Live for the Challenge

By Colette Freedman, author, screenwriter, playwright, and former assistant women’s lacrosse coach at Colgate University, @ColetteFreedman

I live for a good challengebut that doesn’t mean I’m a competitive brat.

Photo courtesy of the author.
Photo courtesy of the author.

I grew up playing sports and, in my household, everything was a competition. We would have five hour games of Risk and Monopoly and… Connect Four. We had actual throw down Scrabble tournaments. It defined who I was and I had a blast doing it. For years, I was the only girl on the boy’s baseball team, not because I was a competitive brat, but because the boys were better and I wanted to be better. I wanted to be better than them. A competitive brat is the weekend warrior who, during a co-ed entertainment softball league slid into me at third base, after I had already made the play and bent my middle finger back, breaking it in 27 spots and deforming a perfect birdy. THAT’S a competitive brat. I just liked to play and play hard.

I think the time I really understood the difference was my freshman year of college. I played lacrosse on a very competitive team and my first year at school only two freshman made the Varsity team. We went to Florida for lacrosse camp where colleges from all over the country went to hone their skills. All of the players were broken up into twenty groups, with their peers. As a first year, division III player, I was put into group twenty. Well, after about half an hour, I found my coach and told her that my “peers” weren’t challenging me. She then gave me that look… a look which I really only understood several years later when I became a coach myself. It was the look of “I want to punch you in the face so badly right now, but you’re a kid, so I can’t.” So she said, “follow me.” I grabbed my lacrosse stick and mouthguard and figured she was going to move me to group 17, because that’s where I thought I belonged. Instead, she took me to Sue Stahl. Now, in the lacrosse world… Sue Stahl was a God.

Everyone revered her. I worshipped her. She was a coach at Temple and then Old Dominion and the coach of the U.S. Team, who had the best players in the world. My coach said, “Hey Sue, Miss Freedman here doesn’t think she’s being challenged enough in her group.” Sue also gave me a look which I recognized, “You’re a competitive brat” and I gave her my best smile, which meant “I just like to play hard.” She then told me to follow her.

But we walked right past group 17…16…15….

Wow, she must think I’m really good

14…13…12

Right past the juniors on my team.

11…10…9

Past the senior co-captain All-Americans

8…7…6

I’m starting to get nervous

5…4…3

I’m officially nauseous

2…1. She stopped in front of group one. And those girls were 40… I mean, they were 22, but they looked 40. These girls were beasts. Every single one of them was on the U.S. Squad. They ate people like me for breakfast. “Ladies,” Sue Stahl called out to them, “Miss Freedman here doesn’t think she’s being challenged enough, let’s see if you can help her.” And with that Sue turned away.

And… for the briefest of seconds, I thought… hey, maybe I am as good as they are. Maybe I… BAM! I ended up face down in the mud. For the next six hours I ate dirt. And lacrosse isn’t a contact sport. It was one of the hardest days of my life. But I went back. Every day that week, I went back to group one and tried to keep up. “Try” being the operative word because I didn’t even come close. But I had never felt more alive. I loved the challenge. I felt that there could never be a challenge beyond my capabilities.

On Saturday May 11, 2013 the love of my life, Mark Troy, was brought into the Emergency Room with severe headaches and extreme nausea.

I told him, you’re gonna be fine.

On Sunday, he had a series of seizures and was put into an induced coma

I promised him, you’re gonna get better.

On Monday he was diagnosed with meningitis and on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, the meningitis ate through every major organ in his body.

On Friday, May 17 at 2 o’clock in the morning, Mark Troy was pronounced brain dead. I told them to pull the plug… and in doing so, I pulled the plug on myself as well.

I don’t remember much of the next year and a half… except drinking as many glasses of red wine as I could so that I didn’t have to confront my “feelings.” The only exercise I got was pushing the return button on Amazon to buy… it didn’t matter… a blue vacuum cleaner… an orange rug… 20 pounds of bath salts. And the only challenge I had I was looking at the various shaped boxes from Amazon and trying to guess what I had bought the previous evening in my alcoholic stupor.

Once I’d spent my life actively engaged by the challenge…. now I was passively sleepwalking through life.

And then one extraordinarily ordinary day, I was with a friend having a grilled cheese sandwich and a vanilla shake — because misery loves carbs, and his wife called and told him that she was on her way to bootcamp. And something happened: I don’t know if it was Mark Troy screaming at me from the other side to engage, or Sue Stahl handing me a challenge on a silver platter, or that I really had bought everything Amazon had to offer, but I heard the word bootcamp and I heard the word challenge. That night, I called the trainer and told her that I was the fattest, saddest, most sedentary person she’d ever meet and I would also be her biggest accomplishment. And I woke up.

And on October 6, 2014 I went to bootcamp and I ran a 14-minute mile, and threw up twice. But I went back because it became my group one. And over the course of the next year, I lost the fifty pounds, got my mile sub 8 minutes again: I found an unbelievable strength – both inside and outside. I began to feel alive again.

And I know life isn’t like lacrosse and there are some injuries that don’t ever heal. And some mornings when I’m hit by the remembrance that Mark Troy isn’t here, it is a challenge, a big challenge to get myself out of bed. But I do. Even on my worst days, I do. Maybe I am a competitive brat after all.

 

Colette Freedman was an All-American lacrosse player for Deb Gallagher’s powerhouse Haverford College Team. She then went on to serve as an assistant coach at Colgate University before moving to Los Angeles to pursue her writing career. Her latest book, Sister Cities, was released on Amazon October 28th.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This entry’s origin was a story telling event for Lynn Ferguson’s “You Tell Yours.” The video can be seen here.

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