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The Clarion

The Student News Site of Bethel University

The Clarion

The Student News Site of Bethel University

The Clarion

The second-worst sentence

What coaches say in big moments matters.
Carl Schmuland

My childhood room was covered with bags and boxes filled with old and new things – grad invites to parties that never happened, my brown Mizuno glove and a mini fridge. Things that would travel with me to a Christian liberal arts college in Iowa.

I didn’t want to go, but I did. It would be a fresh start. A way for me to go back to being a student, an athlete and a friend to new faces. 

I was wrong. 

– – –

I walked through the blue and white doors of the Luther College athletic department and turned left until my 5-foot-6 scrawny body stood in the doorway of my coach’s office. She had recruited me by emailing me, watching me play and inviting me to stay on campus. She was why I was here. 

My dream of playing college softball was formed on the dirt diamond – playing baseball with the boys at 7 years old, going to Minnesota Twins games (and obsessing over Joe Mauer) and being a bat girl for the St. Francis High School softball team. Pair those with my mom’s promise to herself that I would be a college athlete and her consistent nagging to get out in the backyard to play catch with her, and I had my heart set on a collegiate mound. 

A week into practices, I was anxious to hear what she had to say. I forced a soft smile as I became aware of the sound of my own heartbeat. My face felt warm and my palms were moist.  The last time I was in this office – 26 days ago – my coach handed me a tissue box. I had lost weight, my hair was thinning and my grades were slipping. I needed to explain why, so I told her what happened this summer. 

My coach welcomed me with a smile followed by some small talk: How was your first week of classes? How are you adjusting? Have you made any friends?

I answered the questions to please her.

Then, a sigh escaped from her lips.

The following sentence would be the second-worst sentence I had ever heard in 19 years on Earth, second to being told my boyfriend– well, he wasn’t my boyfriend, but when you hang out with someone everyday for over a year, but they never ask you to be their girlfriend, what do you call it? – died in a car accident on the way to my house two months prior. After going through the most devastating heartbreak I had ever endured, this would be yet another crushing blow. 

My coach looked me in the eyes with an apologetic face, pity in her eyes.

“I don’t think you are mentally or physically ready to play on our team,” she said. 

She was using my fragility against me. I didn’t understand. I was working to gain back the weight (grieving weight, my doctor called it). I was working to find the will to get out of bed every day. I was working toward getting my life back, to gain a sense of normalcy again. Couldn’t she see that?

My eyes welled up with tears, but I did not let them fall. 

I’m not really sure what happened during the rest of our meeting. I was being turned away by the person who recruited me, who had told me I was mechanically sound, that my change-up was deadly and that I was a gritty player. Now, she said I had lost too much weight. I looked unwell, unfocused and, frankly, I was going to get hurt by just stepping on the field. 

I needed to go home. I needed to talk to my mom. 

I walked out of the athletic department and made the trek back to my dorm. I yanked open the drawers of my dresser, grabbed a handful of clothes, threw them into a duffel bag, and then I was in my car, facing the three-hour drive home. My hands shook, my stomach turned and the tears fell until I got home, 182 miles north. 

Just three months ago, my childhood room had been covered with bags and boxes filled with old and new things.  Things that belonged in my freshman dorm room. Now they were back, but this time, I didn’t know where they belonged. 

– – –

Three years later, I know they belong at Bethel – where wide-opened arms welcomed me, my pain and my past. Where coaches sat across from me in the admissions office, listening to me tell my story while tears welled up in their eyes.

Where second chances exist, even when you don’t deserve them. I’m not the best pitcher. I’ve spent the last three and a half years playing backup to a two-time All-American DIII Pitcher of the Year. As a senior, I’ve spent the first part of the season watching practice, recovering from knee surgery. I’ve spent more time in the dugout than I’ve spent on the field, but I’m still embraced as a valuable team member. 

Some of my more meaningful memories take place off the field, like karaoke on the coach bus in Oregon on our way to the super-regional tournament, single-handedly setting up the dome at the National Sports Center and making soup to send to our teammate’s family, whose mom had just been diagnosed with cancer. 

Outside of softball, I found another team in the student newspaper where I get to seek truth alongside many talented journalists, an internship in Florida where I lived on a farm for a month writing about agriculture and the Gospel and in my senior capstone, where I’ve been working on a small poetry collection about my personal experience with loss.  

Most importantly, I have learned the beautiful blessing that community is in times of deep sorrow. I am a firm believer that God placed me here for a reason. 

A huge lesson I have learned is that God isn’t continuously telling us what to do as we search for ourselves. He gently reminds us who we are. He continues to rewrite our lives in beautiful and unexpected ways, knowing the next version of us will usually be better than the previous one. While I could spend my time being hurt and angry, I am slowly learning how to just be in the moment. How to exist. How to understand that I cannot control life, that I can only experience it in both its light and dark stages. I am slowly learning how to laugh and cry and feel through it all, how to welcome the confusion and the joy that comes with loving and living and breaking. I am slowly learning how to simply believe in the person I am becoming.

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    Glenn Morehouse OlsonJan 18, 2024 at 11:00 am

    Beautiful words, Ella! I’m so proud to have taught you in high school AP – and so touched by your personal journey through love and loss, and grief and healing. What a powerful journey of self-discovery.