This is the Power of Sport
Yet again, I stumbled out of class and into my dorm room, my arm pressed tight around my lower abdomen. This was not how I pictured my freshman year at Trinity University. I had become inexplicably sick (later diagnosed with Crohn’s) and worst of all, undeniably sad. Ultimately it would be fortuitous that around this time I got into running. As a soccer player, running had always been a part of my regime. What I mean to say is – it was around this time that I developed a relationship with running. Facing times when I felt like this strange illness had taken control of my body, I fought to regain normalcy. In these moments, I would lace up my shoes and run. I ran from the stress, the stomach pain and nausea, the critics admonishing my weight loss (which of course was illness related), and from the isolation I had begun to feel. Soon enough, my crutch had become my pillar of strength. This is the power of sport.
As the Sports Specialist, I was engaged to plan and run CoachArt’s athletic programs in the Bay Area, and though I was confident in my ability to do so, I couldn’t help but notice how nervous I felt on the first day of Soccer Club. As I walked toward a small, painfully shy boy to introduce myself, I quickly realized I wasn’t the only one. I had a roster of seventeen kids, most of whom did not know each other. Some had never touched a soccer ball (or a sports ball of any kind). Rather, their time had been reserved for hospital waiting rooms and doctor visits. CoachArt is a network of people united by challenging circumstance, and affirmed through undeniably strong community ties that CoachArt seeks to build. CoachArt’s free eight-week sports clubs, built and geared specifically to the community’s chronically ill youth, provide children a dependable, safe environment to explore sports activities previously sacrificed for doctor’s appointments and hospitalizations. Our eight-week, ninety minute practices are based on fueling social connections and a sense of achievement in the hearts of the children we have the privilege to serve.
Traditionally, sport’s success is measured by the number of goals, baskets, and home runs. Our success cannot be tallied on the score sheet. Immersed with these children, in the honorable spirit of sport, we witness the building of character, feeling of accomplishment and true sense of self-worth that derives from having an opportunity, previously unavailable. We do not tally goals and baskets made, but rather the courage it takes to try a number of activities for the first time without fear of failure.
Long ago I heard a quote from Nelson Mandela. He said, “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.” Like Mandela, I believe sport is “more than just a game”. It is a dependable friend when it seems like there’s nowhere else to turn. I have watched sport help transform a tiny girl into a powerhouse who could climb all the way to the top of a rock wall. In her case, sport did not cure her illness, but did unleash her sense of limitless potential. I have seen sport create a community in an aging gym full of parents, kids, siblings, and volunteers. I’ve seen lonely kids who thought they were too different, form friendships through the Saturday routine of coming to practice. I, myself, have seen the balance return to my life through the routine of lacing up my shoes. Though the confines of our club may never burgeon with professional recruiters, or give impetus to the next Michael Jordan, we host something so much better than that – hope. Through sport, our kids are able to redefine themselves, build friendships, and grow the self-confidence necessary to see their potential. This is the power of sport.
Megan Gravelyn – CoachArt’s Sports Specialist, San Francisco Bay Area