As an athlete it is imperative to find inspiration as you move forward on your athletic path.
If you don’t have the drive or the willingness to sacrifice some of the day to day things it’s going to be very difficult to achieve what you have set out to do.
To be a high level athlete, goal setting is a must. Reevaluating what is important to you as you move forward in this world is necessary. You may change as an athlete and a person and therefore your goals might change too, but that’s okay. If what was once a key contributor and measurement of your success is now on the back burner of true importance, that’s okay too. But you need to revisit what is important to you. You need to know why you play.
And it is imperative to take inspiration when it’s in front of you.
Fortunately for me, my inspiration this summer showed up last Friday in the form of 85 elementary school females. And one really bad-ass Team Canada alumni.
Before I get in to that, let me tell you why this summer has looked a little different for me and why this inspiration came at the best possible time (I would say someone knows what’s He’s doing ;))
Right from the get-go our team was thrown together at the beginning of May in just a few short days and departed for Edmonton where we did not win the tournament that we were “suppose to.” This unfortunately meant that we would not compete later in the summer for a chance to play in the VolleyNations League (or what used to be called Grand Prix). I was named Captain of the team but not in the scenario my childhood self would ever imagine (as I had been dreaming of this moment for a while). It felt more like an unwanted weight at the time as I felt like I was taking the bar away from one of my dearest friends on the team. Then I pulled my calf muscle and was unable to travel to the Pan American Cup in the Dominican Republic; the first tournament that I would not be a part of in the last decade of me playing with Senior National Team. I stayed behind to train at the Oval to rehab and a week or so later we (and the team) were on vacation for the next three weeks. Unfortunately I came back to the team still not healed up even after two months but there wasn’t really any option other than to keep going. We then had a quick turnaround and jetted off to Europe for one week in Turkey and two weeks in Italy (that trip has been posted on the blog here) for some exhibition games against the Turkish, Bulgarian, and German national team. I was still injured but playing through the pain and undergoing some random tests in Italy and potential diagnoses at clinics where my coaches had the hookups. The trip was difficult and challenging in more ways than one. When we finally arrived back in Vancouver I had an MRI set up the next morning where I (eventually) learned that I have both a ganglion cyst and a baker’s cyst at the back of my knee due to a lot of mangled cartilage in my knee cap. Cute! SO that is causing a lot of pain and pressure at the back of my knee that, in consultation with a UBC sports medicine doctor, I would just have to manage and play through the pain.
All in all it’s been a very strange summer. My role on the team has also been ever-shifting but I didn’t react how I thought I would, or how I would have in the past. Maybe it’s because I’m old and “mature” now (says who!?) but I honestly am just wanting the team to have the most success possible so regardless of when, where or how I am needed, I am ready to fulfil that role if it’s for the betterment of the team. And it’s forever changing within our team depending on who we’re playing, who’s healthy and playing well, and what tournament we’re at. Everyone needs to be ready to step into whichever role they are needed.
This brings me to the next point. The inspiration:
For a few years now I’ve realized that I need to expand my range of thought to more than just myself in order to feel positive about playing and therefore continue within the sport. Once thoughts get too condensed to just myself, to playing time, to who did what when — I lose it all. I become suffocated and the important things that I talked about earlier get lost on me. I feel my best within any team when I feel like I am in a serving position (not literally but my serve HAS got better this summer…) and helping those around me become a better player and person. When I can honestly and wholeheartedly buy into the bigger picture of the team, the coach, and the players. This is of the utmost importance for me. Inspiring a younger generation and making true connections with younger players is another thing that pushes me forward. I love the mentorship aspect that comes with being a high level athlete — and often they teach me some important things as well. The bigger purpose is what drives and inspires me daily and luckily, I realized this a few years ago so I can tap into those things when I feel like I need a little energy and inspirational reboot.
Sometimes you need to be active in the pursuit of inspiration and other times inspiration will fall right into your lap, unplanned, but necessary and important all the same. And depending on what drives you forward, inspiration can show up in the littlest of places; a quote, a song, a surge of feelings, a human, a memory, an opportunity… the list goes on. Mine showed up unplanned — staring me right in the face.
So. I was in need of an energy and inspiration reboot. Once I got off the plane from our European exhibition tour I was completely spent, emotionally and physically drained. I didn’t have a lot of time to breathe the next few days off because after my MRI I jetted off back home to the Sunshine Coast to help my family get ready for the Fifth Annual Connor Richey Memorial Golf Tournament. Again, I will blog about this at a later date, but for whatever reason this year was unlike the past five years; it was much, much more difficult. I have been trying to be more honest and gentle with myself as I more openly and honestly navigate and investigate the process of my grief and my personal thoughts and feelings but it’s been messy — thus contributing to the already challenging summer. I wasn’t sure where my purpose was within the team or where my inspiration was coming from anymore. Was I simply going through the motions of this lifestyle? — effortlessly flowing from professional team to national team and vice versa, round and round and round? I knew why I was playing but had lost the tangible grip on what was important to me and as a result, for majority of this past summer, I felt restless and unsettled.
During my few days at home during the golf tournament I was contacted by a teacher from the Sunshine Coast. A few months back he had reached out to my Dad asking if I would be interested in being a guest-speaker at this “GRL POWER” event that he was helping facilitate through the school district. Assuming that the timing wouldn’t work out, I said I could be available for a taped interview when I was home next (which ended up falling on this weekend) but those days leading up to the golf tournament I couldn’t pull myself away from my family, nor could I wrap my head around anything else other than my brother. I was going to message Eric apologizing that it wasn’t going to work out until I realized that the actual event was the following Friday — the ONE day we got off in the next couple of weeks leading up to our departure for Japan. I ended up coming to the Coast for this event and holy smokes, am I ever thankful I did!
A handful of powerful women that started their sporting careers on the Coast, as well as some coaches and other mentors ran through some building-exercises, shared their stories, and presented on some very important topics to a group of 85 wonderful young females. The day was also filled with various sporting stations so these girls were able to try out different sports, some for the first time. This group of girls were chosen from each elementary school on the Sunshine Coast to come together on this Friday to hopefully be inspired by sport in general, and more specifically, by being a powerful female in sport. Some of the girls were already involved in a variety of sports and others had never played before. It was an amazing event that I hope will spread to the boys side, as well as expand to different age groups in the future.
The one story that started off this energy-inspiration kick is a beautifully bad-ass woman named Betty Baxter who went to the 1976 Olympic Games and was later named the team’s head coach in 1979. She is also currently battling stage-four ovarian cancer but if you know Betty, she came into the event guns-a-blazing with more energy than the 85 young females combined. She started out her presentation by asking if the girls noticed she didn’t have any hair. Everyone put up their hand. She then explained WHY that is in the fact that her body looks just as it should in order to battle this thing. She spoke to them about the importance of loving your body, being kind to it every day, and fuelling it properly in order to have the energy it needs to run, jump, dance, and move. And that being active is a form of love. As she moved into her personal sporting journey she had a slide of powerful women that gave her inspiration across a multitude of sports; Kia Nurse, Hayley Wickenheiser, Karina Leblanc, Brooke Henderson, Tessa Virtue, Waneek Horn-Miller, Christine Sinclair, Kaillie Humphries and… me. Firstly, I couldn’t believe that someone I looked up to could turn around and point the finger back. Secondly, what a list of women to be a part of! Thirdly, I feel like I could have thrown in the towel at that moment and been happy with life! But really, she stood up inspiring these kiddos and then brought me up to give away some gifts and prizes to the girls who were completely ecstatic. I felt like Santa on Christmas morning. One of the Grade 8’s that was there (who is a little volleyball star) then got up and interviewed me with some questions revolving around how sports has prepared me for life, what it was like growing up as a female on the Sunshine Coast, what I’ve had to persevere through, how my school district supported me and what obstacles I faced, who were my mentors and what inspired me, and what my current goals are. When I get to normalize the experience about being on the National Team and inspire the younger athletes — that’s what really gives me energy. It’s what Betty gave to me so many years ago; hope — that I could maybe play for Team Canada and represent our country at the Olympics one day. She was there, in the flesh, telling a young-Kyla and my teammates that it’s really possible. And there I was explaining the same thing, that a girl from the Sunshine Coast, taking ferries into Vancouver multiple times a week, taking the opportunities that were put in front of me, making the most of what I already had, could one day be the captain of the National Team. I hoped to not only inspire the volleyball group of girls that were there, but the other athletes to continue working hard and being an ambassador for females in sport, and maybe planting a seed in some heads to give sport a chance.
Betty wasn’t there at the end of my interview / giveaway session — I didn’t get the chance to thank her for her awe-inspiring words, meant for the 85 elementary school kids but in reality, touched this 29-year-old’s heart really deeply. She had chemotherapy only two days prior to her presentation and with a cheerful smile she slipped out of the room saying “I am off to sleep for three days but I’ll be back!” Because of Betty I was once again able to bring it all outside of myself and see it as the larger picture. We are just a team passing through the Team Canada archives but what we achieve together is what will be important in the end. The kids that we inspire along the way is what will grow. How we influence our teammates on the daily is what will stick with them when we’re 80 years old, reminiscing on the good old days when we travelled all the time and got free snacks. How giving away our autograph or signing a jersey can be the highlight in a young athlete’s life. These battles that volleyball has taught us to persevere through are priceless, as one day we will be fighting for our life. These are the memories that are shaping me into the person I am… the one I am still learning to become.
As I embark on my third World Championship, I am reminded how much of a privilege and an honour it is to be attending this event. It is hard to make this team and even more difficult to be named to the roster at the end of the season. Some men or women will play on the National Team for years and never make it to a World Championships. And somehow, I am lucky enough to compete in three. Going into this event I feel the lightest and most excited I’ve felt all summer. The heaviness of whatever was holding me down has lifted off, mostly in thanks to Betty and her unbelievable energy and spirit that she passed on to the Coast girls and myself. An inspiring story to hear but even more inspiring to sit and listen to and see her live it out in her normal daily actions. The girls reminded me of why I play and where I take energy from — learning their individual stories and hopefully giving them an inspiring push in the right direction of their life and individual journey.
So with that being said, we are off to World Championships in Japan. Thank you to the individuals on the Sunshine Coast who gave, and always give me the inspiration to keep truckin’ down the path that I am on. A very strange and unorthodox journey looking in from the outside, but my community is my inspiration. Everyone that I have had the pleasure of meeting throughout my life — you’re the ones that can bring it all together in the end. And one of the reasons why I keep playing. So thank you, Betty, for helping me find my inspiration again; thanks to the girls who inspire me to continue this journey — now its time to go kick some butt in Japan!