Share Your Story Series: Reconnecting with Your “Why” & Growing Through Adversity.
“Adversity causes some men to break; others to break records”- William Arthur Ward.
Life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows; it’s inevitable that we will experience adverse situations such as a breakup or getting fired from a job. These situations are painful, stressful, cause anxiety, and are uncomfortable, but to embrace it, draw strength from it, and find positive traits and values builds character.
My name is Chanelle Molina and this is my story.
Professional Basketball Player & Washington State University Women’s Basketball Alum.
I have been faced with a handful of adversities that have tested me and made me question who I am. That process of self-discovery helped me to prioritize my core values and ultimately, discover what I want to be about.
This is my story on facing a domino of adversities which have shaped me into the person and athlete I am today.
The first time I faced adversity came in my freshman year of high school in the state championship game. As a freshman, I had a huge role on the team as I was the go-to scoring option. During the fourth quarter, we were down by two points with a minute left to go. My team was able to take the lead. As the clock counted down, I missed a layup that would have given us a bigger lead. The other team ended up tying the game the very next possession, forcing it to overtime, and winning the state title.
That was the first of many letdowns.
The following year, we lost in the quarterfinals, but my junior and senior year we won back-to-back state titles. During my high school career, I won BIIF Conference Player of the Year four times in a row, Hawaii Girls Basketball Player of the Year three times in a row, and I also excelled in volleyball and won two state titles in that sport as well. My success in high school led me to sign with Washington State University’s women’s basketball program on a full ride scholarship.
Heading into college as the first 5-star recruit Washington State had received in any sport put a lot of pressure on me. I had a lot of expectations from a lot of people, including myself. It took me a while to adjust to the different level of competition, as well as the college lifestyle: juggling classes, workouts, practices, study hall, homework, and being away from family and friends. It was such an overwhelming experience for me, and I struggled to adjust.
I wasn’t performing at the “superstar” level that was expected from coaches and everyone who was counting on me to take this team to new heights. I started to doubt myself and my ability to play at this level. However, that all changed when we faced UCLA where I dropped 33 points. My coach said that I needed a breakthrough game to really gain momentum and get going and that UCLA game was definitely a break-through. Unfortunately, it was short-lived.
The following week we played Arizona State and I tore my ACL. I was extremely frustrated and disappointed. I was finally playing at that level that was expected of me and my ability to play was completely stripped away from me in an instant.
My rehab process was an emotional rollercoaster for me. There were times I used told myself, you will come back stronger than ever, and then there were times where I was depressed and didn’t want to do anything but stay in my room all day. You kind of lose a part of your identity because when you’ve played a sport all your life and have it suddenly taken away from you, it takes a toll on you.
After seven months I was cleared to play again, but I still had mental barriers that I carried throughout my sophomore year. I was afraid to do certain moves thinking that it would aggravate my knee. I ended up having a mediocre season individually and as a team we lost a lot of games. At the end of that year, we had a coaching change. My junior year, there was a whole new coaching staff and they worked with a vision to change the culture of women’s basketball. Although we didn’t have a winning season, our team dynamic was a lot better than the two previous years. In the beginning of my senior year, I had big hopes for our team since we were all adjusted to the system. I was disappointed when we kept losing games. During my last regular season game against Oregon State, my knee started to act up and I ended up sitting out that game. I had to take a pain killer for my first game in the Pac 12 tournament in order for me to play. We ended up losing that game by quite a lot and our season ended right there. Sitting in the locker room after that game, I remember thinking about my college basketball career and overall, I was content. I did the best that I could to my ability.
In college, after basketball season ends, every senior’s name is automatically put in the draft for the WNBA. From there, these players have a chance for their name to be called. Washington State’s media team really hyped up me on social media. I received dozens of messages wishing me luck and once again I was on that pedestal where the spotlight was on me, and expectations were high.
A week before the draft the coach from the WNBA team, Connecticut Suns, contacted me and told me that I was one of the prospects on his list of possible candidates. He asked me a bunch of questions. He also contacted my head coach and asked about me. I had high hopes that they were going to pick me up.
I remember sitting in the common area on the couch at my friend’s dorm with a couple of my other friends and my two sisters. We turned on ESPN and I waited anxiously for my name to be called. It was the third and last round of the draft and I saw that one of my sisters pulled out her camera in an effort to catch my reaction. My name was not called, and a flood of disappointment filled me. Although I was initially gutted, I wasn’t quite ready to give up. The days following, my agent worked to look for contracts with teams overseas. I was outside on the courts putting up shots, working on my ball handling, and doing drills to make sure that I stayed ready. This was all happening in the middle of the Covid pandemic, so there were limited resources available.
In late September of 2020, I got a call from my agent who said that he found me a team in Sweden. It took me a couple of days to pack and next thing I knew, I was off on a flight to the other side of the world not knowing what to expect.
The Swedes there spoke English, so it made the adjustment a lot easier. There were two other Americans on the team, and I shared an apartment with one of them. My schedule looked like this: weights around 10-11, lunch, then evening practice from 5-6:30 pm. Also, two days a week there would be one-hour individual training sessions. It was completely different compared to my college schedule. I had time to enjoy things that I love to do such as writing in my journal, yoga, going on walks, and finding new recipes to bake.
Once games started, I was playing well. Sometime in the middle of my season, Tamika Catchings, an absolute WNBA legend who is now retired and is currently the general manager for the Indiana Fever, contacted my agent. Fever wanted to sign me to a training camp contract. It was amazing news! Basically, the contract would allow me to be on a roster with several girls and I would get the chance to compete for an official spot on the team. It was a big opportunity.
Word got out on social media and next thing I knew my phone was blowing up with people congratulating me saying how much of an inspiration I am for them. It was a big deal especially in the Filipino community because if I did make that team, I would be the first Filipino ever to play in the WNBA.
Just as I’m riding this high of my shot at the WNBA, adversity strikes again. In the second quarter of my second to last regular season game in Sweden I jumped up to grab a rebound and when I came down, I landed on a girl from another team’s foot. I immediately felt the sharp pain that ran up through my right ankle. I was carried off the court. Usually with ankle sprains, I would get up and walk it off, but this one was bad. I ended up missing the playoffs in which we got eliminated in the third round of the quarterfinals. At the beginning of the season my goal was to win the Swedish league. I was devastated that I couldn’t play and attempt to make that happen.
I had six weeks until the start of training camp with Indianan Fever. I did everything I could to rehab my ankle and make sure I was ready by then. Three weeks passed and I still could not run on it. I flew to Arizona to see an old college connection one week before camp. He was supposed to help me get my ankle ready for camp. He immediately broke it to me and put things in perspective by telling me that I will not head into camp with the same explosiveness and quickness that I would have if I was healthy. I really had to rely on my skills to get me through camp. Given the condition of my ankle I shouldn’t have been training on it, but there was no way I was going to let that opportunity slip. I had to give it a shot.
On the first day of camp, we just ran through plays. We did a little bit of transition going up and down the court, but that was it. On the morning of the second day, I really felt how stiff my ankle was, but still decided to train. We did a defensive drill and my player drove down middle. When I went to step in front of her, my ankle just gave out. I was brought to the side and in that moment I knew my chances of making the team were out of the question. The head coach and Tamika confirmed that after practice. They told me that they were going to release me.
Once again, waves of disappointment and frustration filled me. I flew back home to Hawaii to reconnect with my family and relax and let my ankle heal. This was also a chance to reset my mind and I did that by taking a break from training and basketball. I spent all my time with my family, having barbecues, relaxing at home, and walking my dog. Those walks are where I did a lot of self-reflection.
I asked myself, “Do I really want to be pursuing this sport?” This made me reflect on why I started this sport in the first place. The answer: my love for the game! Ever since I could dribble a basketball, I enjoyed the happiness it brought me. The artistic expression of being creative with the ball in my hands, beating on the boys at recess, watching other people play basketball and trying to imitate their moves. I genuinely enjoy playing the game and have fun doing it. I think somewhere along the way of trying to be great, I lost that sense of having fun.
My achievements that I attained through basketball put me on a pedestal. I felt that I was expected to do great things, always. Physically, I had the ability to do a lot of amazing things but mentally, I was overwhelmed with the fear of failure. That fear drove me more than my love for the game. I let people’s expectations of me dictate how and why I played. I was doing it for them rather than for myself. Once I realized that, my mindset had completely switched. I told myself I was now going to play the rest of my basketball career for me and no one else. Just a kid that loves the game and wants to be a sponge and learn and grow. It was a very humbling experience for me.
After about two months home, I flew back to Arizona, and I was ready to turn those thoughts into action. My old college connection had a training plan set for me to be faster and more explosive. For two months, I was training on the track and in the weight room. I even invested my time researching nutrition and what foods help with recovery. I experimented with different foods to go along with my training to see how my body reacts and how I feel. Those two months were really a breakthrough for me. I trusted the process. I had never gone through any training like what he put me through. It was the toughest thing I have ever done. While going through that hell, I really discovered who I am as a person, and I learned a lot about what it takes to be an elite athlete. My biggest take away was this: stay in the red zone and when things get hard, relax, focus, and push through.
Overall, that training gave me the confidence to know that I was more than ready for the next time I went overseas, and I learned the importance of nutrition and recovery.
I am currently in Sweden, playing in the same league, but on a different team. I’ve already played two pre-season games and I notice the difference in my performance compared to last year. I carry myself better and I’m having fun!
The WNBA is still the dream and I’m going to keep giving it my best every day in order to reach that goal. I may not have had the best winning college record, I may have gone undrafted in the 2020 draft, and I may have gotten cut from training camp, but I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason.
If I hadn’t faced all those challenges, I wouldn’t have trained the way I did, eat the way I do, and have the mindset of now playing for the love of the game. I’m a different and better person because of all of that. I am on this journey of pursuing greatness every day and when it’s all said and done, I want to be known as someone who was resilient, courageous, and determined and who’s inspired millions to push through when things get tough.
Like the saying goes, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”