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Who Am I Without Basketball?

Share Your Story Series: Injury and Identity.

"Success is not final, failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts." - Winston Churchill


My name is Lily blunt and this is my story.

Basketball Player - Itchen College Basketball

I've always had a clear vision of myself, my future, and what is meant for me. For as long as I can remember, I've been driven by a passion to not just learn, but to excel. Academics naturally became my forte right from the start. However, the relationship I formed with success became my biggest hurdle. I placed too much value on external factors like my grades, compliments, and the constant need to be ‘liked.’

At the age of 14, basketball officially entered my life. My dad, a former player himself, never forced me into it, but my innate athleticism and competitive spirit eventually drew me in. I'll be completely honest, during that time, I wasn't fully committed. I didn't go out to shoot on my own or put in extra effort. Consequently, I found myself in the role of a "role player" on the team. Initially, being a role player gave me a sense of purpose; it provided value to my existence. Regardless of my skill level, I felt appreciated. I made sure I was always the loudest voice on the bench or court, constantly trying to bring laughter to those around me. I took pride in being sociable and approachable—a reliable teammate. But when I suffered my first major injury two months ago, I couldn’t be this bubbly person anymore - I struggled and everything changed.

Up until my injury I was having the best basketball season of my life. I had earned a spot in the starting lineup, and it was my first winning season. I transformed my perception of being a mere role player into someone who was essential to the team's success. I competed against and defended some of the best British talent, and I was doing a good job at it. However, during one game, after playing the entire first half without a break, I had a brutal collision that hyperextended my leg, tearing my meniscus. The pain was indescribable. Until that moment, my body had never failed me as an athlete, apart from a few broken fingers here and there. But in that instant, my body felt like it had betrayed me both physically and mentally.

Despite needing time off to rest, the playoffs were looming, and the external pressures from my parents, coaches, and teammates forced me to keep playing. I continued training and playing, regardless of how many times I aggravated my knee, collapsing on the floor in tears. Looking back, I'm grateful I pushed through because I made it to my first-ever final. Although we lost, the feeling of competing in that game will be forever etched in my memory. As I forged ahead, concealing the pain and concerns within my body, I started losing touch with Lily. I hid the impact my injury was having on me.

My knee slowly started to get better, but I never felt 100%. In the midst of recovery, I went on a trip of a lifetime to San Antonio. I had the opportunity to train with NBA skills coaches and schools. While there I re-injured my knee. And even worse this time.

Since then, I haven't been able to train or play properly. I've been sidelined, and the mental toll of this injury has been unimaginable. Nothing could have prepared me for its effects. I felt unfulfilled and lost sight of who I am without sports, causing me to question so many things. If I can't be the optimistic person I once was, then who am I? If I can't train during the offseason, how will I improve? And if I can't improve in this sport, how much longer can I continue playing?

These questions continue to affect me. They have created a pit of sadness, self-doubt, and isolation within me. I've distanced myself from my team, wondering if I can still be considered part of it when I can't fulfill my role. Without sports, there is no outlet; all that remains is studying.

However, the most difficult adjustment has been discovering who Lily is without sports. The concept of "loving yourself" is frequently discussed nowadays, and while we may not always take it to heart, this injury has made me truly consider it. Basketball gave me an identity and a blueprint of who I am and who I can become. If I want something, I believed I could achieve it. Yet, time away from the game has taught me to explore whether I can love a Lily who isn't always "happy" or considered the "best." And if I'm being completely honest, right now, I can't. And that's okay. For a while, I'll find solace in listening to Athlete Confidential podcasts, knowing that my thoughts and experiences are heard and understood. Maybe not at this moment, but I am gradually learning to appreciate the process of self-discovery—the Lily that exists outside of basketball. Understanding how to love oneself can only enrich personal growth. And during this period when I'm not primarily defined as a basketball player, who else can I be? What else can I explore?

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