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Karina Gilson: Finding Comfort in my journey

I first knew I wanted to play college soccer when I was in seventh grade. The thought of playing in college lit a spark inside of me. Playing with and against the best players, traveling, and being part of something bigger than myself was something I thought about every day. So, I spent every day training to reach my goal of playing Division I soccer. I was willing to do whatever it took to get to the highest level in college. At times, it was so exciting getting to travel to club showcase tournaments and play with the best players in my state. But, at times it was also lonely. My teammates did not understand why I trained extra, why I did extra fitness, or why I made soccer my number one priority. The loneliness and hard work all felt worth it when I verbally committed to Creighton University at the end of my sophomore year of high school.

Two weeks before I was leaving to start my first preseason at Creighton, I found out I needed ankle surgery. My freshman season was over before I even stepped foot on campus. This was the first time I was taken out of my sport for an extended period of time. I was so disappointed but still felt hopeful for the rest of my college career.

During my sophomore year of college in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic was at the forefront of the world. As student-athletes, we were under immense pressure to stay isolated and safe from the virus. Despite doing everything I could to stay safe, I was put into quarantine four times during the fall semester. The isolation took a toll on my mental health. I felt alone, anxious, and simply not like myself. This was the first time I had to miss a training session because of my mental health. I was so exhausted. I did not have the energy to train, do homework, and sometimes even eat. I knew I needed help, but I didn’t know what to do or where to turn. The rest of that year was a struggle as I was dealing with anxiety, chronic ankle pain, and only played a few minutes the entire season.

The summer before my junior year was a reset I desperately needed. I finally felt like I had a grasp on my mental health. I started opening up to my friends and family, going for runs to relieve feelings of stress, seeing a therapist, and had an amazing season with my summer team. The beginning of the fall season was the best I had felt in months in all facets of my life. I had so much I wanted to accomplish and so much ahead of me. As the season began, I was playing well but my ankle pain had been getting worse every day. I finally saw a doctor after my friends told me I was limping as I walked around campus. The doctor broke the news to me that my first ankle surgery failed, and I needed another ankle reconstruction surgery. I had played in four games before my season was cut short again. At the end of the fall semester of my junior year, I decided to enter the transfer portal. After two ankle surgeries and struggles with my mental health, I felt like a fresh start was what I needed.

I am now a senior and I just finished my first season at Florida Gulf Coast University. This journey is not what I expected it to look like when I set my sights on Division I soccer in seventh grade. I have not played as many minutes as I would've liked or been the star of any team, but the lessons I learned and my experiences have been greater than any goal I could have scored.

I learned it is truly the people you surround yourself with that will help you through the hard times. I learned not to be so hard on myself, after I had spent countless hours crying after games during my four years in college. I learned how to be proud of myself. I am proud that I was a part of a conference championship team this season and that this was my first season without an injury. I learned how important it is to find ways to cope with mental health struggles and ask for help. I learned that perspective is a superpower. I learned to find love throughout the journey, not just in the outcome. Even though it has not been the journey I pictured, I have found comfort in my journey.

Dear athletes… you are valued beyond your sport. You are loved beyond your sport. You are seen beyond your sport. You are an athlete, but you are so much more. You are a student, a friend, a confidant, a son or daughter, a brother or sister. You are a million things.

You are enough.

Every day.


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