Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Letter to the NC Volleyball State Champions

Dear NC High School State Champions,

Let me start by saying Congratulations on winning. As a two-time winner of a 8A State Championship in Illinois, I can definitely say it's an experience you'll never forget and I hope you enjoyed every minute.

Last week I was on twitter before I went to bed and noticed one of my followers had retweeted a distasteful tweet. I assumed it was a joke or possibly from a fan, but ended up stumbling upon several tweets from a team that used to come to some of our UNC Volleyball Team Camps (possibly still does) in North Carolina and I was literally speechless.

First I'm going to start with how you're hurting yourself...

Don't you know that your social media profiles are public? Don't you know that ANYONE can see these? Do you hope to play volleyball in college someday, possibly get a scholarship?  Do you hope to get a job one day? When I played Volleyball at the University of North Carolina all of our social media presences were monitored weekly by our head coaches because we don't just represent ourselves- we represent our school, our team, our sport, and women in general. Many of you have past tweets about sex, alcohol, drugs, etc. and these can be judged by people who have no clue if you're joking or not.

Unfortunately and fortunately, you aren't like everybody else. Others can tweet about going to parties, drinking underage, but what kind of message is that sending to your coaches, peers, and future employers? You are held to higher standards than others, and are subject to more criticism. Any random teenager getting high or drunk at a party and is no big deal, but when you're recognized by others- all of a sudden pictures are taken that you can never get back

And don't get me wrong- when people would see me play I was as competitive as they get. It pained me to high five an opponent after a loss, and during games I would have no problem telling my server who I believed the weakest passer on the team was. Personal jabs, in a public forum, are never acceptable and just come across as extremely jealous and/or insecure.

You are also hurting women athletes...

Women sports already have a stigma in this country, one that female athletes are trying so hard to overcome. Have you seen this video about the girl pitcher who competed in the little league world series? It gave me goosebumps to the message she is able to spend.

Your tweets may be targeted for your classmates to think that you are funny, but think about all the young girls you could be inspiring that could also be following you. You probably look up to certain players in college or the Olympics, and there are currently younger girls in the community who attend your games to look up to you and aspire to be you.

My high school coach taught me the trick to a good interview, and I would like to pass this onto you- after every game every question should be answered with a compliment to your opponent and a compliment to your teammate. How does it feel to win this huge game? (Opponents name) is such a great team who made so little errors, so I'm really happy with how my team played. You set a personal record with 30 kills, how does it feel? Considering (opponents name) is such a good team, it's crazy, but I think that really shows more to how great our defense was and how athletic my setter is.

You are also hurting people...

Calling opposing teammates ugly, annoying, or unskilled to yourself or other teammates is one thing- but sharing it for the entire WORLD to see, with the intent of them seeing these messages is another. Calling opposing players from a team you played derogatory names, from bitch, to thot (hoe), to literally "shoutout to #4 lookin like a mixture between an alien and an acorn" is really confusing to me why you would intentionally try to hurt people that you don't know.

Honestly I didn't know the best way to go about approaching this matter, and decided I would reach out to your coach and principal about the issue. They promptly asked for proof, and unfortunately I still haven't received a response, and many of the tweets are still on twitter which makes me believe they're choosing to wait until after the season to address the issue.

One of my teammates killed herself this past year. She was picked on constantly, and although she received a full ride scholarship to a great ACC school, was smart enough to get into a prestigious med school after college, and had a boyfriend that loved her- she still chose to end her own life. You never know what battles people are facing, and it's important to understand everyone has a struggle you know nothing about.

Calling another girl bitch or ugly in order to get favorites is so twisted. We grow up in a society where many judge their prettiness by number of likes pictures get, or their wit based on the number of RTs or favorites on twitter, and I plead to you that this mentality has to change. 

These girls, under my advice, made their twitters PRIVATE- so they wouldn't be bothered anymore, yet you decided to keep taking jabs, tweeting again how she was a bitch.
Your principal wouldn't tell you, your coaches wouldn't tell you, and your teammates wouldn't tell you- so here I am to tell you that this is not cool. Although the screenshots can be removed from this site, other screen shots will never go away. No different than the words you have spoken of hate will stay in people's minds infinity times longer than words of praise will.
Like I said, this is a time you'll remember the rest of your life, however I'm a firm believer high school athletics should be teaching you much more than just passing, setting, and hitting. I don't think anyone is expecting an apology, however I do expect these tweets to be promptly deleted. 
From a former athlete,
Emily McGee

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Would You Pass the Marshmallow Test? A Lesson in Deferred Gratification

There was a famous experiment that I learned about in Psychology 101 in college called the Stanford Marshmallow Test. I remember paying close attention because we had to participate in graduate student's studies as part of the class, and I always was looking for one that involved food.

The Test

The studies were a series of delayed gratification tests which were conducted in the 1960's where a small child was offered a marshmallow, Oreo, cookie, etc.. by the exam proctor, and told if they didn't eat the treat when the proctor left the room for a short period, he would then receive two treats as a reward for waiting and then could eat them.

The results for the children ranging in age from 4-6 were that a third ate the treat immediately, the second third tried to wait but couldn't last the full 15 minutes, and the final third was able to wait long enough to get the second one.

This what when I tuned out in class, and thought the takeaway was that young children do not yet grasp the concept of deferred gratification, as there were a lot more 6 year olds than 4 year olds who didn't wait. I considered if I would take the Oreo or not originally and decided I could wait 15 minutes to receive two However, the fact that the proctor didn't tell the kids how long he'd be gone, instead that he'd return in"a short period of time," I doubted that I could wait- my love for food and lack of patience creating the perfect storm.

Flash forward a few months later the final exam, there was a question about these studies on it and I was proud of myself for remembering. The question, however, was regarding a follow-up study about the tests. I picked an answer I thought sounded good, and looked up the answer after the exam while thinking if I couldn't get the one question about food right, I didn't do too hot on that exam.

The follow up studies, were much more interesting than the preliminary study- where the results showed the third of children who waited had better lives. These kids were more successful in almost every area of their lives one would think were important; they had lower Body Mass Index (BMI)'s in fitness, higher SAT scores, faster reaction times, better educational attainment, and several other life situations these kids came out on top.

Immediately backtracking on my previous answer, I reassured myself that of course I would wait for the second Oreo which also means I'm destined for life success... but 6 years after my freshman Psyc 101 class, I'm 99% sure I would have popped the first Oreo right away even at age 20. The sport I played had constant feedback and often instant gratification. If I ran as fast as I could right now, I can get to the ball. If I work as hard as I can in the weight room, next week I'll lift heavier. I talked about the team mentality in my last blog post, and how running a marathon only really benefited me, so I didn't care about my own well being- heck one Oreo is better than none in my book. However if I would have had a teammate, friend, or even stranger in the room with me, I know without a doubt I would have happily waited to share.

I realized on the way to work today I forgot to bring my lunch, so it was a nice surprise when there was an Apple sitting on my desk with a thank-you note for Support Staff Appreciation Week.... Obviously I ate the apple immediately, instead of saving it for lunch and I think we know the answer to if I could pass the Marshmallow Test.
The Climb Never Ends
Speaking to a friend about life after sports, the question was raised of how we know when we are doing enough. I don't think this is the right question. There will always be something more we can do, more challenges to overcome, and I'm not sure if it is possible to be completely satisfied.

Living is so much more than winning. It is about learning, failing, growing, reflecting, sharing, etc. Delayed gratification is what keeps us going because some of the most important things in life can't happen in a day. The trick is you have to appreciate and see each day for what it is too.

The idea of winning has been ingrained in us as athletes, and it's difficult to adjust to having this as the end goal. The Upward Climb begins trying to define your life after sports,  and finding measurable goals to strive for. Landing a first job out of college is not easy, and even once you are hired, most first jobs are meant to be entry level that will hopefully catapult you into a better career down the road. Two or three years at a position sounds like an easy amount of time to wait for a promotion- but there will be a lot of challenges in those early years that make living them hard.

And it's not just in jobs- it might be going for a run or working-out every day to better yourself when your older. Or going to grad school now for the dream job you won't have for another 2-5 years. Putting 5% of your paycheck into a 401k that you won't get for another 40 years. There's a lot of things we have to do now, that are not fun, but necessary for our long term success.

So instead of asking "Am I doing enough right now?" a better question is- "How can I enjoy what I'm doing now and what I have, while I work towards what I want."

The most hiked mountains in the world aren't conquered for the view at the top- but the experience along the way. It is this same moment-to-moment happiness that you can track daily to help identify the triggers in life. These triggers will be different for everyone- but the foundation will be the same. For example, anticipation for a future event and looking forward tomorrow is a big one for me. Or an interaction with another person, getting a lot done and feeling productive, and feeling healthy after working out or a good night's sleep make me feel happy. When you're happy it's easier to have more days of happiness, similar to how when you're sad it tends to come in bunches too. These triggers can easily be controlled by scheduling your day, and is important to remember when you feel like the upward climb is too much.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Retired Athlete Problems - My regrets and advice after my first marathon

Despite my warning where I described my attempt at a marathon, there have been a large number of inquiries about Marathon training advice, tips, and other general questions. Here are some of my regrets and personal accomplishments based on some of the questions I've been asked:

What I would do differently if I did it again....
What should I wear for the marathon? Many people recommended throw away clothes that you could ditch before the start or in the early miles until you were warmed up. I had a pair of sweat pants under my warm running pants that I left in the bag to be picked up at the end of the race, and a hat and a garbage bag that I made my own head hole to keep warm. How the race starts is you are pre-divided into different "corrals" or groups to start. These are selected by your projected finish time (fastest first, slowest last). As this was my first marathon and there were no previous times to go off, I was in the third to last one. The Corrals were groups A-K, and then from there two waves were selected- a 7 a.m. start and an 8 a.m. start. I was in the 8 a.m. start, yet I didn't actually cross the start line until 8:18 or so, and was walking that whole way after I ditched my hat and stylish garbage bag. I wish I would have kept it longer, because although exciting and adrenaline filled, it was a slow, 25 minute walk to the start line.

Wasn't it boring running that long? What did you listen to? I loved training to my Book on Tape- and I picked a book I had never read, but had seen the movie (Divergent) so I thought it would be okay if I occasionally got distracted. However, some of my walking breaks turned extra long since I found myself just casually listening to my book on tape instead of focusing on the next mile. I did like the book on tape but maybe I could have gotten a little farther when my back was still holding up alright.

How did you train for your first marathon? Because of my back pain I was very limited to my training runs. I had to make my own plan, and pretty much ran 5-7 miles a day 4 days a week.... until my back would flare up and I would rest it completely until then. I made it up to 18 miles once, and then couldn't walk the next day either and was in a lot of pain. I only did one run in the three weeks leading up to my marathon, a nice short 4 mile jog 3 days before to make sure I'd survive. I wouldn't personally have done anything differently, as I don't think my body would have held up with the constant pounding- however I obviously don't recommend starting marathon training 3 months in advance, and not running the month before....

What diet did you use while training? So maybe the few sips of beer during the UNC football game the day before wasn't the smartest decision, nor the hot wings. If I had to grade my everyday diet I would give it a B-, and I didn't really change my diet to train for the marathon which obviously would have been smart.

What I surprised myself with
Do you have all of your toenails? Although I wish I had my gear longer, I thought I was very well dressed. I invested in some new running shoes 3 months before, along with the ridiculously expensive socks (about the same as Nike Elites but nowhere as stylish) that I was recommended. I'm not sure if this is what kept me from no blisters, missing toe nails, or foot cramps but my feet were super happy. I also invested in a nice Sports Bra, and wore dri-fit shirts. Because I've heard horror stories, I did lather up with Vaseline in all possible sources of friction, and did pass a few guys getting their bloody nipples taped- so all in all I thought I was very well prepared.

Did you have to go to the bathroom? I got up early enough to take care of my business, and throughout my 5 hour adventure I didn't have to use the bathroom once. I passed a lot guys going in trees and ladies waiting in line, so I thought I did pretty good here.

Did you use gels or Gatorade? I didn't get any cramps and my pee was a nice light yellow color after the day, even after my victory beers. I had 2-3 swallows of Gatorade at every aid station (every 2 miles or so) and felt that this was good, I had a gel that I didn't really use because it upset my stomach on my training runs. I didn't drink any water in fear of it going through me, and the Gatorade gave me a little sugar too and tasted good.

Are you sad you didn't finish? Going to work on Tuesday limp free was a big accomplishment. Two other colleagues who also ran the marathon were still walking funny, and I'm glad I wasn't disabled longer than that evening. Reminiscing on my college days when I kept pushing through the injury, flashbacks of not being able to dress myself or even drive a car haunted me. I'm glad I found a nice medium and listened to my body so I'm fully functional today.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Why You'll Never Feel That Way Again- Retired Athlete Problems

If someone was to ask me some of my favorite memories in life thus far, the majority of them would be about sports. Whether it was dancing in the lockerroom before a game, or a big upset where nobody thought we would win- all of these situations provide a certain thrill and sense of belonging that's difficult to emulate. Being an undersized athlete, I often had to overcome a lot of odds to get to where I am, which made each victory even sweeter.

The impact of helping teammates overcome obstacles together is one of the coolest feelings in the world. I'll never forget upsetting two ranked opponents in college in the same weekend, and the dog pile from my teammates that followed. We celebrated together, in front of a packed home crowd, and continued that celebration into early hours of the next day. I remember thinking to myself, how can it get any better than this? My senior season during our pre-season conditioning testing, all but a few girls passed on the first attempt. Our sprint test is very difficult for a sport that requires bursts of speed, not long distance at a high speed which this test is. It is more a test of your mental strength than your physical strength, silencing the voice in your head telling you to stop. Running it with your teammates who are all helping pace you makes the world of a difference, and you know if you can stick with them, you'll make it on time. So it is VERY difficult to pass your second time, just one day later, with nobody to pace you except others who also did not make it their first time. I volunteered to run it again with two of my younger teammates I had trained with all summer, and mid way through felt my groin tighten up into a giant knot. I had already passed the test, so didn't need to finish, but worried that if I quit, they wouldn't make it. I silenced the voice telling me to stop, and they both passed the test this time, and I went on with a pulled groin muscle to start my senior year pre-season. Having them come up to me after and thank me for running with them, had me question if I could ever feel this way again.

The truth is- it may not, and hasn't for me. Being an athlete ingrains a certain way of thinking in you. We love pressure situations, and will sacrifice anything for our team- from nights drinking like our other classmates, to our bodies when we question if we can survive this much pain. The sense of community and togetherness is one that no personal accomplishment will fulfill, as my teammates have had my back, both on and off the court, on numerous occasions which made want to be better, and push through indescribable pain at times to get the job done. Whether our goal was to upset an opponent, win a national championship, or survive the season- whenever doubt crept into my mind, I could look around and they were there to pick me right back up and remind me who I was fighting for.

This past weekend I competed in the Chicago Marathon. A big goal for someone who was never much of a runner, but it gave me a sense of purpose in my day and something to train for as I talked about in How To Define Your Life After Sports.  I cringe using the word competing, because I had to quit at mile 21/26.2. I started off great, and my pace was where I would hope it would be after the first 10k- then I felt the slight tightening in my back around mile 8 (that I became accustomed waking up to everyday my last two seasons playing). I trotted on, took a few stretch breaks, and continued when the back pain returned to a manageable level. Passing people cheering with comical signs, and running along side people who were blind, disabled, and much older than me gave me motivation to keep going. Although my back did bother me on some of my training runs before yesterday, it was not any worse than what I had competed with before during my athletic career. My Tylenol PM these past few months didn't have quite the same effect as my Muscle Relaxer/Oxycontin concoction that helped me survive in college after a long day- but I also wasn't diving, jumping, or lifting weights- so I figured I would be okay.

Around mile 17 I began to question my ability to finish, and my stretch and walk breaks began to take longer than my brief spurts of running. The stabbing pain slowly returning, and my book on tape I was listening to which was able to drown out my breath, wasn't able to distract me from the stabbing feeling in my back. So as I made the turn on mile 21 to China Town and saw the aid station, I decided to take a little longer stretch break with some assistance- and when the sharp pain didn't subdue, I didn't want to risk any more damage and called it quits and walked to meet up with my cheerer to head home.

Although today I am quite sore, it really is nothing like some of my soreness in preseason. Instead of going back to practice with the rest of my team the next day after a big win, I decided to take a personal day at work, because I could and nobody was depending on me. And although the pain I had yesterday was quite bad, it still didn't compare to some of the pain I had my senior season. The difference, was however this was for my own achievement, my own goal. That is everything that being an athlete is NOT about. If I had a teammate waiting for me to pass a baton off to I have no doubt in my mind that I could have continued and silenced the voice in my head telling me to stop.

Like I mentioned before, I question if I'll ever feel the way I did again as when I was an athlete. Fighting with your teammates, for your teammates, is something that is pretty unique. I feel as though looking over this past year at all the awesome things that have happened to me, still leave me with a void. From participating in a marathon, landing a great job, and getting engaged- all these things benefit me, and honestly not many other people. As an athlete where my results directly impacted those around me, made a difference if they succeeded as well is  completely different mindset than worrying about your own happiness. Before my determination and drive was motivated by others, and is now more of an internal struggle, which is immensely more difficult to accomplish with an athlete's overly high standard we hold for ourselves. I was hoping the marathon would show me that I could feel that sense of accomplishment again, but accomplishing things for just your self is completely different. So although this experience has helped me get a better grasp that maybe this void isn't meant to be filled- but rather accepted as those feelings are part of the past.

Side note- I do not recommend a marathon for ANY ex-athlete who's sport wasn't cross country or have experienced any foot/ankle/knee/hip/back injury during your career. Then again, if you've survived without any of the mentioned injuries, I question calling yourself an ex-athlete, therefore still can't recommend you sign up for a marathon.