My junior year of college, I lived in a house with my best buddy Nikki and 6 guys.
The whole situation came about fairly randomly.
At the end of our sophomore year, Nikki, a hilarious Mormon field hockey player from California, and I decided that we wanted to live off campus. We started a massive hunt for a 2 bedroom apartment with little luck. A few days in, we were talking to our friend Lauren and she mentioned six of her guy friends had two bedrooms open and were looking for roommates. We were sick of looking, the house was new, the guys seemed great.
Hence Nikki and I moving in with six rad guys, four of whom we had never met before, the start of our junior year.
The house was divided into two floors, 4 bedrooms on each. Nikki and I shared a floor with Todd, a football player we knew from Long Beach, California, and Jeremy (name usually screamed at the top of our lungs in the form of JerBallllssss or JerStronnngggg every time we saw him) a sweet, quieter guy from Massachusetts, who was heavily involved in the theatre scene at Yale.
Jeremy’s room was next to mine. What I remember the most was that his room was impeccably organized, he was always up for me swinging by for a chat in his doorway, and he had the best collection of books that turned into my own personal library. I have Jeremy to thank for introducing me to classic literature and turning my former reading go-tos such as Cosmo magazine, into appreciating and reading great thinking authors such as Leo Tolstoy and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
I remember one night when Nikki, Jer and I got into a conversation about our SAT scores, and it turned into a hilarious conversation about whose score had been more rock bottom.
After the score swap, we had hysterical laughter when we realized that at a school known for its SAT average in the 1500’s, that Team Ciara-Nikki-Jeremy likely single handedly brought down the class average by a solid 20 points on our own floor alone.
We figured that Yale, known at times for overlooking SAT scores because of quirky ability, allowed Nikki and I in for our field hockey and soccer prowess, while Jeremy told us, that likely for him it was the fact that he volunteered on Steven Spielberg sets in the summers of his high school years.
Yet in a school that was filled with rich kids, it was obvious by his nightly pasta dinners and lack of spending, that he was one with Nikki and I, namely a middle class, blue collar kid that would only be getting anywhere by putting in the work. His passion for theatre was obvious, and he had an incredible work ethic to match.
Since we graduated I always wondered what happened to Jeremy. He hadn’t shown up on Facebook, or any other connective social media, so I had no idea what he’d been up to since college. That being said, my one google search of him in the last decade had produced a paparazzi photo of him in New York labelled as a mystery man, with the actress Katie Holmes, so that was my only inkling that he was likely still acting and in the scene in Hollywood.
Which led me to a movie theater in London last week, with a good friend I was visiting who insisted I go with her to see a movie that she was positive I would love called Molly’s Game (more on that later).
Getting fidgety and craving my movie theatre staples of popcorn and a diet coke, I made a break for it, during the 10th pre-movie advertisement. Which led me coming back a little after the movie started into the dark theatre (yes….I was that guy).
As I got comfy and enjoyed my first handful of popcorn, all of a sudden, up on my screen, there was Jeremy, JerStrong, JerBalllllsssss, my junior year roommate. “Holy Shit, I know him!” I mouthed to my friend in the quiet theatre.
Which led me to text Nikki from the dark theatre as I was quietly freaking out.
“Um Nik, I’m at the movie theatre and Jer just came on the screen, did you know he had made it in Hollywood?”
To which the text came in fast back from Nikki:
“Yeah, can you believe it, last year I was watching a movie, and in walked Jer, and I screamed JerBallllssss. Pretty rad right?”
And I sat and watched my old friend, nicest guy out there, up on the big screen, playing the role of an asshole boss.
And I felt proud.
And I felt like I was watching not only a movie, but someone that I knew had worked their ass off, accomplish their dream right in front of me. It gave me chills and made me a little teary.
The film hit me hard for another reason (Besides the acting being amazing –go see it!)
Namely the story of the film centers around Molly, the protagonist, who was on the road to being an Olympic skier when she suffers an injury and her career abruptly ends. She has been pushing to be a top skier and top student her whole life and then all of a sudden she’s done and is left trying to figure out who she is and what she wants to do with her life.
She moves to LA and finds herself after a period of time and some plot twists and turns running poker games with $250,000 buy ins instead of going to law school, like she had initially planned, and her life spirals out of control from there.
I identified because I’m not going to lie when I say that I have been lost for the last decade.
It’s been a challenging adjustment out of elite level sports for a lot of reasons. For me I think the hardest part has been going from a life that had me bouncing out of bed so passionate and driven every single day, working towards a goal, to all of a sudden, not really knowing what I cared so deeply about anymore. Not knowing what to structure my day around and deathly afraid of never feeling that zest, and passion and purpose ever again.
Those aspects of being an elite athlete, although definitely having it’s challenges, was genuine-authentic-fire-in-your-soul living at its finest. I think when you get a hit of that, it’s like a drug: you just want more of it, and you don’t know how to cope when the hit is done.
I think part of moving forward from it, is as Molly did in the movie, is working through the negative stuff that sometimes fuels our drive, and makes us crave the distraction of that drug, things that we don’t even realize. Ultimately the journey to transition from something that enveloped your life so deeply, entails just trying to get to the bottom of who you are away from it all, and redefining what success looks like and what you want your life to look like outside of that sporting (or name your consuming bubble) world.
I’ve felt on the inside like I’ve been wandering aimlessly and without passion and focus and drive, and when you look at the last few years, my life in a lot of ways has reflected that. After years of striving for excellence, to be honest, I kind of needed to fail and be lost and rebuild a few things from scratch. I say that in no judgement to myself- I don’t think you can understand it, unless you’ve been through it, and a big part of what I’ve learned through it, is kindness to myself and giving myself time to work through a lot of things I buried.
After watching Jeremy on screen, something clicked and it renewed a fire and drive within myself to really listen to my core values and listen to what truly makes me most passionate. With that in mind, I felt a certainty that I wanted to commit myself to the highest level of those ideals myself. No matter happens outside of that, I felt that if I died tomorrow, I could check that box of having lived a successful life.
For me, it’s always been empowering girls and women and using soccer as a tool to make people strive to be the best versions of themselves. I’ve always known that I’ve had big visions for making an impact in that realm, but it’s like that knowledge has been sitting there quietly on a shelf all this time, waiting for me to notice it, embrace it and indulge it.
Seeing Jeremy on screen the other night, inspired me to want to dig deep and execute those dreams and those visions. It’s like the fire I’ve been waiting for so long to be switched on, has finally come alight again.
Weirdly enough as a final tie in, I’ve had this vision that’s been in my mind these last couple of weeks since the start of the new year.
Many years ago when I was in college, in one of the coolest ideas I’ve ever executed, I started a mentorship program for inner city kids and paired them up with Yale Athletes. It was inspired by a little inner city girl that I worked with my four years of college. Seeing the impoverished world she lived in, opened my eyes to a whole world out there of suffering and hardship that growing up in my privileged bubble, I never knew about or saw. I wanted the other athletes to see it too and at it’s peak the program had 75 athletes from various sports going every week to an inner city school and having a blast with the elementary school kids we had the privilege of working with.
Because of starting this project, I got invited to a NCAA Conference at the end of my senior year, where I presented the details to a large group of people in attendance, as one of a group of speakers.
The main speaker at the event was a man who had been an Olympic gold medallist runner from the 1964 Tokyo Games named Billy Mills and the story he told us, was incredible.
He was a Native American Indian and was orphaned at age 12. He made the Olympic team in second place and came into the Olympics as a total no namer. In the race, he was bumped in the last lap, and lost his footing, and for sure seemed to be done. And somehow he said he had this rush come over him with ¾ of a lap left in a 10,000 meter race, and in one of the greatest Olympic races ever seen, he came out of nowhere, blew past everyone and won Olympic gold.
Here’s that Olympic winning race: Click Here
While the story was amazing, I haven’t thought about it at all in the last 15 years.
Yet for some reason, these last couple of weeks, a vision of Billy Mills and his story, has been repeatedly coming to mind. And even weirder, what’s come to the forefront, in the stillness that I’m now so much enjoying, is what Billy Mills told us that was going through his head as he blew past everyone and came from nothing to fulfill a dream.
He said all he thought about as he made that final surge to win was just a voice yelling at himself with all certainty that he could do it. He said he didn’t know where it came from, but it blocked out everything else and gave every bit of energy he had to achieving his goal and an energy he never knew he possessed.
He beat his personal best in that race by 50 seconds (and thank God in an era where we can believe it was real and not because he had some performing enhancing drug elixir).
It probably sounds like I’m crazy, but I’ve got my vision and my dream firmly entrenched now, and every time I start to waiver or have doubt, I center back to Billy Mills yelling at himself with his whole being propelling towards the goal of manifesting his biggest dreams. It’s given me so much focus that I haven’t had in so long, something that I’ve been longing so desperately for.
If there is one gift that soccer gave me, its knowing with certainty that I don’t want to live a life going through the motions. For me I know it would kill me before any disease could get to me.
And waiting for that kind of purpose-driven high again has been painful, like experiencing a true love and watching it fade away. The pain and fear drawing from the question of if you are ever going to experience that kind of beauty again.
And then one day it just comes.
A feeling deep in your heart and soul that you again have a purpose and a path and a passion to do what you know in your heart that you’ve been put on this earth to do. And you see that book that’s been sitting on the shelf the whole time, and you open it and begin to live it. Finally.
So thank you Billy, thank you JerStrong and thank you universe for giving me back the gift of my passion and purpose and my reason for getting up in the morning fired up about life. Sometimes you find it in the weirdest, most unexpected places. Like on a movie screen in London or an old memory from many years back.
When the time is right, after much patience and wondering if you’ll ever feel something again, like all the good things in life: what’s meant to appear does.
And for this, I am eternally grateful.