Jeremiah 29:11 - "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
My freshman year in college, I finally achieved my longtime goal as an athlete, I was a national champion! After a lifetime of 6 a.m. swim sets, weekends spent on a pool deck and countless hours of practice, it felt like it was all worth it, like the culmination of years of planning.
I had always had a complicated relationship with water polo. It gave me my best friends, taught me lessons about perseverance and patience, and my success was a reminder of God’s blessings in life. He gave me a body that was healthy and strong and the gift of a successful (and fun!) athletic career that landed me at my dream school, Stanford University. Throughout high school, I had the singular goal of playing collegiately and I put pressure on myself to play at a college that would give me an academic education as well as an athletic one. Every choice I made was in service of this and the sacrifices sometimes made it tough to love what I was doing in the moment, but that goal gave me purpose.
Then, during my first two years of college, my relationship with my sport lost the direction it once had. Where before I was one of the best on the team, I felt respected by my coach and I had a goal to work towards, now, I was struggling to keep up with my Olympian teammates and my coach pitted me against them for the little playing time I got. I used to joke that my season was made of 15 seconds of glory. All of this, while my non-athlete Stanford classmates were taking internships in New York, conducting research for a world class university, and taking classes that they loved because they didn’t have conflicting practice time. I felt like I was missing out on opportunities on both ends and I started feeling confused how all of these blessings God had given me started feeling like a burden I couldn’t keep up with. When I finally achieved my goal, and won a national championship I thanked God, but over my next season I felt conflicted about what the future held for me.
At my lowest point, I had a conversation with my mom where she said to me, “it’s okay to move on from water polo.” She encouraged me to commit this idea to prayer and really listen to what God was telling me, so I did. I prayed every day about my future with water polo. How could I quit and leave behind the thing that had gotten me so far in life? Why would God give me this gift and then move me in the opposite direction? In another conversation, my mom reminded me of Jeremiah 29:11 where God promises that He knows the amazing plan he has for our lives. For years I had my own blueprint for my life, which included playing four years of college water polo While I may have acknowledged God along the way, I never fully gave up my plan for His.
After a few weeks of prayer, I decided to leave water polo behind and fully appreciate what else Stanford, and more importantly God, had to offer. In doing so, He has taken me down a path in a new state with a career that I love and it wouldn’t have been possible if I continued down my path. I truly believe God led me to give up water polo, and in the process He revealed to me the peace that comes with giving your anxieties and plans up to Him.
God has you exactly where he wants you, whether that is as an athlete or not. You are so much more than an athlete and in the end, God’s plan is so much greater than any games you can win or trophies you can collect.
I’m a retired swimmer and water polo player and I competed for Newport Harbor and eventually at Stanford. Currently I’m working at Facebook in Austin where I spend my time trying to escape the Texas heat with indoor sports like Soulcycle or boxing. I believe in the power of prayer and although I’m not an athlete anymore, I’m always excited about the lessons we can learn from our time playing the games we love.