Some senior year lasts never get to happen after injuries

Shai+Nielson+looking+at+an+old+photograph+of+her+playing+soccer+when+she+was+younger.+Photo+by+SHANNON+NIELSON

Shai Nielson looking at an old photograph of her playing soccer when she was younger. Photo by SHANNON NIELSON

Shai Nielson looking at an old photograph of her playing soccer when she was younger. Photo by SHANNON NIELSON

Trophies line the shelf. Sweatshirts hang in the closet. The bag with my last name sewed across the top sits on the floor. All are reminders of how much soccer has been a part of my life; all are reminders of how that huge aspect of my life is now over.

I may not remember that first soccer practice I went to or the first goal I ever scored, but all the firsts I experienced when I was four years old I knew would eventually lead to the lasts. I just didn’t know the lasts would come so soon.

When I was 11, I was sure that I would play on the high school soccer team, then on a college team and then, if I was good enough, play at some state or national level. Now at age 17, my soccer dreams have changed. I no longer aspire to play at any high ranked level of the game and in college I’ve realized that I want to focus on school and just play soccer for fun with friends or on an intramural team.

All of that is my choice and is what I know is best for me. What wasn’t my choice was the decision to stop playing high school soccer and not try out for the team my senior year.

After 13 years of practices two to three times a week, league games on Saturdays and far away weekend tournaments (not to mention additional practices, games and tournaments the last three years during high school seasons), my body had to make the decision for me that my love for the game couldn’t get in the way of my health.

I’ve been so unbelievably lucky to have never sustained a career-ending or season-ending injury, but I didn’t escape playing sports my whole life completely unscathed. Over the years I’ve acquired knee, hip and back problems that have somehow affected less of my games and more of my non-playing time. I also found out two years ago that I had exercise-induced bronchoconstriction, otherwise none as asthma due to playing sports, which has affected my games and any exercise I do.

While acquiring all of those conditions was gradual, the eventual effect was dramatic: I wouldn’t be able to play soccer my senior year of high school.

There would be no final school tournaments, no last chance rival game against Rocklin, no Senior Night. All my high school soccer lasts were in my junior year and I didn’t even get to enjoy them as much as I would have had I known they would be the lasts for me.

I could have dared one last season but I knew the risk could have been long-lasting. Being a soccer player means accepting the chances of injury and knowing that, just like any athlete, health problems can exist for life after playing. I already have joint problems and will continue to have them forever, but with them already as bad as they are, one more season could have meant an ACL tear or another serious injury that would be much worse.

Maybe I’m being overly cautious. Maybe I would have been just fine to play through it all and get in my last high school season. Maybe it’s a mistake to sit on the sideline this year. But the maybe was just too much of an uncertainty.

I have extra time for my classes, my friends and my family now, and extra time with the people I love means the world to me right before college.

But don’t expect to see me avoiding the soccer field or regretting my decision. I will still be at every home game I can get to, cheering on my old teammates and probably even accidentally doing some coaching from the sideline. I can’t change my decision now, so I won’t dwell on regrets or “what ifs.” I may wish I was out on that field, but every decision has its pros and cons and I will be focusing on the positives.

My senior year decision to not play soccer was the hardest choice I’ve ever made, but no matter what, I have years of memories that will last me for the rest of my life. Those trophies, sweatshirts and jerseys don’t make me sad anymore, they remind me that one great thing in my life has ended but hasn’t left me forever. Soccer will always be a part of my life even if I can’t be on the field anymore. Besides, when one door closes…well, you know the rest.

 

by SHAI NIELSON