Updated: Mar 21, 2020
I had a clear vision about what the first line of this post would be. “I came, I conquered… and I still got it!” Beneath the caption would be a photo of my partner and I holding a bronzed trophy. We’d have tired grins, sandy bodies, and luminous, accomplished expressions of having battled, and won the Dakine Women’s AA Volleyball Tournament. Instead of that photo, I only have one of my wrecked 43-year-old self, trying to calmly exhale while inside the -250 degree Fahrenheit Cryotherapy unit. It was the only immediate solution to accelerate muscle recovery and provide pain relief after the tournament. Every single cell in my body seemed to be shouting, “What were you thinking?” Even the skin on the bottom of my feet was screaming. I was back to Mom mode and a 180-second remedy was about all I could pull together with a three-year-old in tow. “Mommy’s a popsicle,” he pointed out. Back to reality.
Idealistic and hopeful was my mindset going into the weekend. I had even allowed my inner champion to rise and gain momentum. She visualized making spectacular points, acing opponents, succeeding at crafty shots, making athletic digs, celebrating with my partner, and then writing the inspiring follow-up blog about winning the tournament. The perfect plan from the perspective of an aging, yet optimistic former pro volleyball player. But somehow, I forgot about... her.
The Dark Warrior She is disguised as my inner champion. She dwells in the shallow waters of my being. She rides on the back of my righteous ego. She breathes fire. She rages war. She feeds on the idea that I deserve more, better, different. She lurks in the thoughts and emotions that keep me small. She shouts into my soul that I have something to fight for. To reclaim. WE. WILL. WIN! She demands. She used to define me. Even though we had a dark and dirty relationship, we achieved a lot of triumphant glory. I sacrificed a lot to let her lead. Connection. Intimacy. Friendships, and most importantly- Inner Peace. But she no longer held the steering wheel of my existence so I didn’t pay her much attention. I have enough practice with mindfulness, meditation, positive affirmations, mantras, breathing techniques and everything else I teach athletes to help break their mental barriers. After all, I am a mindset coach. I’ve got plenty of tools in my kit. But I had not put myself in real competition in over 13 years. Once my Achilles snapped, it was almost as if I could hear the Dark Warrior imploding, melting, disintegrating...whatever it is that inner demons do when they are spontaneously crippled. She withered away and tucked herself deep beneath the surface. Regrouping. Making a plan for a comeback. Someday. But in the past decade, I have developed and nurtured another side. She is the soft one. She is fluid. She is tender. She comes when I ask for help. She is reliable and always loving. She stands with me with both hands open. She listens. She is wise. She is my greatest ally. She is my source of LIGHT. As I flew to Seattle for the tournament I was full of athletic anticipation. I’d be playing with a partner that I didn’t really know, in a place I have never been, with zero knowledge of the competition. My preparation was legit. I had re-started physical therapy on my repaired Achilles. My jumping ability was severely limited but I was positive that now being in my fourth decade of life would qualify me as a masterful old school player. I prepared by dong intense workouts with my “Stroller Mafia” mom group. I suffered through weekly hot yoga to try and stretch out my eternally tight hamstrings. Twice I had the chance to bump the ball to myself in the four-foot-deep snow meadow in my front yard. I even went so far as to shave my legs in the dead of winter, paint my toes victory purple, and even plucked my dark chin hairs. I was determined to be on-point for this competition. I did a 3-day juice cleanse the week before and then tightened up my diet for optimal performance. A chart on the refrigerator kept track of a weekly set of challenges with my husband so to sharpen my competitive psyche. I bought a new red Nike long-sleeve for game day that exemplified the color of a champion. I packed my favorite underwear and tightest rubber bands. I thought of everything. Except how important it would be to actually practice beach volleyball in the sand. Or to be aware that she was lurking. The Dark Warrior. With power braids woven in, my new top and yoga pants- I took in the scene. Three indoor “beach” courts surrounded by ceiling to floor nets making the competition area look like a spider had spun a huge web around it. The “sand” was like grainy parmesan cheese with fluorescent lights hanging overhead. The air was stagnant. There were no weather factors like I was accustomed to and skilled in how to use to my advantage. The walls were covered with training equipment like weighted balls, sleds for sand pulling, boxes for jumping, large screens for playback of skills, and framed photos of the girls already committed to colleges like Stanford and Arizona for beach volleyball. A whole gaggle of teenage girls stretched and chatted while looking at their phones. It was then that I realized that this...was the new generation of beach volleyball. With the sport rising at the collegiate level, girls across the country are committing themselves to the sport like never before. This tournament was flooded with high school players testing their skills after practicing day in and day out in facilities like this one. The parents settled into the leather couches that lined the outside of the courts to watch their daughters compete...against the old pro. I felt my eyes dart and my heart raced as the Dark Warrior slithered out of her lair and unfurled her wings. This is not beach volleyball. Beach volleyball is played at...the...beach. This is a joke. And these are just teenagers. Little girls. Let’s show them what’s up. Take no prisoners. Let’s go for the gold. You are so much better than this. Shaking my head to try and rid her voice from my head, I took a seat on one of the sandy couches. Taking a deep soul breath, I called on my Light Warrior. I trusted that with conscious breaths inward that the Dark Warrior could not survive. I had a choice. Dark or Light. Part of me enjoys the fighting. The war. The intensity of emotion. It is powerful. Palpable. Weak at its root, but so seductive in force. To soften into this experience would require me to consciously let go of my inner champion, and compete simply for the joy of playing the sport I love. There was a higher calling on this day. It needed me to create space for my partner to find her flow and help her rise. It needed me to honor the commitment and growth of these young girls. It needed me to connect and share my experience and strength with them. It needed me to celebrate my own willingness to show up and compete. It was not about me. It was not about winning. It was about working toward a personal goal and testing my physical and mental training. It was about gathering data about the rising of the Dark Warrior so I could more effectively help other the athletes. Because everyone has one. So I witnessed her shadowy rise and I made a choice. I said confidently yet gently, “I see you. Oh how I have loved you. You and I achieved a lot together, but you no longer serve my greater good. You are not welcome here.” We ended up losing to a team made up of a 15 and 17 year old. Ultimately, we placed 5th in a tournament of 16, but I sure made a lot of fantastic individual points. Simple, beautiful points. And I set my partner up to be successful too. We played well, but there were teams that simply were better. (Not to mention these girls had cardio for days!) The Dark Warrior tried her very best to overtake me especially when I was weak and fatigued. She was relentless and came disguised in many ways trying to distract me and pull me in. Soon I realized the tournament became more about the opportunity to recognize the Dark and to choose the Light instead. Over and over and over again. I am all for working hard for goals, and digging deep, and pushing myself to the limit, but I am choosing to do that in different ways. I don't need to suffer on the volleyball court to prove I am important or respected. That part of my ego got fed for years and it was deeply dissatisfying. I have other talents and skills that fill my bucket which impact the greater good of the people around me. These are the kind of goals I want to push myself toward. This drive toward victory felt old, like a favorite jacket in the far corner of my closet that I suddenly realize doesn't really fit me anymore...nor is it my style.
So I congratulated the up and coming superstars for their well-earned wins and I thanked my body temple for holding up for an all-day tournament, and bid my lovely partner farewell. It was time to head back to my life as Super Mom, Queen of the Household, Inspirational Coach and Author of Awesomeness. This is where I thrive. This is where I rise. This is where I WIN. Over the next days following the tournament, she kept on knocking. I quickly discovered it was really easy for her to snuff out my light when my body was depleted and I was physically in pain. We had played in ten games, which was probably 5 more than I was physically capable of competing in. My 43-year-old body had dived in the sand dozens of time. I had contorted my body in unnatural positions to pursue balls. I had arched my back to serve and hit hundreds of times more than I am used to. The bottom layer of skin on my feet had tenderly exfoliated from the grainy sand, and my hips and lower back were destroyed like after childbirth. The Dark Warrior cackled and tiptoed in. For nearly 24 hours she reigned supreme actually convincing me that I should no longer play, or coach or have anything to do with volleyball. It was real. It was convincing. It was powerful. It reminded me that it is not an easy path to navigate alone. With the support of my friends, family and a serendipitous crossing with another mindset coach in town, I regained my footing and pulled the switch to the floodlights into my Soul. I defined a vision for myself in the world of volleyball. It must involve feeling vibrant, authentic, balanced and playful. When I make choices around the sport they must align with these core desired feelings. I no longer lead with ego, pride and fear which define the seductively deceptive Dark Warrior. And if I play in a "beach" tournament again it needs to be by an ocean with sunshine and real sand between my toes. It's a non-negotiable. So now I am clear. And slowly but surely the darkness retreated. For now. Every day I have a choice. On and off the court. Light or Dark. What do you choose?