The List

Back when I published this post, I said I would begin to build a list of what I love about life.  A strange variety of objects, images, and moments have found their way onto that list in the months since, so perhaps it is time they had a blog post of their own:

I love the way light dazzles off of water droplets on a window.

I love how the brown sugar on my bowl of Wheat Chex melts away when milk is poured over it.

I love when my brain finally decides to grant my body a night of dreamless sleep (this is rare).  On these nights, I embrace the much-needed respite from thought, conscious or otherwise, and relinquish all sense of time or place.  I love the feeling of being cocooned in sheets, which leads me to wonder: if I were a caterpillar, would I trade a future existence as a butterfly if I were given the opportunity to remain in my cozy cocoon forever?  

I love watching people grow up.

I LOVE stories.  I fully believe that “story-truth is truer sometimes than happening-truth,” as Tim O’Brien wrote.

I love music – love it in a desperate way, as if there is some song or album out there that would actually change my life, if I could only find it.  Or as if my favorite songs will cease to exist if I forget to listen to them for a while.  I love the way lyrics like “You are in the sea beside me” make my heart rise into my throat.  I love hearing my siblings whistle the guitar riff from “Do I Wanna Know?” while they wash dishes.  I love when my mom tries to describe what “In the Air Tonight” sounded like with Phil Collins playing that drum fill at a live concert.  

I love the final words of A Tale of Two Cities.  

I love raspberries.  To me, they are the adorably pudgy toddlers of the fruit world.  I love the color “raspberry red.”  I love the tiny yellow fuzz that you can see sticking out crazily from the berries’ surface when you look closely.  

I love the feeling of a car driving on and on underneath me as I doze off in the passenger seat.  

I love TV shows that make me laugh out loud, even if I happen to be watching them by myself…

I love the warmth that comes from holding a small baby and feeling its hiccupy breathing.

I love my chaotic mental reading technique: seeing all the words at once, recognizing them immediately, calling up visual associations in milliseconds, reading forwards and backwards like an oscillating spring, so that by the time I reach the last sentence, I have already perceived its words several times but am just now adding them to the context of what came before.

I love walking just to walk, biking just to bike, or driving just to drive.  Rollerblading, too!

I love questions that are driven by the purest curiosity and rooted in a desire to learn – the questions that evince both the hope that some things can be truly known and the ability to accept those that must remain a mystery.

And now I wonder: what do you love about life?

-Cassie

Aura-Lee

I stood silent on a mound of crushed pink, brown, and white granite rocks, oblivious to the sharp edges pushing through the soles of my cheap rubber flip-flops.  Even the oven-like heat of the early Arizona summer ceased to hold my attention as I gaped at the full-grown tree in front of me: a mesquite, dense with miniature fluttering leaves.  It boasted a multitude of sturdy brown branches that wound their way out from the trunk like distributary streams from a river.  Right in the middle of it all, an arm-less saguaro cactus over six feet tall had grown up in between those branches, hiding the bulk of its towering frame in the mosaic of brown and green.  I could hardly believe my luck – the mesquite was perfect.

mesquite 1

I was 10 years old and my new favorite pastime was climbing trees.  I had already conquered the scrubby palos verdes in my front yard and at the nearest park, easily scrambling up their pale green, slippery trunks.  Their branches were often so low that I could hold on to them with my feet still touching the ground, but I would lift my legs up sporadically and swing back and forth until my arms gave out.  The palos verdes had begun to bore me.

I had walked down the street to the desert-scape golf course by my house in search of bigger trees; I preferred to crunch along through the rocks next to the sidewalk instead of staying on the smooth concrete.  When I rounded the corner just two blocks away, I came face to face with the graceful mesquite.  After admiring it for a few minutes, I ran toward the base of the trunk.  The climb was going to be painstaking, but my ever-analytical mind mapped out my path as I went.

The nearest branch was high enough that I had to jump to grab hold of it, before swinging my legs up to grip it more firmly.  From this upside-down position, I used my whole body to squirm my way around until I sat upright on the branch.  After clambering up to the next highest branch, then pulling myself up one more, I found myself in the heart of the tree.

I stood up on the branch and put a hand on the trunk for stability, gauging the obstacles.  I had already encountered one, which came in the form of its jagged bark – much rougher than that of the palos verdes I was used to.  Red stripes were already visible on my hands and legs, but I hardly noticed.  Two-inch thorns jutted from the mesquite’s smaller branches, guarding its delicate leaves.  As long as I stayed on the thicker branches and watched where I gripped my hands for balance, I would not have to worry about being stabbed by those suckers.  Finally, the rounded head of the arm-less saguaro peered at me from its fortress of mesquite leaves and branches, tempting me to approach.

mesquite 2

I smiled.  This was my realm now, and I needed to name the beautiful welcoming tree.  I was convinced that the mesquite was a she, and that she was much older than I.  I remembered the name of a Civil War-era folk song that I was learning in my beginner’s piano class and decided it was perfect for my new companion: Aura-Lee.

Whenever I had a free moment, I would run in my flip-flops from my house to the golf course and scramble up Aura-Lee after saying a quick hello.  I would invent games for myself like “How High Can I Climb Before I Feel Dizzy,” or “How Fast Can I Run from This Branch to That Branch Way Over There,” or even “How Close Can I Get to That Cactus Without Falling On It and Dying.”  I imagined that while I was running and hopping breathlessly from branch to branch, the mesquite was watching me amusedly and chuckling.  Disney’s Pocahontas had Grandmother Willow, and I had Aura-Lee.

mesquite 3

One day, I was sitting on one of the higher branches and leaning my back against the mesquite’s trunk, taking a momentary rest from my wild games.  Suddenly, I noticed a couple walking towards my tree from the golf course.  I hurriedly leaned forward, wrapped my arms around the branch I had been sitting on, and pressed my torso down onto it so that I was less visible.  I pulled my legs up behind me and rested my toes against the trunk, fighting for stability.  The couple stopped under my tree to talk.  I have no recollection of what they were saying – all I can remember is the feeling of my heartbeat thudding against the tree branch.  I was so terrified of being seen in my secret territory.

They must have felt my wide-open eyes boring into them, because they abruptly turned around and looked up at me in surprise.  I didn’t budge, but I didn’t look away either.  This was understandably unnerving, so they speed-walked away whispering, “Who let that kid hang out up there alone?”  But this just proved how little they understood; I was not alone.

-Cassie

P.S.  This piece was originally an exercise written for a class I’m in called Advanced Creative Writing – Nonfiction.  Since the majority of my creative energy is being funneled into that class right now, several of the assignments (the ones I like!) will probably show up as blog posts for the next few weeks…

Photos courtesy of: http://www.nps.gov/tuma/naturescience/mesquite-tree.htm

http://magicalmesquite.wordpress.com/buy-magical-mesquite/

flickr.com

 

 

Stories My Dad Told Me

Dad photo

This man in disguise happens to be my father.

When I was a kid, the idea of my dad as a child was almost incomprehensible.  I often wondered if the man I so admired had ever been a youth, or if he had simply skipped ahead to mature adult existence. But ever so often, my dad spills some details regarding his very real experiences growing up in Santa Cruz, California, and the image I carry of him as a youngster gradually becomes clearer.  He rarely gets through one of his stories without chuckling at the memory, so I share a few choice selections here in the hope that they will garner some chuckles from you as well.

(I) Not Your Average Breakfast

It was a sunny Saturday morning, and my dad, his parents, and his siblings were gathered in their kitchen to enjoy a family breakfast.  Everyone was involved in the preparation: pouring orange juice, passing out plates, frying bacon, and checking on the homemade bread baking in the oven.  After all the food had been distributed, the fam took their places and began to dig in.

Dad quickly finished his allotted portion of bread and got up to get another piece from the loaf warming in the oven.  He opened the door and carefully reached in to grab one big slice.  But, as he pulled out his selection, the top of his bare hand made contact with the oven’s heating coil.  INSTA-BURN!

He froze, staring at the small black burn mark.  A slight odor of singed flesh reached his nose, and his stomach began to churn.  “Daaaaaaaaad….I burned my hand….what do I do?”

Grandpa looked up from his plate for a second, advised his son to put the hand under cold running water, and returned to his breakfast.

Dad teetered over to the kitchen sink, feeling queasier by the second.  Clutching the countertop for balance, he managed to turn the sink faucet all the way to cold.  He slowly extended his hand towards the water, but in doing so, he caught sight of his wound again.  It was too much.

Out of the corner of his eye, Grandpa saw Dad disappear behind the countertop as he slipped to the floor in a dead faint.  “Very funny, Dave,” he intoned, figuring it was just the latest practical joke.  He reached for his orange juice.  Then he heard Dad’s head bouncing on the tile floor.

The burn healed in less than a week, but the impressive goose-egg on Dad’s head was visible for quite a while longer.

(II) Boys and Fire

The family’s house in Santa Cruz was high in the mountains above the Pacific Coast, surrounded by a forest of redwood trees.  To Dad and his older brother Tim, the forest served as the perfect backdrop for their adventures.  Every day, the two would invent new games and challenges for each other using the stimulating landscape.  On this particular day, the game was especially exciting – it involved setting fires.

Having snagged a box of matches from the house, the brothers busied themselves with collecting handfuls of dry leaves and twigs, which they assembled into small piles on the forest floor.  They stood in front of the first pile, grinning with glee, and Tim handed Dad the matchbox.  He struck a match and dropped it onto the pile, mesmerized as the dry material ignited.  After waiting two seconds, he quickly stamped out the fire with one foot.  It was so exhilarating!

They began to take turns lighting and stamping out fires.  But this was a game, and games have rules that must be followed.  In this case, there was one rule: on every turn, wait just a little longer to put out the fire.  It was a fierce competition.  Tim would wait 5 seconds before stamping out the flames, then Dad would wait 10 seconds on his turn, then Tim would take it up to 15!  When the waiting game began to get old, the boys started over with larger piles.  Mounds of charred sticks and leaves dotted the forest floor.

The boys wordlessly agreed that this was their best game yet.  Neither considered that they might ultimately create a fire too large to be put out with tennis shoes.  Which is exactly what they did.

The last pile (of course it was the last pile) was the biggest, and they had dared each other to wait just a leeeeeeeetle bit longer to put it out, longer than all previous attempts….  But when the pile continued to blaze after about a minute of frantic stamping and jumping and dirt-throwing, the brothers recognized their grave error.

They ran back to the house to grab an empty gallon jug from the garbage, which they filled up with water from the hose and lugged back to the miniature inferno.  Dad frantically turned the jug upside-down over the fire, and they watched miserably as the water fell onto the flames in small, useless plops.  It was like trying to fly a kite by coughing on it - utterly ineffectual.  And also stupid-looking.

Dad and Tim were at a loss as they gaped at the spreading fire.  They knew they only had one option left, but they were quite reluctant to pursue it…

Inside the house, Grandma heard a knock at the back door.  That’s strange, she thought.  No one ever knocks at the back door.

Her confusion quickly turned into apprehension when she opened the door to see her two sons standing side by side, eyes wide with fear.  “Why did you knock??” she demanded.  Her dismay, upon looking behind the boys to see flames leaping up through the redwoods, is best left to the imagination.

For Dad and Tim, no chastisement was necessary – facing the firefighters who showed up a few minutes later was punishment enough.

Thanks for the stories, Dad :)

-Cassie

Cassie’s Believe It Or Not: Strangest Meals

This blog may be many things, but a nutrition guide is not one of them.

I’ve attended multiple nutrition talks during high school and college, so I know exactly what I should eat and in what quantities to eat it.  There are just some days where I have no desire to use this education and prepare a well-balanced meal for myself.  So without further ado, here are the Top 10 strangest meals I’ve resorted to so far.  If you can even call them meals…

10) Frozen yogurt

Sometimes none of the restaurants near campus sound appealing, so I miraculously find myself at the local self-serve fro yo place, banging my cardboard cup on the counter to settle the yogurt it’s already overflowing with, so I can then load it up with more toppings.  I do put fruit and granola in there, so it sorta counts as healthy…

9) Pork-filled pierogies with marinara sauce, and an iced chai tea latte

I’m pretty much addicted to chai, so that’s a given.  I bought the pierogies (Polish dumplings) from a farmer’s market in my neighborhood, and I was really excited to try them, but I felt like they needed some sort of sauce to really bring out their full flavor.  Perhaps they do, but marinara is NOT it. 

8) A glass of milk

Is milk the drink of champions? Yes. Is it satisfying at literally any time of day or night? Yes. Am I a recovering gallon-a-day milkaholic? Yes. 

7) Scrambled eggs and a leftover piece of Black Magic cake

Ok, this is actually a very common breakfast for my family – we like to say the cake takes the place of a pastry or Pop Tart.  Never mind that this cake is more decadent and wonderful than ANY pastry or dessert you have EVER tasted in your WHOLE LIFE.  (If you’ve never made it, here is the recipe. Top it generously with chocolate buttercream frosting. Your happiness and productivity and general wellbeing will skyrocket after eating.)

6) Beef jerky, half a blueberry bagel, Garden Salsa Sun Chips, and a fruit leather

This was the lunch I packed and took to classes (in an adorable pink lunch box) four days a week last fall quarter.  I got some weird looks from classmates while I chowed down.

5) Honey Nut Cheerios

This is my go-to!!!!! Actually any bowl of cereal.

4) Chocolate milk and a prepackaged olive and cheese cup

Both were purchased from the unappetizing food stand outside my biology classroom – coming to class straight from practice makes you desperate.  The subtle, complementary flavor profiles of the olives and cheese were obliterated by the chocolate milk.

3) Chips and salsa, four chocolate-covered almonds, and four raspberries

This is the result of rummaging through the fridge and cupboards and realizing I only bought snacks during my last grocery run.  The salsa must be Herdez verde, the almonds must be from Trader Joe’s, and the raspberries must be free of mold.

2) Two glasses of sweet tea, two cheesy sugar biscuits, and three bites of beef brisket

This was a classic case of overdosing on drinks and appetizers at a BBQ restaurant before the actual meal came.  Interesting fact: the sweet tea had so much sugar in it that some of the sugar floated UNDISSOLVED in my glass.  I drank till I began to feel nauseous.

1) A bowl of shredded mozzarella cheese and two chocolate graham crackers

I can’t even…

If you have any tips to share regarding meals (strange or otherwise) that could replace some of the above, please comment below.

Ta-ta,

Cassie

Tune in next week as I continue the journey to rediscover my love of writing.  Sneak peek: I’ll be taking a break from writing about myself to share some of my parents’ best stories.

I Say the D-Word in This Post

Helpful hint: it’s probably not the word you’re thinking of.

I finished a blog series last week that came from a piece I wrote a couple months ago, which I then decided to split into four parts for this site.  So for the last month, I technically haven’t had to come up with any new posts.  This turned out to be quite fortunate, because during this time I have had absolutely no desire to write. At all. This is coming from a girl who revels in maintaining three journals simultaneously, taking copious notes in classes, and writing daily/weekly/hourly to-do lists.  I have also managed to convince myself that nothing has happened that is worth writing about – this is hardly true.

Although there are countless other signs which could/should have caught my attention earlier, it was this subtle yet prolonged absence of my will to write that finally made me admit to myself that something was wrong.

As a person who prides herself on being very self-aware, I’ve always possessed this uncanny (and at times annoying) ability to pinpoint the exact rationale behind all of my emotions: “I’m just angry at myself because I got mad at you for not flushing the toilet before I realized I was the one who forgot to flush it” or “I’m exhilarated but also weepy because I just watched a movie about people having an adventure in Africa and I loved it but it makes me want to be there” or perhaps “I’m confused and slightly neurotic because my period is starting tomorrow and my hormones are completely jacked up.”

But for the last several months, I’ve experienced a range of oppressive, crippling emotions with roots I have been unable to trace.  Oh, I’ve attempted to attribute them to various life changes, such as finishing my college volleyball career, or nearing graduation, or worrying about a job… Now that I think about it, it could be that playing volleyball for the last four years actually helped to mask these monsters in my head, allowing me to put off the moment of confrontation.  Volleyball gave me endless distractions, a full schedule, constant company, and lots and lots of pressure – all of which either allowed me to ignore my uncomfortable thoughts and feelings OR provided me with something intangible on which to place the blame for my discouragement and despair.  Now that that crutch has been removed, there is little to nothing keeping the monsters at bay.

Maybe you’ve figured out what the D-word is.  Please just stick with me – I need to get there myself.

Not knowing why I feel sad terrifies me.  Some nights I suddenly find myself in tears when I’m trying to do homework – it is initially brought on by a feeling of overwhelming sadness, and it then persists because I am so frightened by my emotions and their inexplicability.  Other days, my throat tightens and my eyes begin to well up in the middle of class, without warning, while I’m in the professor’s direct line of sight, so I look down and pretend to be thoroughly engrossed by my notes.  When I drive to school or work, I play my music at the highest volume I can handle and sing at the top of my lungs so that I don’t have to deal with my thoughts and their implications; sometimes when I get home I just lean my head against the steering wheel and will my brain to shut off and leave me in peace, just for a second.  Waking up in the morning is touch-and-go; sometimes I feel my heart plummet into my stomach as soon as I open my eyes, because I remember that I have to go through another day, and that means another meaningless routine, another 12 hours minimum of trying to drown out the exhausting flow of anxious, analytical thought.  I wish I could just stay asleep.

It doesn’t matter if I’m volunteering, coaching, in class, talking with friends, reading, writing, or watching 30 Rock on Netflix – in every situation, I am acutely aware that the activity is just a momentary relief.  None of this is to say that all days are bad days; I most certainly have days where I go to bed with a genuine smile on my face.  The problem is that the difficult days have become increasingly commonplace, to the point where my genuine smile after a good day is tempered by a feeling of dread as I wonder what what kind of day tomorrow will be.  I despise the unpredictability of it all.

My friends and family know me as a generally upbeat and optimistic person, and I love to be known as such.  Even now, I greatly enjoy the company of others: laughing at their jokes, sharing stories, extending compliments, quoting movies, singing songs… It’s just that I’m beginning to see that my reactions are often forced, even though I don’t want them to be. I know exactly when I should marvel at someone’s cooking, congratulate them on a spectacular achievement, or smile and nod when they share advice – even if inside all I’m thinking is “What is wrong with me?? Why do I feel nothing??”  My acting skills are truly awe-inspiring – come on, Academy, where’s my nomination?  But, forcing situation-appropriate reactions all the time is very draining, to say the least.

 tour guide barbie

Let’s see how many words I can use to describe how I feel on my worst days, before I say the one that I NEED to say in order to be truly honest with myself and others:

Empty. Aimless. Numb. Desperate. Hiding. Weak. Anxious. Leaden. Blank. Scared. Wiped out. Alone. Dismal. Broken. Dishonest. Disillusioned. Disconnected. Depressed.

There. I said it.

I have the utmost sympathy and respect for others dealing with depression, but I have none for myself.  I am angry and embarrassed that I feel this way, because in my opinion I have absolutely no reason to.  I have an unbelievably loving family, caring and thoughtful friends, limitless opportunity, a gracious and powerful Savior…and I live in Denver, for crying out loud!  I would love to simply be known as the girl who’s always smiling and loves to tell funny stories, but I’m learning I need to let go of my pride and let others see the sides of me that are “witty” as well as the sides that are simply “not.”

This post serves as a confession, and I am not going to seek solutions just yet – I need to let what I’ve written sink in for a bit.  However, I am clinging to one idea that has given me a glimmer of hope for my current situation, at least in regards to regaining my powers of life-observation so that I can continue to notice and share witty stories.  Inspired by this pre-Lent blog post, I’ve decided to spend the next month or so compiling a list of the things I love about life.  I know it won’t serve as a quick fix by any means, nor will it be a simple task convincing my brain to focus on the positive things, but I hope that re-opening my eyes to the strangeness, the beauty, and the color around me will begin to shed some light into my darkened mind.

If this is something that would benefit you too, I invite you to join me.

Thank you for reading and for being a part of my journey towards openness and vulnerability.

-Cassie

Note: if I was ever going to work up the courage to admit that I am depressed, it was going to have to be here, using the medium with which I am most comfortable expressing my thoughts.  I am thankful to my best friend and roommate for gently suggesting that I attempt to write about this in the first place, and I am also thankful to Hyperbole and a Half blogger Allie Brosh, Libba Bray, and other bloggers, who have demonstrated how to approach this topic with honesty, frankness, and even humor.

The Secret Life of Student-Athletes, Part 4

This, my friends, is the final installment! If you missed Parts 1-3, click here and here.  Oh, and here.

****

Anyone who has watched March Madness on TV has seen the super-slick clips they put together with players from top-seeded teams staring at the camera with a steely gaze, spinning basketballs on their fingers without even looking at them, dribbling the ball between their legs in slow-motion and then at normal speed, etcetera.  To make the clips even more awesome, they are always set to ultra-dramatic orchestral scores like Lux Aeterna or “Dawn” from Thus Spake Zarathustra.  Polished film segments of high-caliber athletes set to epic soundtracks always make for an enjoyable viewing experience, but how often do viewers actually consider how incredibly awkward it is to film these segments?

Lucky for the student-athletes at our school, our PR/media department was inspired by videos made by the Louisville men’s basketball team, and they decided that our sports teams were going to film similar clips to show before every home game.  So, one day last spring I found myself standing in front of a green screen with three of my teammates, all of us trying to stare unblinkingly and unsmilingly at a camera lens while the videographer adjusted the focus and the lighting guy adjusted his equipment to make us look super shiny and the PR woman hit us with a barrage of directions:

“Show me some swagger, girls! Don’t be afraid to show some attitude. Stare at the camera…hold it… Ok now maybe spin the ball around in your hands, just play with it, you know, toss it from hand to hand.  Maybe bounce it a few times?  Good, good, perfect! Hold it just a little longer… Ok we’ve almost got it, maybe let’s just try one more… Do you need some more time? To stop laughing? Just pretend we’re not here.  Ok maybe just a few more takes…”

It was strikingly similar to America’s Next Top Model, just without Tyra Banks and the aspiring models.  And the direction we heard most frequently was “Are you girls ready now?” because we physically could not stop laughing long enough for them to begin recording.  So much for being consummate professionals… But seriously, try staring at a camera and holding an intimidating facial expression in complete silence for 30 seconds when you’re not even sure what expression your face is actually producing (what if it’s less like a stare-down and more like a constipated grimace?) and you are standing between three of your closest friends and can feel them all trembling violently from suppressed laughter.  I would argue that if anyone in such a situation is able to refrain from even chuckling, it is because that person is an undercover robot, who also probably aspires to be America’s Next Top Model.

SA 9

Our best game face attempts…

****

These scenes are just a glimpse of the escapades that have taken place on my team and within our athletic department.  Some days our locker room was filled with a cacophony of exclamations like “Why have we played country music in here EVERY DAY this week??” and (from the bathroom) “Guys, I finally pooped!”  (This one was usually followed by whoops and cheers and congratulatory handshakes.) Other days would find me in the training room ice bath with a teammate discussing such topics as whether true altruism can and/or does exist.  There were moments of unbelievable heartache, like when we found out a teammate had sustained too many injuries to continue playing the sport she loves.  And there were moments of hysterical laughter, such as when the entire men’s basketball team showed up to one of our matches wearing Depends.  These behind-the-scenes stories tell so much about the athletes, more than any highlights reel or post-game-write-up ever can.  So while the price of being a student-athlete has undoubtedly been more than I bargained for, I have a wealth of memories to show for it.

Thanks for reading!  Comment below with your favorite moments from this four-part series – I’d love to hear your thoughts.

-Cassie

The Secret Life of Student-Athletes, Part 3

For Parts 1 and 2, click here and here.

Fall of my junior year turned out to be a terribly chaotic period, because our institution had been chosen to host one of the Presidential Debates.  At the crux of the chaos was the fact that our athletics and recreation building had been pegged as the site of the televised debate.  So while the university administration worked on problems like designing logos to advertise the event and implementing unbelievably complex security measures, all of the varsity teams housed in the building worked on completely emptying the locker rooms so that they could be occupied by the Secret Service.

For my team, the process took days: we lugged out picture frames, dry erase markers, trophies, plaques, plastic utensils, an electric guitar, clothes, shoes, kneepads, furniture, the TV, shampoo, razors, Post-It Big Pads, magnets, glittery scrunchies and leotards, craft supplies, a fake potted tree, laundry bags, magazines, foam rollers, powdered Gatorade mix, and food, all the time wondering how the HECK did some of this stuff get in here in the first place??  All of my volleyball clothes and equipment ended up in a pile on the middle of my bedroom floor for the month of October, and I would dive into it every morning hoping to emerge with the correct combination of shirt, spandex, socks, kneepads, and shoes I would need for practice that day.

But the inconvenience of losing locker room access paled in comparison to the loss of our gym space for those 2-3 weeks leading up to the debate while we were in the middle of our season and practicing 2-3 hours every day.  Our coaching staff worked tirelessly to find us adequate gym space off-campus (which happened to be about 30 minutes away) and also to obtain bus transportation for the 15 players.  On the rides to and from the off-campus facility we would entertain ourselves by watching Family Guy clips on YouTube and by telling each other horrific anti-jokes (i.e. “How do you get a clown to stop smiling? … You throw an axe at his face.”)

Playing a varsity sport often entails missing out on the big events on campus, and the Presidential Debate was no exception.  When the much-anticipated day finally came, my team was on a charter bus driving from San Francisco International Airport to San Jose State University for a pre-game-day practice.  Thus, we were unable to take part in the rollicking celebration dubbed “DebateFest” that was created for the 10,850 out of 11,000 students who did not win lottery tickets to attend the actual debate – although, after seeing the Facebook pictures of the Lumineers’ performance and the pop art paintings of the candidates and the feminist activist wandering through the crowd wearing a vagina costume, I almost feel like I was there.

We did, however, manage to participate in at least one of the university-sponsored events: the Moment in Time photo collection.  Someone in administration or perhaps the marketing department had the brilliant idea to ask students, alums, and employees to submit pictures of themselves at the moment the debate began; pictures deemed worthy for display would be included in a slideshow on the official university website dedicated to all things debate.

I was determined to secure our team’s involvement with the historic occasion in some capacity, so I factored in the time difference between the two states and whipped out my phone when the hour of the debate arrived.  Everyone on the team leaned out into the bus aisle, all sporting stylish grey practice t-shirts and grey sweats, and we snapped a few horrible quality pics as the late afternoon sun poured through the windows and the swaying of the bus made it difficult to hold my phone still.  I sent them off to the designated Moment in Time email address, and lo and behold a week later I found the final slideshow and was thrilled to discover that one of our glared and blurry photos had made the cut.

???????????????????

The selected photograph

This was to be the only successful debate experience our team had.  On our last pre-debate trip out of the locker room, one of my teammates had lagged behind to leave a heartfelt message on our whiteboard for whoever would be occupying the room in our absence.  It read: “Romney and/or Obama: please leave us autographs!! Love, The Volleyball Team.”  When we finally returned from our month-long exile, we looked at the board with high hopes.  There, underneath our request, a single word had been scrawled: “HAHA.”

Tune in next week for the fourth and final installment!

Cheers,

Cassie

The Secret Life of Student-Athletes, Part 2

(If you missed Part I, click here)

When committing to play college athletics, students are fueled by the promise of intense competition, sponsored gear, extensive travel, and (if the student is a nerdy jock like me) free education.  But while they may not realize it, student-athletes are signing up for a package deal that includes one other key yet poorly-advertised element: injury.

The injuries come in all shapes and sizes, striking when they are least expected.  Some are chronic, some heal after a few weeks, and some prove to be season- or even career-ending.  But the main thing I’ve learned after both experiencing and witnessing countless injuries every year is that each one has a story that is far more involved than what can be expressed on, say, an NFL injury ticker: “Roddy White (ankle, hamstring), probable…Richie Incognito (neck), ‘fine’…”   And while our athletic trainers were not allowed to share information on injuries or how they occurred, the stories behind them were often so strange that they spread among the athletes like wildfire.

During my sophomore year, the athletic department was struck by an epidemic of one mysterious (but noncontagious) malady: the concussion.  A silently sinister form of head trauma brought into the limelight by a series of high-profile NFL cases, concussions became a huge focus of the NCAA’s injury prevention programs, and student-athletes were bombarded with new videos, brochures, and paperwork intended to inform us about concussion symptoms and the dangers of ignoring them.  With the increased awareness there also came an increase in reports of concussions, as cases were diagnosed that could have previously been overlooked.

The swimmers were especially hard hit, which seems to make no sense since water can’t exactly cause blunt force trauma.  However the swimmers met their doom on dry land, a place where they are admittedly uncomfortable.  Two were concussed while doing a workout outside on the turf field after a rain storm.  While working on arm strength by tossing large, heavy medicine balls back and forth between partners, the medicine balls became wet and slipped through their hands when the athletes tried to catch them, resulting in two medicine-ball-to-face encounters.  A third swimmer became concussed after tripping and falling on the pool deck.

Another individual, this time a lacrosse player, became concussed just by sitting down in his locker: the motion somehow upset the balance of his helmet, which was perched precariously on top of his locker, and it proceeded to fall down and strike him squarely in the head.  Then there was the soccer goalie who was kicked in the face – with great force – by one of his own teammates.  And my team wasn’t immune either.  One girl had her head stepped on during a chaotic play, and another took a ball to the face – our male manager hit it at her so hard that she was knocked backwards off her feet.

As for me, I could probably write a book detailing my own frequent (and often freak) injuries, such as blowing out my knee in the first game of my career, and being whacked in the head by one of the metal poles that holds up the net after a chain snapped when I was cranking the net into place.  One of the most “freaky” would have to be an open finger dislocation that occurred during a match my junior year.  “Open dislocation” was the doctor’s term, not mine. In reality, my finger exploded, and everyone who witnessed the event agrees that my word choice is totally accurate.  (For the full story, click here.) Clearly, each of these injuries is far too bizarre to be summarized ticker-style, and this is why I now wonder what really happened to “Roddy White (ankle, hamstring)…”

Check back next week for Part 3!

-Cassie

The Secret Life of Student-Athletes, Part I

SA 6

When I first committed to play Division I volleyball, I remember having a premonition that I didn’t really know what I was getting into – it wasn’t long before I found out I was right.  But, I’m not just talking about the usual culture shocks that high school athletes encounter when they find themselves competing at the collegiate level: the two- and three-a-day preseason practices, the long travel days, the exponentially increased appetite that leaves one hungry even after 4-5 meals a day, and the feeling that one’s 18-year-old body has been stolen and replaced with that of a 50-year-old man with double knee replacements.  No, nothing could have prepared me for behind-the-scenes shenanigans ranging from strip-teasing supporters to dealing with a presidential debate, from legendary injuries to painfully awkward photo shoots, all of which occurred in just one of the nation’s athletic departments.

(Part I)

During my first two years with the program, our fan base was pathetically small, consisting of local girl-scout troops, elementary school volleyball teams, family members, and the four faithful season ticketholders who had been coming to every game for more than a decade.  We tried to guilt-trip our on-campus friends into coming, but most regular students come to the school to ski, so the campus would empty on the weekends as our potential fans hit the slopes.  Then, a tongue-in-cheek conversation between one of the volleyball juniors and a member of the men’s swim team changed everything.

Alyssa and Andy were talking at a student-athlete leadership conference when Andy mentioned he’d always thought it would be fun for his swim team to show up to Alyssa’s volleyball games in Speedos.  After the two laughed at the picture, Alyssa got serious: “Do it, Andy.  I’m ordering you.”  Spurred into action, Andy rallied the swimmers and then proceeded to take his initial idea to a whole new level.  At our next home game, he and his teammates showed up wearing their team-issued sweatsuits and filed into the stands grinning obviously.  Alyssa glowered at the absence of Speedos.  But then, after we won our first point, Andy unzipped his jacket and tossed it into the air.  And so it continued: every time we earned a point, one of the guys would lose a jacket, a shirt, a pair of pants, and so on until all of them stood in the bleachers sporting nothing but Speedos and giant smiles.

SA 2

From that point on, the swimmers became legends.  They would show up to our games wearing winter hats and mittens and scarves so they could have more items to strip off.  During time-outs they would perform cheers and hold push-up contests, and their striptease routine would reveal Speedos of every color and design as our points racked up.  The shocked reactions of visiting teams were priceless, and my team began to brag that we could easily pick any swimmer out of a butt line-up.

One night our match was a particularly close one, and the crowd began to notice that the swimmers were running out of clothing to remove.  On one of the final points, the guys looked up the line and realized that everyone was already down to their Speedos.  Andy, the fearless leader, felt all eyes on him and understood the sacrifice would have to be his.  He shrugged, reached down, and whipped off the tiny spandex uniform.  I heard gasps and stifled screams, and several parents covered their children’s eyes.  But Andy just laughed – he had been wearing a nude Speedo under the first the entire time.

Tune in next week for Part II…

-Cassie

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