Name: Avalynn Baer
Using sports to overcome loss due to drug addition
“I’ll drive you home from basketball tonight.” Exactly three years ago on November 8, 2018, this was the last text message I received from my father. Each day since, I vividly recall that evening as clear the Weddell Sea.
As I walked out of the gym, my teammate called over to me, “Hey Ava, your mom asked us to bring you home tonight.” I knew something was off as I hopped into her dad’s CRV. Then, I saw my mom’s missed calls and text messages. I came home to my grandparents at my house; they stayed with us until my mom returned home long after we went to bed. My brother and I fell asleep that Thursday evening wondering if we would ever see our father again.
The next day, I was woken by a gentle tap on my arm. My mom and 11-year-old brother were both in my room. And I knew. I will never forget that morning: my brother’s wailing; the immediate, heated rush of confusion; and the pounding pressure in my head. Out of a sudden, desperate desire for normalcy, I asked my mom if I could go to school. I can’t remember much more of that day, that week, that year. I floated through my freshman year as if in a daze.
For two years, I struggled to manage my emotions. I wanted to hold them all in because I didn’t want anyone to pity me or even know that I no longer had a father. I didn’t want anyone to ask me what happened or if I’m okay. As a result, my grades declined, I isolated myself from anyone close to me, I suppressed my emotions, and I struggled to sleep at night. I couldn’t bear to think about the fact that my dad struggled with depression which led to dependency on prescription pills. I refused to take depression medicine because of this. Why would I want to take the very thing that killed my father?
When I finally began to open up to my mom, she helped me to understand that I had to decide how I wanted to handle these psychological effects: I could become depressed, withdrawn and negative, or I could utilize my pain to become stronger. Instead of allowing my grief over my dad’s sudden death to determine my future, I could make my dad proud. He was my number one fan, the one who encouraged me to become my very best in every aspect of life. Once I allowed myself to feel the pain, I started to express my feelings to those close to me and focus on what I had left in life, rather than what I lost.
With fresh eyes and a renewed vigor, I could envision the big picture for my life. I wanted to be happy, have healthy relationships, study communications and journalism, and play basketball in college. My first step was to ensure I was balancing my academics and basketball training. I redirected my focus on what was within my control. I pushed myself toward specific goals, and when I reached them, I set new ones. Secondly, rather than isolate myself, I identified those who I could depend on emotionally and rebuilt my relationships. Most importantly, I recovered my smile, which had died along with my dad.
I had a new reason to play hard and to work hard: I would make my dad proud by rising to my potential. I rebuilt my GPA to a 4.8, stayed in the Honors program, and I will have 15 college credits completed by the time I graduate high school. My success in basketball has earned me many potential opportunities in college, and I am optimistic about where it will lead me.
I now live my life feeling thankful for the years I had with my spontaneous, fun-loving father, rather than sulking about the years I won’t have with him. When I need encouragement, I recall his words of wisdom and faith. I was able to share the story of my triumph over tragic loss through a local newspaper feature, and I hope it will inspire others who experience similar loss to overcome it with positive energy, communication, determination, and grace.
Most colleges that have recruited me to play basketball for them are division 3 private schools and have tuitions that I cannot afford. My father passed away with no life insurance or money to pass along. Being awarded this scholarship would help make both my education and continuing to play basketball possible, otherwise I am restricted to only schools that my mom can afford. I will continue fighting and searching for ways to help fund my tuition, because I know my dad would be so proud of me. He was well-known as one of the hardest workers in our county.