Moving On But Not Forgetting
Has anyone seen Pitch Perfect 3? If you have, you know it starts with the Bellas miserable in the ‘real world’, hating their jobs, wondering what they are doing and ultimately wishing they could perform together, just one more time.
For me, that is the most accurate description for what it feels like when I finished playing.
I started playing field hockey when I was seven years old. From the moment I started, I didn’t stop or slow down. I put everything into this sport, knowing I would get everything I needed from it.
From elementary school to senior year of high school, I played with four different teams year round, with the intention of finding my fit to play at the next level.
The best part of this journey was I did it with my sister, who was only one year older (Accidentally, we even were #1 and #2). Our jersey numbers and last names were one in the same. My sister found her fit at the University of Delaware and I was anxious to be away from her but excited to make my own name alone. Eventually, I did find my place and it was in Philadelphia at Saint Joseph’s University.
It was weird to not share the same uniform with someone I had for so many years. Delaware was in the CAA conference and Saint Joe’s was Atlantic 10, so chances of playing each other were slim.
We did get one chance in college to play each other. My family was wearing UD and SJU gear equally, supporting both of us.
Timing couldn't be more perfect, because when I went in the game my sister, Toni, went in at the same time. We gave each other a little nod at the fifty before we entered. My parents got to hear “Popinko for Delaware has entered the game” and a second later “Popinko for Saint Joe’s has entered the game”.
Coming up on my senior year my older sister was already in the real world and I knew she would do anything to trade places with me. We have a little sister who really didn't have much choice but to follow in our footsteps, and committed to Temple University my fifth year. Take a wild guess what number she is… (yes, #3). I took in everything in my last season but not fully grasping this would be it.
Four years flew by and I sat at my parents asking myself, Now what? How was I supposed to leave behind the biggest part of my life?
Of course I did what was expected, got a job and moved to the city but I always felt like something was missing. At work I am not a ‘Popinko Sister’, I am not a Hawk and I am not an athlete. This is something I still struggle to come to terms with. There is no easy fix for this feeling. What I learned is that I will always have a certain mentality, all athletes know this to be true. We have a passion and determination more so than others. The key to transitioning is not trying to erase your identity. You will always be your jersey number, a team member and you will always be an athlete.
Sitting in the stands at Temple University watching the last of the Popinko sisters play is a bittersweet feeling. Sooner than she thinks she will be in the same position as me and my older sister. My best advice for her and for any other current college athlete is to not take your experience for granted, it goes by quicker than you expect. I hope you all put in 110% every game, practice and lift and can leave your four years with no regrets or ‘what ifs’. Most importantly have fun with your team, these are the years you will always remember.
It has been three years since I played with my team and I still miss it. I am still working to find my next passion. What I know is that I can take the same energy and drive I had when playing and apply that to anything I want to do and be successful. Today I am not asking myself ‘What Now?’ I am asking ‘What’s next? ’; I am looking forward to what life has next for me.