Official visits. Athletic scholarships. National Letters of Intent. This is the way the majority of student-athletes start their college careers.
But for me, this was not the case.
I officially walked onto the Temple track and field team in October 2016 during my junior year. My path to the team was unusual, especially because of my age and how long I had already been at the university.
I joined Temple’s Class of 2018, and I had an amazing freshman year. I made it a point to make new friends because I was very shy and kept to myself in high school. Even though I was having a lot of fun, when I was honest with myself, something was always missing.
I got injured during my senior year of high school trying to qualify for the New Jersey Meet of Champions. I was long jumping, and on my second attempt I felt a pull in my hamstring that made it impossible for me to sprint and finish that meet. I was devastated.
I decided to start strengthening my hamstring during my sophomore year of college so I could run competitively again, because working out on my own was not enough. I could not see myself quitting sports completely. I was known in my hometown of Hackensack, New Jersey, as the athletic girl. It was my whole identity at home and all I knew since I was 10 years old when I started recreational track, soccer and basketball.
In the year and a half that I did not compete, I joined Moore Elite Track and Field Club in Philadelphia and — slowly but surely — progressed to a new level of athleticism. I ran in a few meets for the club, but the workouts and practices were what really helped me.
I was with the club for about five months before I had to go back home for the summer. I trained with my high school coach in preparation for the tryout in September 2016.
I remember I was so nervous I was shaking, and I could barely get my legs to move through the warm up at the tryout. Days passed, and just when I came to the conclusion that I did not make the team, coach Elvis Forde emailed me and let me know that I was in.
My transition from student to student-athlete was surprisingly smooth. I was already good at managing my time, and everything else fell into place during the preseason. It wasn’t until competition came around that I started feeling an emotion I have never felt while running track — anxiety.
Before meets, I would be so paralyzed with nerves that it would make me sick, and my whole body would be tight before I even stepped on the starting line. This emotion sabotaged my whole season, because my body would be so tense that I could not run the times I was running comfortably in practice.
I remember one really great practice in which I hit all my times in my reps of 500 meters, 400, 300 and 200. I left that practice with so much confidence. Three days later, I got on the line to race at Ocean Breeze in New York and ran a terrible 400.
I remember being frustrated to the point of tears after every meet.
“Why do you feel like this now?” I asked myself. “This is what you wanted so badly, so why are you feeling like this at meets?”
It took a lot of time and some raw honesty, but I realized I felt like I could not measure up to athletes who were recruited and on scholarship. I also felt like I had been out of competition for too long before joining the team, and I would not be at the same level of fitness as everyone else.
This anxiety stayed with me through my first indoor season and for a good part of the outdoor season. My wonderful teammates, in particular, my training partner Jazmyne Williams, brought me out of this rut.
Jazmyne is the most positive person I have ever met and reminded me every day that I was here for a reason and that I had a lot more to give. We pushed each other through every rep and every workout. With her and the rest of my team, my confidence grew.
I am now in my second and final year with the team, and I am so happy with the progress I have made in such a short time. I am stronger and faster, and my form is better than it ever was before.
Now I look at the team and the walk-ons we have this year and I wonder, “Do they feel how I felt last year?”
To the walk-ons: It doesn’t matter how you got on your team as long as you’re working hard and producing results. I want you to know that you are not less of an athlete because you lack scholarships.
Walk-ons are special because their only reason for joining a team is their love for the sport and competition. So keep training, keep competing and keep letting people know why you’re here — to win. Just like everyone else.