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Skylar Walder: More than an athlete

Sports have been part of my life since I was little. Growing up, there was not a season where I was not competing or practicing for a sport. It was my outlet from reality. When I began my high school career, I had to start thinking about what my future in sports was. I decided I wanted to play tennis in college. I was at a point in my life where I knew I did not want to go pro, and focused on having an incredible high school career and landing a spot on a college roster. I battled tough losses, injuries, and “growing pains” through high school, but it shaped me to be where I am today. I was involved in other extracurriculars outside of sports and I think that set the tone to see what I wanted to do in college. My signing day to my university was one of the highlights of my senior year. I had found a home for the next four years and I could not be more full of joy. Although it got complicated during the spring of my senior year, I still made it to my first semester in college.

The pandemic threw off a lot of things in my life, but although it brought a lot of downs, it also gave me a chance to grow as a person. I learned a lot of new things about myself and felt it was a key developmental part of my life, especially since I was starting an exciting part of my life: COLLEGE! I dove headfirst into student life at my institution and on top of being a first-year student, I was a student-athlete. Whether you play Division I, II, or III; college athletics are a whole different ball game. The practices get tougher, you have more expectations and responsibilities to uphold, and your schedule is packed before you even start classes. Despite COVID being part of my first year, I adapted and made the most of it. By the spring we were able to compete and that sparked my life as a student-athlete.

I, unfortunately, came into college with a lingering injury from high school. A partial labral tear in my hip that was not torn enough for it to be fixed but enough where it will cause ongoing pain. I made a plan with my athletic trainers to continue a rehab plan through the spring season and do every type of treatment/recovery to keep me playing. I was playing at the #1 spot my first year; an incredible opportunity, but it came with its many challenges. I only won a doubles match that season, but I battled every match to ensure I could finish both physically and mentally. It was an ongoing battle, but the experience I was able to embrace was something that nobody could take away. The season wrapped up, hit a roadblock of having COVID, but recovered and began my training for my first Fall season.

A lot happened through the Fall. I battled through a lot of adversity and my mental health was tested. I have always been an advocate for mental health and I had an incredible support system, but my stubbornness got in the way. By mid-fall, I had a lot going on with school, was not competing to where I wanted to and was in so much physical pain. At this point of the season, I was having pain from my hips all the way down to my ankles. I went to the trainers when I really needed it, but I pushed through the competition. My drive and passion for tennis started to decline as the season ended and that is when I had a meeting with my athletic trainers to discuss what my future in athletics looked like. They gave me guidance and we started with seeing my orthopedic doctor. He referred me to a Hip Surgeon near school since we went through rehab and different routes prior. I had a bundle of excitement as it was a new step I could take in fixing my hip. I never thought it would ever get to the point where I would have to consider surgery; but “pushing through it” would not get me through another two and a half years of college competition.

The time leading up to my appointment, my life did not stop. I still had finals to study for, meetings, and student activities. Yes, I run around like a maniac sometimes, but I love every minute of it. It has opened so many doors for me and has given me the chance to meet different people, get out of my comfort zone, and engage with the campus community. What being part of a Division II institution taught me is that although the population of student-athletes is quite large, it is a large group of individuals who are part of more outside of their sport. It has created a diverse culture at my university and it gives us as athletes the chance to network with more students and peers of our community.

My appointment came and the nerves ran through my body. He was able to tell me new observations that I never heard, and though it was another delay in my head, my next step was getting another MRI to see if we were to do surgery, and what that would entail. The waiting game brought out frustration, but the day came. I had kind of mentally prepared myself for the worst, but I had so many mixed emotions. I was excited that I had found answers but conflicted about what my athletic career looked like. The whole you are more than an athlete is really strong. In this situation, I had to change my thoughts on what athletics looked like in my life. His diagnosis was much worse than I had thought. The part that hurt me the most was telling my teammates I was not returning to competition, and I just felt a weight of emotion. I dwelled, grieved, and felt all the emotions. It was mentally draining to talk about it, I did not sleep that much that weekend, but like anything, I moved forward slowly.

College is a life-changing experience; it is about being open to possibilities. You learn a lot not just in the classroom, but about yourself. Processes and steps take time, but it is all worth it. Yes, coming into college, I thought sports would be a huge part of my life, and now that it is not, instead of thinking about the “what could have been”, I had to change my expectations. Life is about changing expectations daily, and if we do not, we will be disappointed. Remind yourself to be a human being, not a human doing. It will allow you to slow down and focus on the things that actually matter. It is hard to accept that my identity isn’t just tennis so I’m thankful to have answers so I can be pain-free in the future. The different opportunities that I was given, opened doors to my leadership achievements, friendships, mentorships, etc. Yes, I lost two more years of competing in the sport I love, but what will not be lost are the relationships I have built with teammates, coaches, trainers; all of who provided guidance and support on and off the court. I will not lose all of the memories I made. I will remember all of it; the good and the bad, because it made a difference in my life :)


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