Despite the strain of moving this past summer, I found that I had a lot of time to think and reflect on my past. There was a period of time where I felt like I was either so present or incredibly stressed because I seem to remember every single minute detail, especially related to my emotional experiences. It was 1999 and I had just graduated from Villanova where I had played soccer for four years, which most of you who read my blogs already know.
I spent most of my childhood engaged in structured sports and really gravitated and excelled at both soccer and basketball. My true passion was basketball, but I seemed to have more luck with soccer. In between my junior and senior year of high school I slipped on my front lawn and broke my elbow. It could not have been any worse timing as I was supposed to attend recruiting camps and was playing on a team that would allow me to get more exposure with recruiters. I was devastated and a non compliant patient who shed the cast as soon as I could. I did not have enough time to rehab the elbow, which happened to be on my shooting arm, so when it came time for camp and other crucial games I fell short of the level I was trying to perform at.
For a variety of reasons, which I do not need to identify, basketball did not work out for me. However, I could not shift from the fixation of playing Division 1 sports. In fact, when this dream seemed fleeting I considered a post graduate year at another prep school. Fortunately, soccer was still in my life and opened doors that I tried to close. I ended up where I needed to be and do not regret at all my decision to attend Villanova or playing soccer. I had a healthy four years filled with a lot of playing time and relationships with teammates who I hold in the highest regard. I was beyond blessed and by no means prepared for what would come when I graduated.
After the fall season of my senior year, I did my fair share of letting lose before I settled in to the spring semester. I had changed my major from Comprehensive Science to Psychology at the end of my sophomore year letting go of my other dream to be a doctor. During my senior spring I took several Psychology classes with the plan to attend graduate school after I gained some work experience. I had a plan, but a it was murky and not very realistic. I spent the summer after graduation working at a therapeutic camp in New Hampshire. I thought this opportunity would lead to a position in the Boston area working with struggling youth. That summer I learned the hard way that I was doing really hard work that made me feel pretty traumatized for less than minimum wage. I returned home thinking WTF I am I doing and experienced that very vivid existential crisis.
See, when I went to college I was more focused on performing on the field than in the classroom because I was afraid to lose my scholarship (which was a partial one). I wanted to remain a science major, but the labs were killing me because I missed so many classes with our travel schedule. When I went into psychology I thought I would immediately transition into graduate school, yet my two years as a science major ruined my GPA and chances of getting into a doctoral program. I am not making excuses because I am fully aware of the fact that my partying also was an issue here too. In any event, the narrow focus that I had did not lend itself well to transitioning my skills to the workforce. I was a dedicated, hard working athlete who exuded confidence on the field, yet who never believed in herself elsewhere. I was playing the highest collegiate level of soccer and then nothing but a huge sense of loss.
It seemed that my peers were able to make this transition better than I could, which I attribute to my personality. I am an intense athlete, but that trait is truly compartmentalized. I could not figure out why I did not get the message or the tutorial on how to do real life, so I felt like an absolute piece of shit. There is so much support for collegiate athletes when they are playing, but once their last season is done all of those supports tend to dissipate. One second you feel like a hot commodity and then a short four years later you are considered stale toast.
So, why am I writing about this especially on my coaching blog? It is because I believe that running saved me. The day that I had a meltdown in September 1999 was the day I started to make decisions about my life and also committed to training for a marathon. I determined that I needed to feel like an athlete everyday to carry the same mindset that I had in college. I knew that if I was working towards an athletic goal that I could thwart off the dark thoughts that crept in my mind about my self worth. I realized that I could quiet the self doubt and open the creative thinking on my daily runs, while also feeling like myself…. an athlete.
I created my business name because each and everyday I become more self aware when I am out running. I use each step as a place of self discovery and also to bring clarity to my life’s work. I am telling you this story not only to emphasize the benefits of running, but also because I am constantly thinking about the other Jeanne Hennessy’s transitioning out of the collegiate or professional ranks. Who is there to support these stellar individuals who possess traits that can never be taught and which are well developed over the course of decades? I think about former athletes suffering from anxiety, depression and substance abuse as a result of grieving the loss of sport or their identity as an athlete. I cannot say if any of them are reading my blog or are interested in a running coach, but I do hope that some day Cooper’s Conscious Steps becomes a resource for these athletes and can help them transition the drive and passion they have for sport into their career and/or personal lives.