Just when we think we figured things out, life throws us a curve ball. So, we have to improvise. We find happiness in unexpected places. We find ourselves back to the things that matter the most. The universe is funny that way. Sometimes it just has a way of making sure we wind up exactly where we belong.” – Unknown
They weren’t supposed to win this year.
Back in October, when I booked my trip to Europe over the 2017 Final Four weekend , I was confident the North Carolina basketball team wouldn’t win the NCAA Championship. I’d watched a few games, noted the lack of cohesiveness and missing players from last year’s finals’ team, and concluded there were far better squads out there.
This year was not a championship year.
2005 was a championship year; I felt in my bones — both for the team, and for me: I successfully coordinated the campus-wide Relay For Life fundraiser, enjoyed my family in town for a Badger football game, and secured a coveted investment banking internship at Wells Fargo. 2005 was a year of smiles and cheers and making great memories, including that of celebrating Roy Williams’ first title with my fellow Tar Heels.
2009 wasn’t far behind. Following the Heels’ 2nd championship of the Roy Williams era, I traveled to Ireland, my first introduction to Europe. I followed that trip up with the most successful implementation of my Healthcare IT career, and then took a magical trip to Paris at Christmas time.
2005 and 2009 were championship years…. 2017?
Similar to the struggling basketball squad, the beginning of the year felt like anything BUT a championship year for me. January and February were plagued with a return of my painful piriformis syndrome. For nearly four years I’d kept it at bay, but with a little overdoing it on the running at the end of the year, it returned with a vengeance, refusing to be abated by rest or stretching. Just as it had when it first popped up in 2013, the injury consumed my life — I couldn’t enjoy the every day things, much less bigger events, with my mind always on the pain.
At the end of February, I finally found a physical therapist who seemed to understand my body’s healing process — no small feat. I made some progress, but nothing major. My hopes of recovery in time for my mom and my trip to Arizona to watch the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament quickly gave way to just wishing for some comfort and the ability to do a short hike, wishes which indeed came to fruition.
But could I make it in Europe for two weeks?
One hundred and twelve miles of walking later, I returned with the most confidence I’d had since my injury had flared up again. I’d had plenty of sore days during the trip where I thought “Megan, you really did yourself in this time,” but then the next day I’d feel better, ready to walk more. Within a week of my return from Europe, I decided it was time to try running again, and those two miles pain-free convinced me even more that I was on the road to recovery… finally.
It was time to get back on track and enjoy what 2017 had to offer.
Throughout the months of my injury return I’d often reminded myself that everything else in my life was under control — the Spring-like weather in Madison along with the closeness of friends and family in the area reminded me there was no place I’d rather live. I had a job I loved, even some good dating prospects. The only issue was the injury. And then in May–
Curve ball, curve ball, curve ball.
Just as the pain from my injury subsided, all those other components of my life had some sort of obstacle thrown at them. I grew overwhelmed, frustrated, and downright angry at this year 2017… until I remembered the Carolina basketball team.
With marked improvement that resulted in several critical wins, the Tar Heels managed to secure a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. But during that first weekend I watched from Arizona in March, the team barely beat their second opponent. They just didn’t seem to have that edge needed to pull out 4 more wins, and to top it all off, our point guard was still fighting a pesky left ankle sprain that had plagued him all year.
In the next game the following weekend, a completely different team emerged. The star–filled roster gelled together to look like the dominant team who had earned that coveted top seed. Up until the the last quarter of the game, I was enjoying the heck out watching the squad and wondering if I’d have to figure out way to catch the game from Europe — maybe, just maybe they could still win the title.
Then, with 8 minutes to go, our point guard sprained his other ankle.
Watching him limp to the locker room, a feeling formed in the pit of my stomach, that same “how could this happen now?” feeling that followed my re-injury and all of those other curve balls thrown at me this year.
I looked away from the TV at that point, shaking my head in disgust, and reminded myself, “Hey, you didn’t think they could win.” But I still felt deprived. Sure it hadn’t seemed like a championship year at first, but they’d overcome so many obstacles to get here. They’d been so close to success, and now….
I glanced back at the TV to see our point guard jog back out onto the court — jog, as in running as fast as most normal people do in a race. He played the next five minutes with little-to-no display of his injury, guiding the team to victory. “Look at that,” the announcer noted, “he’s fighting through it.”
With reports of continued progress the following week, I wondered again whether something special might come together while I was exploring the other side of the pond a week later; but even with that wondering, it still shocked me to no end to see the final score on my ESPN Gamecast app at 4am in Salzburg, Austria. Seriously? They won?
At the end of May, the significance of the team’s perseverance hit me.
I wanted so badly to enter this year on a linear path upwards — even with the pain of my injury, I remained optimistic that everything could get better from there. But 2017 has taught me more than ever how silly of a notion that is. There is no year without intermittent curve balls or setbacks. Some are on a smaller scale. Some, like this years’, bring tears and questions along with the downfalls that can leave you overwhelmed and frustrated.
What 2017 has also taught me though… and what I’ve been reminded of, is that every time you get thrown one of those curve balls, you learn how to hit back at it. Every time you jog back out of that locker room, you prove to yourself you can overcome whatever life puts in front of you. And so that’s what I’ve done, and that’s what I’ll keep doing. I’ll keep hitting back, I’ll keep running back out onto that court (because I can run now), and I’ll keep playing this game of life with a positive attitude as long as I can.
All the while knowing that no matter what the circumstances, I can never again doubt the possibility of a championship.
(Note the picture below is from the TV at home where I had to watch the championship game 3 weeks later, since I couldn’t catch it in Europe. It was nearly as sweet seeing it nearly a month later).