?

I was also working with coaches who trusted me, some of whom I have known for upwards of ten years. How grateful and fortunate I am: I show up the week before postseason, after being gone from the program for six years, and I am integrated into the coaching staff, welcomed with behind-the-scene stories and a standing invitation to post-match brews at Charlie’s. “You’re one of us now, Cal!” they said. But I will never be able to explain to anyone how much that means to me, coming from that group of women, after what they have meant to me, at this point in my life. Storybook.

We had our banquet on Wednesday night in the junior high cafeteria. I love banquets, so much: I value the process of reflection and celebration and one last opportunity to get together with the team, as it was then but will never be again, and do a lot of laughing while crying, crying while laughing. I wasn’t sure what to expect going into the banquet on a lot of levels: I had never been to one not as a player, and I had only been with the team for three weeks out of the three-month season. When Coach Brines called me up to the podium, I existed in this strange sort of purgatory between player and coach: honored for being a coach in that “come up here and stand by me while I talk about you” sort of way.

And I was entirely okay with that; it is my life right now. Player-Coach. Student-Teacher. I am in transition and not fully present or formed in either role. Hey, it’s a pretty cool place to be.

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One thought on “The Other Side

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