Some might say that “I am…” is the most powerful way to begin a statement because whatever comes next defines the speaker. These words are as significant or as insignificant as you desire them to be. What makes them powerful is what you choose to place after them. Seven months ago I might have placed the words a soccer player or an athlete or strong after the words “I am.” Today I would choose to place words like passionate, dedicated, and beautifully weak after the phrase “I am.”
In preseason of 2014 I remember having a few blisters on the back of my heel taped before a game. My assistant coach, Chris Klotz “Klotzy”, happened to be on the bench at the time. He randomly asked me the question: “Why do you think God created mosquitos?” My response was a typical smart alec non-response: “I don’t know! The real question is: why did he create blisters?!” Klotzy didn’t settle for this response. He asked me again, “Okay, why do you think God created mosquitoes, and blisters?” I thought for a moment and replied, “They both build character.” What I meant was that they both bring a level of discomfort to which you must choose how to respond. Whether you decide to complain about the mosquito bites and the blisters of the world, or decide to focus your attention on more useful thoughts shows a lot about your character.
Shortly after this conversation (August 18th of 2014), I had an MRI reveal that I had an anomalous muscle on the lateral side of my left leg. (The one time you really don’t want to be one in a million…!) This muscle was causing pain in the attachments to my calf muscle, IT band, and just below my kneecap. (My team has affectionately dubbed this the “JaCeyL” because it was located near my LCL) Essentially, it felt as if my JCL was tearing in these three places every time I ran. (Not exactly the most conducive to playing soccer, right? Yeah, I didn’t think so either.) Throughout 2014 I tried resting, three anti-inflammatory injections, and physical therapy do alleviate my pain. I came into preseason 2015 with advice from a doctor to play through as much pain as I could tolerate, then schedule surgery once the season was over. I played for about a week before I made an appointment to see a surgeon. This led to my operation on August 19th 2015. I was given a prognosis of 6-8 weeks recovery. I was upset that it had come to surgery, but was thrilled at the idea of having this year-long injury gone. What we did not know heading into surgery was that my JCL was attached to my hamstring. This meant that I would need to have a bit of my hamstring removed. This inch or so of hamstring muscle was what turned a 6-8 week prognosis into a 6-8 month prognosis. (Ouch.) I was determined that this set-back would not go to waste.
(This is some of my post-op bruising!)
An injury is an athlete’s worst nightmare. It takes away the words that logically follow “I am.” I realize now that it does not have to. There is freedom in not placing your identity in your sport. But., It. Is. So. Hard. I will be the first to tell you that I failed – over, and over, and over again. But that’s the key to this. If you fail well, you learn. Life might just be about how well you fail.
Paul Philips, a baseball coach at Lipscomb, visited me in the athletic training room almost every day after I had surgery. He will always be the first to remind me that the only way I can truly fail is if I don’t learn something. For an athlete with an injury this is so important to realize. For anyone this is so important to realize. I had to choose to be aware of what there was to learn through my injury. There were times I missed moments of growth, but Paul told me that if I can see that, there is still time to learn from those past “failures.” This lesson has helped me many times throughout my recovery.
After a year of injury, I realized that I did not know what to put after “I am” anymore. So I asked a lot of questions: both to God and to others much wiser than myself. One question that Klotzy started to ask me frequently was: “Why do you think God created mosquitoes and blisters?” At some point Klotzy’s persistent question ceased to be a question; it became a call to action. To learn and to grow in character rather than in sport. I have had some long and hard conversations in the last six months. One of the people that helped me most was my assistant coach Kelsey Fenix. We talked about what it meant for me to find my identity outside of soccer. These conversations left me with a lot of thinking to do. This thinking left me with a new approach toward myself and the way I chose to interact with my team. This took time and practice, just like my sport. But through that practice I became less concerned about my lack of ability on the field and more concerned about the impact I was leaving on my teammates.
There is a constant struggle to focus on “self” in athletics. And the closer I get to being back on the field, the more I feel the pull to return to this focus. I see this as a picture of life beyond university. I will feel that pull to focus on self even when soccer isn’t around. Something that I have learned through my injury is that I have choices. Self will always be an option to focus on. This option will not lead to lasting joy or achievement, though. I do not believe that I was called to focus on only myself. Not on the soccer field, and not in life.
In Philippians 2:4 we are told to give our lives for others. It says, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
Throughout scripture we are continually reminded to be selfless in our walk through life. The more I thought about what it meant to be a soccer player that couldn’t play, I thought about this call to be selfless. When I choose to focus on God and the things he sees as important (his diverse children, his beautiful creation, and my relationship with him) I don’t cease to be a soccer player. I become who he created me to be, and my passion for soccer is simply one aspect of who I am. I don’t have to be any less dedicated to my sport to know that it is not the most important reason I am on Lipscomb’s soccer team. I can work hard and strive for excellence while remembering that I am a daughter of God, I am a teammate. I am a failure that only Christ can redeem. That, among other things, is who I am.
Currently, I am six months post-op and still not able to play. In this past year and a half I have become a student of injury. I have learned what it means to put team above self, to have patience, and to find my identity in Christ before soccer. I can confidently say that if I came to Lipscomb and played every minute of every game but did not make a difference in the life of my teammates, that it would have been a waste of my time. I am also confident that if I do not play another minute of soccer while at Lipscomb but am able to make a difference in the life of even one teammate, it will be worth it.
I realize now that I can choose to say “I am, because of The ‘I Am’.” Thanks to my injury and some really exceptional people, that will always be enough for me.
If you’re dealing with an injury this season I would encourage you to:
- Use every step of your recovery process to learn!
- Ask questions! Dig Deep!
- Remember that you are, because He is. That, above anything else, gives you worth.
Written By: Jacey Zapf, Lipscomb Women’s Soccer