DES MOINES — When I was about nine or 10 years old, one of my high school basketball idols gave me a piece of paper with a quote printed on it. It is a quote I will never forget.
“Somewhere behind the athlete you’ve become, and the hours of practice, and the coaches who have pushed you, is a little girl who fell in love with the game and never looked back ... play for her.”
That same Mia Hamm quote was read to my teammates and me in the back hallway last night before we began the Class 4A state championship game. At once, I looked back on my basketball career.
The little girl I was, less than 10 years ago, sat in the top row during the 2008 state volleyball championship with her friends and covered her eyes as Sam Rinehart delivered the kill to win the match. The Marion girls piled on the floor, the crowd went crazy, and I knew in that moment how much it meant to be a state champion. I felt it deep in my stomach.
I needed that to be me. From there, I never gave up.
Every free throw in the driveway or after practice was “to win the state championship.” Over and over, my teammates and I faked the euphoric feeling of sending the team into overtime in the corner of our home gym.
I persisted through many seasons of the AAU circuit despite the fact that scoring one basket was a huge accomplishment to me and I spent far more time skipping over lines than focusing on the game. My coaches never gave up on the girl who got last in every sprint and showed the coordination of a baby deer on ice.
Nothing came without work. Everyone saw the shiny trophy and the moment when the clock struck zero. Only the high school janitor saw the players sneak through the door earlier than 6 in the morning to get a workout in before school.
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I listened to the quote as I stood with the girls who I had gone through every practice, game, and memory of my life with — the same girls I always gave a silent nod to when we walked into the gym before school and the sun hadn’t even come up. They knew what we had gone through together since day one when the stands were empty.
And we won.
The desire to catch a dream that has been bottled up inside me for as long as I can remember evaporated instantly. I almost didn’t know what to do. I asked my family, “Does this mean I have to come up with a new biggest dream now?”
I guess I can allow myself a moment to enjoy our success before I take on that challenge.
My biggest hope is that every little girl who watched us jump up and down with the trophy in our hands gets that same tightness in her stomach and urgency to catch her dream. Someday when they catch it, they will realize that the process of growing up and chasing a passion trumps any medal they can acquire.
We did it for Marion, the community that has supported us in every way possible. We did it for our parents so they could share in the success they helped us achieve. Most of all, we did it for the little girl in each of us that loved the game of basketball.
Never forget to play for her.