Third Part of my experience

After being diagnosed with my stress fracture, I went back home to spend the summer with my family, boyfriend, and friends. I really needed that time after all that happened. A week later, I got a call from my coach that he had gotten a better job offer from another university that offered him better opportunities for his future and his family – which he deserved! But for me, it meant that one of the main reasons I chose to attend the University of South Carolina would be leaving. A few days later, my head coach announced his well-deserved retirement – but then I started asking myself what it means when the head coach (who is in charge of all the scholarships) changes? Well, it means a lot of changes…

After these changes and a short turnaround, I had to fly back to the US to have surgery. The surgery went well, and the following day, I was in the rehab room, getting all the treatment I could. I got a call from the new head coach, who had just been announced, telling me that he needed to talk to me about “my situation.” I learned that there was a mistake made in the process of my scholarship paperwork, and the scholarship was not renewed for the next year before my old head coach retired. And he doesn’t have a scholarship left for me now, looking at my health status and recovery timeline.

So, as you can imagine, my world fell apart for a second… I was afraid of losing my scholarship all season long if I didn’t do what I was told, so I gave everything I had until I broke my bone and still kept running for the sake of the school – and still, my scholarship wasn’t fully secured…

So my biggest fear came true –it was not nice; it was really awful. But I kept breathing and living, and the world didn’t end.

I got to realize what a support system I got in that year, as everyone who could started helping to find a solution for me to finish my Masters, as at this point, this was really something I wanted to finish. I had a great experience at the School of Medicine and the environment there, as they always treated me as the person I was and saw me as “Elena” and not just an athlete!!! With all the support I got, we found a solution, so I was able to secure the finances to finish my Master’s getting my medical treatment without me having to take any student loans – while not being part of the Track and Field team anymore.

If someone had told me that a year ago, I would have been terrified. I was at the beginning, but I was relieved that there was a solution for finishing my Masters, and it ended up not being that bad; I had to recover from my injury anyway and couldn’t have practice with the team. Was this the reason I moved to the US? NO, it was quite the opposite, and this was not my plan at all, but that was the situation I was in then, and with help from my German- and now also new American support system, I was able to handle it. Fast forward I finished my Masters now and am back in Germany and really happy that I could close that Chapter!

In that time, I learned that I can’t control everything. No matter how hard I try to do things right, it’s just not always in my control. Worrying about it all the time will not take away the risk of something bad happening but rather the joy of the moment, even though nothing bad has happened yet. A lot of the meetings we traveled to, I got to see places I never dreamed I would see, like the Bahamas and New York. But I wasn’t able to live in the moment because I was worried about my performance, if I was good enough, if I really did all I could have done, and so on… I even realized that at the moment, that I wasn’t able to enjoy the present because so many things were uncertain and new, so I told myself that I would enjoy it all next year because this would be my last year – little did I know that there was no next year. That is one thing I regret! Not to live in the moment and enjoy it, but to say to myself, next year I will… Life is not as controllable and plannable as we would like, so you don’t always know what the future will look like. You can’t change the past nor control the future – so it is best to live in the present… (Cheesy but true…). There is only one thing I can always control, and that is my actions and reactions to situations that happen. So I put my energy into the things I can control rather than wasting my energy on worries I can’t control.

Also, as I mentioned before, I now have a support system in two countries! I made some great friendships, and I know that I can visit friends from so many different countries – because I made some really good international friends too. Going to a university with a diverse team is, in my opinion, a great added value for the team, as everyone has the opportunity to get to know different cultures and different people. From my experience, I also made some of my best friends from other countries because they can relate to your experience, as they probably went through similar struggles (you can read some of them in the following posts).

Next, I said that I didn’t feel at home in the environment I was in, which was mostly just the fact that I underestimated the difference between German and American culture in a smaller city. Knowing this now, I would choose a bigger city and probably closer to the coast, because “the closer you get to the coast, the more European it gets,” just to name one example, the food options… While being vegetarian in a city like Columbia, SC, this made the daily food choices more complicated than it would have been in other cities. But also the transportation system, the way cities are built, and the use of weapons are quite different from what I was used to and took for granted in Germany.

Finally, if you are able to visit different universities, do so! When I did this, I didn’t pay as much attention to the team environment and how I felt in the team during the visit and focused more on the times the team ran (which is important, but not everything…). The team environment is at least as important as the times the team runs, because that is the environment you will be in all the time. Ask people what the team environment is like. Talk to internationals on the team about how they like it, as this is the closest insight you can get while visiting. They can give you more insight than other people because they have been through things that you will be going through.

Even though my experience wasn’t the best, I wouldn’t discourage anyone from moving abroad because I learned so much about myself, made some lifelong friends, and got a cat – we basically saved each other’s life’s! However, while you are going through the process, it is important to consider more things than you might immediately think about.

I also think that in order to survive in the NCAA, or anywhere else for that matter, you have to learn to advocate for yourself and learn to read your signals and respect them. While this may be more difficult in some environments than others, it’s still something you have to learn, and I hope you don’t have to learn it the hard way like I did (you can trust me on that, I promise!). Moving to the US may have more risks, but it may also end up being the perfect fit for you, so don’t get discouraged, but rather do it smarter than I did. You can also reach out to me or other athletes if you have any questions and want some tips if you are thinking about making the move.

Thank you very much for reading it till the end. I appreciate each one of you.


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