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Embrace the Water

| Monday, January 25, 2016

Here’s to the benchwarmers. Probably the most underappreciated and definitely the most underutilized players on the team — there is little glory in riding the bench. However, it occurred to me recently that almost everything I need to know in life, I learned from being a benchwarmer on the St. Ignatius girls varsity basketball team.

“Everything” is probably a bit of an exaggeration, but to this day, my junior year season sticks out as the season I learned some of the most valuable life lessons.

I broke my ankle the autumn of my junior year, three-ish weeks before tryouts. For the traditional athlete, I would now begin the classic story of how I overcame an injury to return to the sport I so deeply loved. I am not the traditional athlete. Growing up a very tall female, I was consistently expected to play sports like basketball and volleyball, despite my lack of interest and severe deficit of talent. As my ankle healed and basketball tryouts rolled around, I had no expectations of trying out for the team, until my dad asked me if I needed new basketball shoes. After three hours of back and forth debate, it was settled, I was trying out for another season of torture. Thousands of sit ups, hours on a stationary bike and hundreds of “ankle strengthening” activities later, I was cleared to practice with the team just two weeks after tryouts and one day before our first game. Fast forward five weeks, and I had become the team’s unofficial watergirl, solidifying my seat at the very end of the bench.

Quickly, my frustration mounted, and I ended up complaining (read: crying) to my dad about the whole situation. In classic dad form, he told me to suck it up and be the best I could be, even if that meant being the best water girl in Saint Ignatius history. In his words, I had to “embrace the water.”

That year, we went on to make the Sweet 16 for the first time in 20 years, and the water bottles were always full. There is no triumphant end to this story; I didn’t make the game-winning shot to win us the championship. I played a total of two minutes, grabbed one rebound and made a sweet jump shot once, but more importantly, I learned the values of teamwork and courage and all the other fitting clichés for this scenario. You could practically make a Disney Channel movie out of my plight.

In all seriousness though, here’s to the benchwarmers, because people don’t say it enough. It’s probably one of the tougher roles to assume, but it is wildly worthwhile. Breaking my ankle was weirdly a blessing, and not because it (eventually) got me out of playing the sport I dreaded for 10 years, but because it somehow very oddly shaped me into the person I am today.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Rachel O'Grady

Rachel O'Grady is a senior Political Science major living in Ryan Hall. She most recently served as Assistant Managing Editor. Hailing from Chicago (actual Chicago, not the suburbs) she's been a Cubs fan since birth.

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