Behind every successful athlete, there is a guiding light who has pointed them in the right direction and picked them up when they fell down. Through determination, inspiration and resolution, athletes have the lesson of perseverance instilled in them as they win and lose. Like Momma in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, my mother was my rock when I felt that I had lost all hope.
Three years ago, swimming was my life. It was the perfect package of fitness, friendship, and competition, all wrapped up in a shiny coat of endorphins. Ever since being thrust into the deep, chlorine pool since the tender age of four, swimming had been a major aspect of my life. The intensive yet exhilarating sport pushed me to my limits physically and mentally. In Fall 2016, I was on the road to youth nationals, top of my heat and training more than 20 hours a week but that dream disintegrated before my eyes when I tore my medial collateral ligament. Hearing from my physical therapist that I would be out for the rest of the season was heartbreaking but not being able to swim for the next year was an “unnecessary insult” (Angelou 4) and I felt stripped of my identity. The grief of my dreams disappearing crushed me with its unbearable weight, squeezing out all the light that was left inside of me.
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The mental pain caused by my injury and the temporary loss of my sport was far more devastating than any strained ligaments, pulled muscles or broken bones. I was lost, drowning in sorrow, feeling hopeless and alone but my mother was my beacon of light like a “moon that shone on me” (Angelou 33) guiding me through my sea of despair. There is one phrase that my mother has repeatedly recited to me since I was a child, and is one I now recite to myself whenever I am faced with adversities that seem too great to defeat: “When you are met with adversity, you must absorb the reality, but exhale the negativity”. This saying is rooted in finding perspective and looking at experiences within the larger context. All adversities are short-term. One must take in the pain but let the anger and frustration pass. You will get through this. And you will come out stronger than before.
In I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Angelou feels scared, threatened and “aware of her displacement” (Angelou 4) when she moves to Stamps, Arkansas. Like her, I was petrified of what was to come following my injury. Momma’s resilience and true inner strength are exemplified when she does not allow the “powhitetrash” (Angelou 28) children to mock and belittle her, is similar to how my mother remained my pillar of strength standing by my side offering her fortitude and optimism. Following rehab and intense physiotherapy, I was back in “my favorite place” (Angelou 16), the pool, the following year. I owe it all to my mother, my “Kingdom Come”, (Angelou 23) who taught me that no matter what you are facing, there will always be a sunrise tomorrow. There will be light at the end of your tunnel, you just have to keep going, and fight for it.
- Angelou, Maya. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Ballantine Books, 2015.