From student-athlete to student
Written by Emma Desilva.
I, like many of you, have been playing sports since I could walk. I cannot remember a time where I wasn’t shuttling from home to school to practice, until now.
With my father being a successful cricket player for the Sri Lankan National Team and my brother a football player for Yale’s team, the idea of my being a collegiate athlete was a given. When a foot injury took me out of competitive volleyball, I started competitively throwing discus my junior year to continue chasing that dream of becoming a collegiate athlete. Through successful training and competition, I came out a CIF Champion and a recruit for the Cal track and field team. Meanwhile, my parents introduced the idea of competing for their home country, Sri Lanka. I went through the lengthy dual citizenship process and earned my citizenship. With the opportunity of competing for another country came the never ending question, “Could you compete in the Olympics for Sri Lanka?” I never considered myself competing for the US National team, but saw competing internationally for Sri Lanka as a more realistic opportunity.
When I came to Berkeley, there were several others who had dreams of going to the Olympics and many who had already competed in the games. But the allure of the university and my new found freedom slowly took my focus away from my goal of competing internationally as I was introduced to new clubs, challenging classes, and a bubbling social life. With every “yes” I gave, came an anxious thought. With every anxious thought, came internal doubt and insecurity, weakening my mental health. Though it seemed that things were going well and I was able to manage every new experience, I was falling deeper and deeper into a lonely, anxious place. I no longer had the athletic confidence I exuded in high school or the cool ease of juggling a busy schedule and social life. I was clawing at the opportunity to run away and hide from all of the obligations and standards I held for myself.
The first sigh of relief since being at Cal was from my acceptance into Haas. It was the first time I felt validation for all of my hard work, something I had not felt yet in my athletic career at Cal. Meanwhile, I was slowly making incremental gains in my throwing, but not what I had envisioned myself achieving as a collegiate athlete. I constantly compared myself to my teammates and those around me in the NCAA, which only had detrimental effects on the way I performed. I like to describe this feeling as having two fuses. My physical fuse was great, getting better by the day and on it’s way to incredible things. My mental fuse was blown out and exhausted, unable to connect to my physical fuse anymore.
By the end of my junior year season this past spring, I had nowhere to run to. As I started my internship last summer in New York City, I felt the rush of freedom, the type I once felt before the pressures of competing fell on me my freshman year. I was a careless kid again. I did not feel alone nor was I constantly creating stresses and unrealistic standards for myself. When it came to the decision to return to my loving team, I felt that rush of insecurity and anxiety again. The thought of going back to something that gave me those strong, uneasy feelings left me with the decision to not return and to focus on improving my internal dialogue and progress.
Now looking back at the past month without track, I feel balanced. The constant stress of being at my best has gone away and has given room for an Emma who feels imperfect and confident at the same time. Letting go of the constructs of who I was supposed to be and do has allowed me to find my other interests and grow into the world-changing woman I know that I am. I’ve learned the power of coming to terms with changing my goals because they aren’t always what you want them to be. Being a student athlete has been one of the most rewarding gifts in my life and I’ll always be thankful for the opportunity and the growth it has given me. This fall, I’ve added the role of being a peer advisor to freshman student athletes, helping them navigate the tricky land of being a student athlete, as well as starting the process of owning my own company. I’m excited to start this new chapter of my life and further enjoy all of the opportunities Haas and Berkeley has to provide!