Wednesday, March 13, 2013

My Final Farewell.

I can’t believe that this is my last blog post.  I’m not sure how it went by so fast, but somehow the year is over and I’m officially retired. For someone who always has something to say I’m at a bit of a loss to find the right words.

I had an amazing last weekend as a VRed. We won our quarterfinal against Acadia on Friday. It was a complete team win.  Our leading scorer had 10 points, and every member of the team contributed in a huge way.

Saturday I went to the market with some teammates and we were continually stopped and congratulated by friends, strangers, and even other teams in the tournament.  Kids wanted pictures with us while we were out for our pregame meal and in the newspapers we went from being “bottom-feeders” to “upstarts”.

On Saturday night we played St. FX in the semis but we came up short. We played two great games, but that loss stung immensely.  Not because of the scoreboard, or because we think we could have won, but because after the game as we sat in the teamroom and Coach Speedy was talking all I could think was that I would never again cut a tape job off my ankles.  I will never again take off my uniform, or put my mouthguard away.  I won’t ever again hear Coach Speedy call down the bench for me to sub in.  Never again will I return to the bench, have Dan hand me my shooter shirt, and have Cory put his arm around me and say “nice shift, kid”.

I was given an incredible gift by being able to play the sport I love. Nothing I’ve experienced has had the defining effect on my life, and my character, that playing basketball has. Being a Varsity Red was one of the greatest honours of my life. I should have never whined to Trevor when we had to run stairs after a leg day. I should have never bemoaned Coach Speedy when he set the clock for 30 seconds and told us to get on the sideline. I wish I could take back the times I thought to myself “is practice not over yet?!” I should have been humbled every day. I should have thanked Trevor for the stairs, and Speedy for the sprints. I should have relished each moment at practice.  

If I could give one piece of advice to the girls next year it would be this: be grateful.  You are not entitled to play this game.  Your spot on the team and your health as an athlete are not guaranteed. Eventually, we all retire and we all move on.  Each day that you get to tighten your laces and make yourself better is a blessing.  Every choice you make impacts your whole team, so choose wisely.  Choose discipline, choose integrity, and choose gratitude.

Now, as strange and as daunting as it is, I have to change the way I define myself.  I no longer have the privilege of answering the question of “who are you?” with “I’m Allie, and I’m a basketball player”. Now maybe I say I’m a beginner yogi, an aspiring writer, and a political junkie. I’m a pretty good cook and baker, and I’m way too competitive.  None of these things are new, but they all paled in comparison to being a varsity athlete.  

The debt I owe my teammates and coaches is unpayable and my talents as a writer fail to express my gratitude to them. You have all taught me lessons.  You have laughed and cried with me, and laughed at me while I cried. You have pushed me when I wanted you to leave me alone, and you have lifted me when I didn’t think I could get up. You told me you liked my cooking, and that you appreciated my tenacity. You each made me better.     

While I like to think that they all adore me, I’m sure there are some things the girls won’t miss about me.  They won’t miss me stealing their socks, and always being the last one ready to go anywhere.  They’re probably glad to get rid of my terrible sense of humour and my bossiness. They’ll be glad they don’t have to worry about me short-sheeting their beds or hiding the rental vans on roadtrips.

And there is stuff I’m looking forward to too. I’m excited to get back on a snowboard, and to never, ever, do another Bulgarian split squat. I’m excited to eat when I’m hungry, and not when my schedule tells me too. I look forward to never replying to an invitation for something fun with “I can’t, I have basketball”. 

For all the things that I leave behind there are those that I am taking with me. I have a tiny bit of arthritis, and a scar on my elbow shaped like Katelyn’s front teeth. I have more cutoffs than I know what to do with and dozens of notes from my bucket that I will keep forever. I have a heightened sense of loyalty, and a decent midrange jumper. Most importantly, I have a clearly defined sense of self and friendships that will last a lifetime.

I’m so glad that two years ago I was tasked with writing this blog. It has been an immense privilege to share a small part of my life and my team with you.  Thank you for your constant support. I remain,


Allie Chalke
UNB Varsity Red 2011-2013

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Finding my Inner Ninja

Last year Barb presented us with a poster of a baseball field. The distance from home to first was the preseason, first to second was November-December, and second to third was January-February. Third base to the plate was the post season. We were tagged out at third.  This year we overran first and rounded second. We tapped the bag at third and (I’ve been waiting a whole year to say this) now, boys and girls, we’re coming home.

If you have been in our gym, or anywhere near our locker room, I guarantee you’ve heard Inner Ninja by Classified and David Myles. It was Mel who played it the first time, and it became the theme song of the teamroom.  It’s rare for us to all agree that we love a song, but this one just worked for everyone.  I can’t count how many times I’ve heard it – but I promise you it is a lot. At first I liked it because it combined Classified’s hiphop with David Myles’ acoustic folk – giving something everyone likes. The more I listen to it, the more I take from it. It’s a song about finding strength within, and about battling against the odds. It is a song for the underdog.

I know you never heard this before // But I'd rather lose a fight than miss the war

There is nowhere in the world I would rather be this weekend than right where I am. Five years of my life, and probably more than that, have led up to this weekend. Every single sprint, drill, and rep for as long as I can remember have been preparing us for this weekend.  There are so many emotions heading into the weekend. Nervousness, anticipation, excitement… you name it – we’re feeling it. Regardless, I am right where I want to be.   

I've been high and I've been real low // I've been beaten and broken but I healed though

This year has been a struggle. I can’t speak for anyone else, but my love for the game has been tested this year more than any other year of my life. I’ve been beaten and broken but I healed though.  We all have. Here I am, closing in on the finish line I’ve been running towards my whole life. For every stumble and moment of hurt I have learned something. As I moved through the weeks of this year I left each one a little tougher and more resilient than I was the week before.

No sweat, no fear, no blood, no tears // I go hard and I ain't makin' up no excuse // I'm overdue, I don't do what I'm supposed to do // Cause you can think about it man, we're supposed to lose // It ain't all picture perfect, ocean views

It’s no secret that we’re the underdog this weekend. Acadia beat us every time we played them this year. But the AUS is an awesome conference to play in – upsets happen all the time and anyone can beat anyone on a given night. 

I’m a big fan of statistics.  I love what the numbers can tell you. There are equations and models that will take all the data about two teams and run them to predict a winner. Maybe, according to the math, we’re “supposed to lose”. But none of those models really work. There is so much more to the game than the numbers: so many things that matter and make a huge difference.  There isn’t a stat that measures hustle plays, or pass deflections.  No one counts how hard you hit a boxout, or how many times you shift the zone.  I can’t assign a number to how good it feels to take a charge or the feeling of a momentum shift when someone makes a big play before the halftime buzzer. The game is full of intangibles – and that is what makes it so great. If it were just a matter of putting some numbers into a computer, sport wouldn’t exist. As my older brother, Simon, used to tell me “that’s why they play the game”.  

When my back’s on the wall, I don't freeze up // Nah, I find my inner strength and I rear up // Here we go, I know I've never been the smartest or wisest //But I realize what it takes

When was the last time you saw a sports movie that didn’t celebrate the underdog? You probably haven’t, because they all do. I don’t care if it’s Hoosiers or Dodgeball.  They all teach the same things: that overcoming adversity is heroic – but possible, that each team is greater than the sum of its parts, and that the ability to achieve greatness lies dormant within all of us.

Isn’t that what sport is all about? Sure, we celebrate Kobe and Lebron, but wasn’t Jeremy Lin’s run just a little more magical? Does anyone ever tire of watching highlights from the Appalachian State v. Michigan football game? Don’t we all get chills when we someone we weren’t expecting pulls out something great?

It's a feeling that you get in your lungs when you run // Like you're runnin' outta air and your breath won't come // And you wheezin', gotta keep it movin' // Find that extra and push your way through it

For three years I lived with my amazing friend Leah Kichmann.  Leah is a professional cyclist. One spring, post season, Leah finally convinced me to get on a mountain bike. As we were getting ready to go Leah pointed out one last thing: “If there is a rock or something in your path and you’re worried about hitting it – do not look at it.  If you look at it you’ll hit it and crash. Focus on the line you want to take and look past the rock.” The metaphor didn’t strike me until later. 

Obstacles find their way into our paths all the time.  On a trail through Garibaldi Park those obstacles are rocks, protruding tree roots, and low hanging branches. In a playoff opener maybe those obstacles are a losing record, a nagging injury, or a team that we’ve failed to beat all year. If we focus on those we’ll crash right into them, hurting ourselves in the process.  We have a path to take, and a safe line worn into the trail by continuous repetition. Our game plan is solid, we just need to stick with it and execute.   
Nobody's gonna see me comin'
Nobody's gonna hear a sound
No matter how hard they tryin'
Nobody's gonna bring me down

There are more metaphors in this post than there are in one of Speedy’s pregame chats (and trust me, that is a lot), but hopefully you managed to stick with me. Tomorrow, when the ref tosses the ball for tip we won’t be the underdogs anymore.  We’ll be two teams, equals on the scoreboard, both fighting for the joy of playing for one more day. If you’re in Fredericton, you need to be at the Currie Centre tomorrow at 8:00 as we take on Acadia. It’s going to be a good one.