Have you ever caught yourself stuck in a smiling daze? Your eyes are open, but you see nothing. Your body mass is fixed, but you feel weightless. Your ears are capable, but choose not to listen. You return to reality after this meditative two minutes or so, a little embarrassed and confused, checking your surroundings to see if anyone witnessed your blissful state. Have you ever felt this way when reflecting on an experience with your friends or family, or even with people at work? You’re stuck with a dumb smile on your face as your mind effortlessly connects images like puzzle pieces to recreate that meaningful experience you’d previously encountered. You feel refreshed and happy and tell yourself that this moment for reflection epitomizes what you want most in this life. Well, this is exactly how I feel when working with kids in the sport of basketball.
I sat in traffic on 93 South earlier this summer with a fixed smile as I drove home from Shooting Touch’s ‘Getting Girls in the Game’ basketball clinic. “Wow, I could seriously do this for the rest of my life,” I said to myself that Thursday afternoon after snapping back to reality. I had just finished a six-hour day on a concrete court with 30 girls from Boston, several coaching volunteers and a dozen or so volunteers from the Boston Police Department. We filled the clinic with skills training, games, leadership work and inspirational, goal-oriented discussions. By the end of those four days, I felt (mind the sun burn and fatigue) like I had just been a part of one of the most fulfilling experiences in my young life. I couldn’t stop grinning. “I could really wake up and do this every day,” I said again, this time to my mom later that night as we took our dog for a walk.
One of the girls came up to me at the end of the clinic that day and asked me if we could do this every day for the rest of the summer. I could do this every day. I wanted to tell her right then and there that I could. I know it takes a lot of effort and teamwork and communication and energy, but I would do it and I will do it, with every inch of my body for the children in Rwanda this upcoming year. In a month, I, along with basketball fanatic Jake Mendys, head east to spend a year empowering and educating young people through the sport of basketball. With a country still in rebuild mode following the 1994 genocide, Jake and I aim to continue the success that Basketball Health Corps has started in Africa by weaving basketball with health education.
Throughout my high school years, my parents (like all parents) would continually ask me what I wanted to do with my life. I was a kid passionate about the arts and music, had a strong interest in marine biology and was heavily committed to basketball. I had no idea what I wanted to do; high school is already difficult enough with relationships, sports, acne, etc. One fall night of my junior year, when skimming through a list of colleges, my mom asked me that same, scripted question once again. This time, instead of a simple “I’m not sure yet,” I responded dryly: “I dunno, go help the children in Africa.” She didn’t like the idea of her daughter so distant. She glared and I laughed. Yet as they say, every joke comes with a little truth. I had found myself earlier that year researching a bit about Africa; the horrible amount of orphaned children, the lack of clean water and health care, the politics, the animals, just about everything. I wanted to help but I didn’t know how. Africa is so far away and I was so young, so for that chapter of my life I put the thought aside. I know my mom is smiling back now, remembering the time I first told her my plans to move to Africa. Love you mom, thanks for letting me actually do it now. 😉
When I was seven years old I wore (probably way more often than what is considered socially acceptable) a periwinkle shirt with a butterfly on it. I bought that shirt for $15 and that money went to an organization that aims to help preserve the Amazon Rainforest in South America. Giving $15 from my pocket in an attempt to save plants, animals and the people indigenous to that area was all I could do at seven years old. Now, a college graduate with four years of sports medicine practice under my belt, 17 years of playing basketball, close to 10 years of coaching it and 23 years of existence, I’m ready to contribute to global betterment by teaching kids the importance of a healthy lifestyle through my obsession and love for basketball.
Thank you, Shooting Touch, for letting that seven-year-old help out a little more, for giving that teenager a direction in life, and for allowing me, today, to continue reflecting/daydreaming about how I can better the lives of others less fortunate than myself. As I write this, I can’t help but smile.