In August of 2017, just before my first year of middle school began, I was experiencing back pain that I, along with the medical professionals I visited, attributed to a common sports injury. Weeks later, my injury did not seem to heal as expected, so I went for an MRI. I was diagnosed with an aneurysmal bone cyst, a type of tumor, and I would have to receive emergency surgery the following week to lower the risk of it damaging my spinal cord. I had the laminectomy surgery and was sidelined from hockey without knowing when, or if, I would be able to play again. During this period of rehabilitation, I attended every one of my team’s games and tournaments where I kept track of statistics, every team practice, every team function, and even led the team study halls. I was awarded Teammate of the Month from the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite organization for my dedication to the team while I was sidelined. Three months later, after persisting through periods of difficult uncertainty, I was cleared to play hockey again. It became my goal that on my road to recovery I would not allow this adversity to set me back; I was determined to work harder than ever to come back better than before.
Hockey has been synonymous with me since the first time my skates touched the ice. My deep seated love for the game is something that has been unwavering since I was four years old and joined the local boys learn-to-play team with my older sister. My constant experience as the only girl on all-boys top level teams has been everything but easy. My journey was not very difficult at first; when you are young, your peers do not focus on your gender or size. They do not form impressions or make assumptions until they see you play. But as you grow older, I have found these factors to be more impactful and become one of the first things they use to judge you. After my first practice with my current boys team, a handful of my teammates came up to me and told me that I was “much better than they had expected” I would be. This was not intended to be insulting, however it showed how stereotypes are often used to make assumptions rather than judging by ability. He took one look at my size and gender and made an assumption, whether correct or not. I have found that making these assumptions goes beyond kids my age; many coaches have told me I was “too small” or that I should not be playing boys hockey. There is nothing I can do to change these assumptions other than prove them wrong by working hard every day. By challenging expectations, I am able to thrive in the world of boys AAA hockey. In a sport dominated by men, I must work twice as hard as my male counterparts just to keep up, but I have gained many valuable skills to do more than just “keep up.” My ambition and desire to be better than I was yesterday is how I am able to juggle high-level boys hockey, an honorable academic record, and extracurricular activities. I value teamwork and coachability because a successful team is founded on these basic principles. Out of everything, I am most proud of my grit; after every stumble, after every setback, I manage to leap back into action determined to prove to myself that I am capable of everything I set out to achieve.