How Sport Has Changed My Life



Until some time ago, the story of my relationship with Physical Education in high school resembled that of many other students who share a profound hatred for it, forced by the ruthless Italian ministerial program to run, jump and sweat for two interminable hours per week.

For the first three years, we focused solely on volleyball and basketball, torture for me who lacks coordination, so I always volunteered to be the reserve to avoid exposing my difficulties and suffering the judgments of my teammates. Outside the school context, I was not doing much better: I have practiced swimming since I was seven, but I have always firmly refused the idea of competing because, deep down, I did not think I would have been good enough compared to the other swimmers.

That all changed when I came to the United States as a foreign exchange student, enrolled at Westminster High School. On the first day of school, my goals were the following: 

First: settling into; after picking my classes, getting lost in the hallways, and opening my first locker, I already felt like a real American teenager.

Second: making friends; this promised to be more difficult. In a school five times larger than the one I attended in Italy, it would have been challenging to get to know the right people. "The best way to fit into the school community is joining a sports team," they advised me. That said, I decided to enter the girls swimming and diving team, which only counted twelve athletes. Training took place for two hours every day: I used to leave home in the dark of the morning to go to school and come back after practice when the sun had already set. Having practiced in Italy for barely two hours a week, the first days in the varsity team were demanding. However, the intense rhythm allowed me to get back into shape in no time and to strengthen my perseverance and tenacity.

On our first swim meet, we were all very excited to give the best of ourselves. The coach placed me in the 500m freestyle and 200m medley events. That was the first time for me competing officially against other swimmers. I came in second in both events, but that was not what mattered: when seeing all the girls cheering from the poolside and shouting my name, for the very first time, I realized I was really part of the team. Eventually, our group turned out to be incredibly unified and inclusive. Not only we practiced together, we often went out for lunch and had sleepovers. Most importantly, our team spirit was sturdy: the group was a safe environment for everyone to be themselves, take risks, and make mistakes without being afraid of judgment, which was what I felt missing during the hours of Physical Education in Italy.

If during the first swim meet I was intimidated by the idea of competing against other athletes, soon Thursday, as the race day, became my favorite part of the week. I learned not to fear confrontation with others, the very essence of sports. The challenge with the others and above all with myself brought to light my limits, forcing me to work hard to improve, which is what helped me cut many seconds during the League Championship. I was thrilled when looking at the scoreboard after the events and realizing I reached my goal for the season. Most importantly, I felt proud of the growth path I started thanks to the sport: I changed into a better Anna, someone who is more confident, willing to get out of their comfort zone, and ready to put the team's best interest ahead of their individual objectives.

Only one thing has not changed since then: I am still very clumsy when playing volleyball and basketball at school. But one step at a time, right?