I’ll always remember those words.
I sat there, crying at the funeral of a close friend whom we should have been moving into a dorm room, not burying. Then, a family friend, a man I’ve always respected—someone I call “Coach,” even though I never played for him—walked up to me. After hugging me, Coach told me some of the best advice I’ve ever received: “Sometimes all you can do is surround yourself with good people and keep breathing.” Those words struck a chord with me and have stayed with me ever since.
I had grown up being that child full of energy, so I was lucky enough to find the sport of basketball, and with it, a drive to get better. Sports were what centered me, where I was able to get out my frustrations, and where I found the most peace. For other people, writing may be their escape, but for me, the best way to escape has always been going on a run, lifting weights, or even shooting baskets by myself, doing something to make me as physically exhausted as possible. The saying “The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears, or the sea” was my motto. Since I was from Ohio, the sea wasn’t the best option, but I knew nothing that a hard lift or a run couldn’t make better.
In my senior year of high school, things shifted. I was ready for a change, and it was almost time for college. I had accepted a Division I basketball scholarship, and the future seemed bright. But that year, I lost three very important people in my life. My best friend’s mom, who was a second mother to me, passed away right as school was starting. After that, I also developed a stress fracture in my leg, so I was out for basketball season. That alone was very traumatic to me. The way I had defined myself was taken away, and I also worried my future was in jeopardy. Then, just as I was able to start playing again, my grandfather died. This was the man who had always supported me, my partner in crime. He told more people than I would have liked that I received a scholarship, just because he always wanted to brag about his grandchildren. While returning to basketball and being able to run helped me deal with my grandfather’s death, I started to push people away. I didn’t want to lose anyone else in my life, and I believed I would be able to protect myself through isolation. The summer passed, and on my first day of moving into the college dorms, I got a phone call: A good friend from my graduating class had passed away.
“Surround yourself with good people and keep breathing.”
It was at that friend’s funeral that Coach walked up to me and said those unforgettable words. It seems to me that such good advice shouldn’t have come from a time of mourning, but it did. Of course, that advice didn’t “fix” me right away.
After the funeral, I was lost, and it seemed that however many good people were around, they still couldn’t save me. They tried, but I wasn’t letting them. Yet, those same people I had pushed away continued to stand next to me while I kept breathing. They were there when I got an underage consumption of alcohol charge, while I wondered what direction I was going with my life and made decisions no one ever should. And those same people have watched me grow and accepted my faults. Good people saved my life.
I’ve always been an athlete, so maybe hearing those words come from a coach meant more to me. I have always searched for the next challenge, whether in sports, running, or academics. Being young and stubborn led me to believe I didn’t need people. The challenge was enough; I was enough. There was nothing I couldn’t overcome just by working hard. But I was working myself to exhaustion, because I needed to prove to everyone that I would make it, I would make something of myself. Little did I know, I never needed to make “something” of myself to be worth something. I already was valuable to those people, simply because they cared about me. There was never a need to prove myself.
Life isn’t always easy, but having the right people next to you can make it beautiful. That’s the same reason I recently drove five hours in terrible winter weather, just to see a game and have dinner with a group of coaches I had spent three years confiding in. Good people still exist, and I can never repay the ones who have made sure I survived. Part of the reason I wrote this was for the chance to tell those people thank you. There will never be enough to say—but I know I can continue to thrive in life because I will always have good people around me, and together, we will keep breathing.