Lessons Learned: My Tournament Experience
By Johnny H.
This past weekend, I had the opportunity to go to a squash tournament in Portland, Oregon. I was to fly there with my teammate and friend, Louie, and stay there for the weekend with a host family. This seemingly simple endeavor was actually laced with concerns and worries, anxieties and hopes, adventures and learning. There’s a lot that can be taken away from any experience; making the most of it is what truly matters. I feel that I did just that, and took away more than any of us could ever had hoped.
I was traveling under the banner of Access Youth Academy, the weight of that title bearing down on the both of us. “Number one,” is quite the cross to bear, especially when you are travelling and first impressions have already been made (as our reputations preceded us.) I recall how on my first trip, all of the kids who knew the name Access both admired and feared me, despite my constant reassurances that I was as new, if not newer, than most of them. Luckily, this tournament did not take place at another NUSEA program, but at a private club where our name was not commonly exchanged.
Our wonderful hostess was the amazing Nancy Keates. She is a writer for the Wall Street Journal, and every bit as interesting as one would expect. Above all, she was willing to show us around, was very accommodating, and exhibited genuine interest in everything we had to say. We also had the opportunity to hang out with her kids, both of whom were polite and really fun. Living with another family may seem a little scary, but I knew I could trust them since they received Renato and Chrissy’s stamp of approval. Living with another family really opens you up to a wealth of new ideas and practices. It creates a better sense of how the nuclear family doesn’t really exist; we live in a world of diverse familial and cultural systems. Specifically, Nancy helped me fall in love with the city. She took the time to take us around downtown, introduced us to the local food, and even went with us on a hike through the beautiful woods of Portland. The lessons were everywhere, sights plentiful, and fun just around every corner.
Now, for the grand finale of this blog post: The tournament. Due to a lack of players, we all had to play round robin, which was not to anyone’s dismay, as we all got to play three matches instead of the minimum of two. The first two matches went as expected, two losses 3-0, but the last one took me for a spin. I was down 2-1, and knew I had to bring it back somehow. But, I was losing by four points and this match had already pushed me to the brink of collapse; I had to wipe my forehead and hand between every rally. Then, something inside me centered. I forgot about the score, the trophy, my coach back at home probably biting his nails. All I knew was that rally, which I won with a perfectly placed drop shot. I proceeded to take the score from 9-6, to 9-11, winning the game in a haze of sweat and exhaustion. I didn’t take the match, a devastating blow, but I walked away with a lesson. You cannot play squash for anyone else but yourself. You cannot play for a national title, you cannot play for your coach, you cannot play for victory. Just like most things in life, you must do it for you and only you. Otherwise, you will fail. In that fourth game I somehow found a way to shed any exterior motivation and internalized the need to win. I made it mine. Above all, I made myself believe that I was worth it. This is no easy feat, especially as an adolescent plagued by every negative thought inside my head. In spite of this, I transcended to a plane of calm and knowing. I could, and I did. And today I can smile knowing that my goals are more within my reach than ever.