I got a Whats App message the other day, moments after I had seen it announced on Twitter.
Just needed to tell you that I tore my ACL and will miss the Euro’s. Just felt like I had to tell you.”
Johanna Rasmussen is one of my best friends that I have made through soccer. We met in 2002, her, 19 and away from home for the first time, and me 23, just out of university and crying my eyes out every night because I was so incredibly homesick. Which I found weird since I had just finished 5 years living on the opposite side of the continent from my family to play soccer in university.
Language barriers have a way of doing that to you.
Johanna and I lived together in the Fortuna Hjorring basement for our first 3 weeks at Fortuna which cemented our friendship, even though she hardly spoke a word of English when we met.
Our primary source of entertainment at this time was via the chess board that sat downstairs, and being the competitive soul I am, I started to get frustrated after 2 days straight of losing, especially since I fancied myself as a half decent player.
Johanna started to see how losing every.single.time had started to wear on me (never been good at hiding my feelings). On consecutive loss 54 she finally said quietly, “don’t feel bad, I was my Danish age group champion for chess for 5 years before I had to choose the soccer national team over the chess national team.”
Although it was the most bizarre admission that anyone in soccer has ever given me, Johanna and I promptly hung on to each other for dear life in our new unfamiliar territory, and soon enough her English was perfect due to her chatty, homesick new friend that had no one else to talk to (really how did we survive before FaceTime and Skype?!) It is worth mentioning that Johanna’s English was peppered with “Ciara-ism’s” which was hilarious and adorable, since I was the only person she spoke with. I had to gently explain many times that people didn’t understand what she was saying, not because of her accent, but because I had made up so much of my own slang.
Johanna and I spent our first year at Fortuna living at a sports school. I remember having a big spoonful of Nutella in my mouth (not an unusual occurrence) in the kitchen when Johanna got the call that she was going to go with the full Danish National team for the first time.
Since that day when I almost became the first victim of choking via Nutella because we were so excited, she’s gone on to amass some insane amount of caps for Denmark and become one of their best players of all time. The Euro’s was likely going to be a tournament for her to shine in the twilight of her career, and now devastatingly, she no longer will be competing.
In light of this, I want to tell a couple of stories. (Bear with me, I promise you this will all tie in, in the end.)
There’s a few things that I figured out pretty early on in life and Johanna brought what I didn’t think of as anything all that special, to my attention at one point as one of the smartest things she said she had ever heard.
I think of her any time that I think about this.
It was the mantra that I adopted early in my soccer career and to be honest, in my life in general, when I felt that I couldn’t catch a break.
It was a quote I came up with that I wrote in my journal at some stage, “the key to conquering life is figuring out how to make the shitty times good. Everyone can have a good attitude when things are going well, but the key is to find a way to make the bad times good. If you can, then you’ve conquered life.”
Not super elegantly worded but you get it. Attitude, and how you frame things is everything and sometimes just about the only thing in life that you control.
When I was in grade 11, I was above average on an insanely talented high school team (Something like 5 players went on to play on NCAA D1 scholarships, and another 5 played university soccer in Canada). I wanted to be an impact player so badly, and I remember thinking, if I could be a Provincial All-Star (one of the top players in the province), that my life would be complete (it doesn’t take much for pure unadulterated joy at age 16, let’s be honest).
From the end of my grade 11 year, I busted my ass, and I went from being an above average player on my high school team, to being named one of the top players in the Province in grade 12.
But winning that Provincial All-Star trophy was one of the most unsatisfying things I have ever done.
I realized that I had been so focused on the idea that I would find my happiness in winning the trophy that I had completely not paid attention to the journey there. That I hadn’t appreciated how much I laughed with my teammates. Enjoyed all the hours that I put in doing extra. Sat and felt the times that things didn’t go well. I remember thinking to myself, if this is what accomplishing things felt like, then I wasn’t really interested in accomplishing anything else because the outcome was not where it was at and felt pretty damn empty.
I realized that day that it truly was about enjoying the process, and if you only focused on the outcome, you missed all the joy in appreciating and soaking in all the moments, the good and the bad.
The best part and most metaphorically satisfying of the story was arriving back home and opening my bag, and seeing that in the journey home, the prized Provincial All-Star trophy had been decapitated.
I vowed to myself that I would never make the mistake of focusing on an outcome (that I thought would make me happy) and forgetting to enjoy the journey and the ups and the downs of it all, ever again.
I’ve always been an over thinker and for many years, it has led to minor bouts of insomnia, where I will be up in the middle of the night for hours, wired, and unable to sleep as my mind races.
There’s different reasons for the insomnia. But usually the common factor is my mind overthinking and wondering what I am doing with my life. This has gone on for decades so at this point it’s almost normal for me in its own weird kind of way.
The other night, as my mind raced and I begged for it to let me sleep, I played the invisible checklist game (what a person should have checked off their perfect life list at 37 and what mine looked like) and beat myself up in my head. Soon after I thought about something that gave me comfort and allowed me back to sleep.
The tough parts of the journey that you’re questioning everything is just as important as the good times, and I should feel blessed for the knowledge that I am getting from it. Even more so than everything being picture perfect, the messiness and imperfection is experience that is making our time on earth richer and should be appreciated for the depth of teaching it is giving us.
Furthermore, any journey is more enjoyable when you are looking out the window and appreciating the stormy weather with the sunshine, instead of looking at the floor counting down the moments until you get to some destination that you think will make you happy.
Finally, Abby Wambach got engaged this week and her fiancee Glennon Doyle Melton wrote this awesome quote that I think sums it up for anyone that is struggling with anything,
“And then one day, it all makes sense. Every bit of it. And you can finally see your past as one long, blessed road leading you home. And you understand that every bit of it was necessary, and that every bit of it was holy.”
Most importantly every minute we get of all of it, is a blessing that challenges us, shapes us, stretches us and the hard times make us the best versions of ourselves even though sometimes its impossible to see through the fog of the pain that we just want to make it through.
Like the wise words I came up with in my 20’s, the decapitated trophy, my favourite Danish superstar with the torn ACL, sleepless nights, Glennon Doyle Melton’s awesome quote- all of it is living. Winning, losing, succeeding, failing. It’s all a part of this beautiful, messy journey that we call life, that takes us on highs and then throws us to low. It’s there challenging us to embrace every single moment of it, because the bad shapes and defines us as much as any of the good.
Sending all my positive thoughts to one of my favourite people out there. Joey, you will be back stronger and wiser.
Throwing back the wise words you reminded me of the importance of, so long ago. Knus.