I was bullied in high school. I was a social outcast. It hurt, it destroyed my confidence and in a way, it crushed my spirit. While I know the initial bullying was for something stupid and outside of my control (my family & I did a milk run... I know, right?), my overly-enthusiastic, somewhat offbeat & eternally optimistic personality seemed to bait my bullies into damaging my self-esteem as much as possible. Even teachers recognised I was a little bit odd. In the last English lesson of high school, my teacher gave out a literary quote, hand picked for each student to reflect her feelings for us as individuals. Mine?
"If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away."
---Henry David Thoreau---
And that's what I have always done. I'm still overly-enthusiastic. I'm still somewhat offbeat. And I'm still eternally optimistic. But I'm also still very insecure that all these qualities I possess combine to make one really irritating human being who "deserves" all the bullying she got.
Until I joined a football team in 2011.
My cousin suggested I join & promised me that all the girls were a great & it was a very supportive team. I trusted her & honestly, it was the best decision I ever made. I was terrified going to the first training session. Dad, who just plain loves football, came with me. I was convinced that everyone would hate me, that I would just be "the new girl" and that I would not fit in.
I could not have been more wrong. Dad was straight away asked to be the assistant coach and the girls welcomed me as one of them. Not a single one treated me like I was anything but a friend and much appreciated teammate - and I mean for my personality, not for my (questionable) football prowess.
I was going through one of the worst periods of my life when I joined the team. I was actually suicidal and being part of a team that felt like they needed me helped save my life. I couldn't let them down when, by signing up to the team, I had made a promise. And I keep promises. Some of the girls knew about my troubles. They happily let me be number 7 to appease my OCD and it has been "my number" ever since. I "missed" one training session but what the girls don't know is I was actually there, in the parking lot, sobbing my heart out begging my dad to just let me kill myself. I tried so hard to be at training but I couldn't do it that night. But even despite it all, I knew, and I know now, that they would never judge me for all this.
Of course I signed on again this season. After our coach declined to continue, Dad was asked to be coach and he loves it - he genuinely loves all the girls and brags to his football team about what a great group of girls he has. Dad and I actually sold our house (after 20 years there) and moved closer to my teammates. Prior to this, we had lived 45 mins from my home ground. That's how much of a difference being part of this team has made to my life. Our biggest life decision in 20 years was made with the consideration of where my football team plays.
This season I tried to come off my Zoloft (which I am on for my OCD) and I became irritable and actually nearly got sent off in a few games. But my team understands me. They accept or dismiss my apologies as unnecessary and they love me anyway. It may be even because of my honesty. I don't know. All that matters to me is that they love and accept me.
I missed the last game of the season this year because my flight to England was 35 minutes before kick off. At my last game, most of the team agreed to come out to dinner with me to celebrate. I was only missing one game (and hope to be back in Australia in time for the next season) but they did the most amazing thing for me. After hearing of my Will Blog For Music campaign, the girls raised $100 to contribute and signed a huge card for me.
I cried. In many ways, I still feel like that bullied, outcast little girl, so to feel so accepted and loved by an entire group for exactly who I am, flaws and all, means more to me than any of the girls could possibly understand.
Today I spoke to Dad and he told me about the last game of the season that I missed to catch my flight to London. The girls, the amazing group of girls that I am so honoured to call my friends, wore yellow tape on their arms (the way other sporting teams were black arm bands as a mark of respect after a death) to show that I was there with them in spirit. I wear yellow tape on my football socks, that's the link there, but when Dad told me that, I cried. They didn't do it "for me", as in to tell me to make me happy, they did it "for me" in that they genuinely care about me and wanted to feel me there in spirit with them.
|My team! See their yellow arm bands for me?|
Since it was father's day, they also signed a father's day card for Dad and gave him a box of chocolates. Seriously. That's the group of girls I am talking about. That is my group of girls.
Even this post doesn't capture how I feel about my football team. How do you explain the way you feel for people who made you feel like a worthy human being, who welcomed you entirely for the first time ever and who, in essence, saved your life? I'm known for being quite verbose but in this case, I simply have five words.
Thank you. I love you.
Miss SAMawdsley xx
- Who do you owe thanks to?
- Where do you feel the most comfortable?
- What's been your experience with team sports?