I have so many questions. And I know that the answers, if they come at all, will only come with time. Looking back doesn't feel like it'll help me move forward. I don't know how 22 years of "I am" can really prepare a person to say "I am not" for the first time. But I'll do my best.
I grew up playing soccer and tennis since before I can remember. But in 7th grade, a funeral kept me away from tennis tryouts, and opened the door to track and field. I tried the pole vault because it seemed cool. I stuck with it because I was right.
Photography and track have always gone hand-in-hand for me. I got my first camera for Christmas of 2002, and I took it everywhere. My first pictures were of my family, robotics club, and track meets. Robotics club would eventually fall by the wayside. Track would become a core piece of my identity. It was the people around me. It was the challenges that I faced. It was the lessons that I learned.
Pole vault is weird. It's a community that feels so small, but also feels so large. It's a sport that makes no sense, but makes perfect sense.
There are so many questions. What do you lose when you lose pole vault? How much can you keep by grasping tightly, trying not to let it slip through your fingers? How much will it hurt to see it slip away regardless? Is the pain of letting go worse than the pain of knowing that you couldn't hold on tight enough?
I knew this moment was coming. I already wrote about this heartbreak. But seeing it on the horizon isn't quite like hearing it at your doorstep. Writing about the future isn't quite like stopping on the side of the road after practice and crying. It's not like knowing you could continue, technically, but deciding that the time for that was yesterday, not today.
There's nothing to prepare you for telling your training partner that it's time, but having those words feel like "I'm sorry I'm letting you down. I'm sorry I couldn't be the person I wanted to be."
There are so many feelings. One of them is jealousy. The sport has come a long way in two decades. I wonder: if only I'd had the same opportunities. If only I'd had the coaching. Community. Equipment. Facilities. Knowledge. I still have goals. Why do they still feel like they're within reach? How can I turn my back on them when they're still within reach?
I wonder if this is the pain of every generation. I mean, I had coaching. I had — and still have — community. Equipment. Facilities. And the knowledge came as the years flew by. I took the ingredients I had, and I did the best I could. But it never feels like enough. I don't know. There's parts of me that were thankful for 22 years of this, even as other parts of me long for just one more season. One more meet. One more practice.
There's parts of me that are glad to avoid the arthritis-like symptoms in my hand, and other parts that still long to fly through the air. The parts that are glad I won't have to worry about being able to walk after any given practice, versus the feeling of accomplishment from thundering down the runway like a locomotive.
I don't really know what the future will hold. I know that it's definitely time. I know that this is the right decision. But I'm still just fumbling in the dark.