A toast to 2016

By Heather Nelson

When they go low, we go high. — Michelle Obama


2016, you were quite a low. I’d hoped for better. I’d planned for better. I could complain about how much my year sucked and how many low points I went through, but I won’t. I learned incredibly tough life lessons. 

I was so sure that 2016 was going to be it for me — I’d find the job I wanted, my other half, and fulfill all of my life’s dreams. I’m far from checking off all of my list. 

Life tested me. I spent time on people (men), who weren’t worth my time. I lost friends, who I’d thought would be around forever. I thought therapy would “fix” me.  

I poured myself into a blog that I thought would eventually bring me success in my writing career. I moved (only three hours from home) to pursue it. Instead, the proverbial rug was pulled out from underneath me, and I parted ways with the blog. I’m glad I did.

I spent too much time worrying about how to please other people. It exhausted me. The people around me sucked energy out of me but never replenished it. It was a toxic environment. And I had convinced myself it wasn’t.

At first, I felt like a failure for picking up and moving back home. I realized, though, that the plans you make for yourself aren’t always the plans the Big Guy has for you. And while I have a tough time looking to Him for guidance, I believe everything happens for a reason. 
I’m still not working in the field I want to be. On my low days, I dwell on it. I wonder if my path in life is through writing. I wonder if I should give up and pursue other ventures. And when I’m feeling that low, I get little reminders to keep fighting.

Life’s tests, though, strengthened me.
I’m more confident in myself, more aware of my worth. I’ve met incredible people, who uplift me. (And my oldest friends continue to do so.) My family remains to be my biggest source of support. 

2016, you brought some really tough truths to the surface for me. You tested my will. You pushed me further than I thought I could handle sometimes. I’m not sad to see the year come to an end. …Because with each new year comes a restart, a refresh. What has the prospect of 2017 brought us? Hope. 

Familiar

By Heather Nelson

Twelve years ago, on a crisp October night in St. Louis, Red Sox centerfielder Johnny Damon hit a lead-off home run to start game four of the 2004 World Series. Flash foward 12 years later, this time a warm night in Cleveland, Cubs leadoff hitter, Dexter Fowler, blasted a home run to begin game seven.  

Eerily familiar. 

The 2004 Red Sox broke an 86-year curse that night. The 2016 Cubs? They broke a 108-year curse that November night. 

As a sixth grader, watching that game in 2004, I didn’t understand the significance of the game I was watching. I had some clue — the shots back to bars in Boston; the post-game phone call to my cousin, who lived in Boston; the Sam Adams my dad and neighbors drank; the mere fact that I got to stay up late on a school night watching baseball. But, I didn’t understand the years of agony that Sox fans endured. I barely understood how much sports meant to people; I was just figuring this out. 

Last night changed that for me. I know fans of the Cubs — real fans, who’ve stuck it out during the hard times. I also understand sports on a much different level because I live and breathe them. And yet, last night felt extremely familiar for me. Former members of the Red Sox family peppered the teams in the series. On the Cubs: Theo and Lester and Ross and Rizzo. On the Tribe: Tito and Napoli and Crisp. Key men that have helped my team win over the years… 

I felt a certain connection to the Cubs (mostly because I’ve never really liked Cleveland). When Theo left Boston to go to Chicago, I knew great things would transpire. I tried to latch onto the Cubs as my “National League team” but I never paid as close attention as I meant to, and it’s just extremely hard to invest your full self into two teams. Still, for me, it felt right to root for Chicago once Boston was eliminated. 

While watching the game Wednesday night, I had flashbacks to 2004. An anxious energy filled the room 12 years ago, but we never gave up hope that the Sox would pull this off. The same thing happened last night. I got texts from a few friends, who knew I’d be watching. “Who you got tonight?” I told each person that I had faith in the Cubs and that I believed they had the momentum — homefield or not. (Heck, the Sox didn’t win it on homefield the first two times, most recently.) Last night, I was the only one in the Nelson house actively rooting for the Cubs. And yes, I was nervous for them.

The game dragged on, and my anxiety — for a team I’m not even truly invested in — worsened. Cleveland tied the game late, while I was on the phone with my boyfriend, who bet on the Tribe to win. I told him he was bad luck and quickly hung up. (I mean, I wore the same shirt and hat for good mojo.) At that point, I questioned Chicago’s ability to come back and win. I atill had faith, but I was prepared for heartbreak. And in the 10th inning, it happened. 

Cubs fans alive breathed a sigh of relief, and the deceased rolled over in their graves. The Cubs won. Generations celebrated. No more curse. Theo Epstein dubbed some-kind-of magician. Jon Lester earned the win. Grandpa Ross slammed a dinger. Anthony Rizzo with a hand in the final out. 

How did this happen?

I sat on my couch stunned, refreshing my Twitter feed. Twitter served as some sort of validation that I hadn’t been dreaming. I got to relive that feeling that sports gives you when you see players’ (and a city’s) dreams come to fruition. I had flashbacks to 11-year-old me dancing in jubilation after witnessing one of the biggest sports moments of the century. I got to taste another one last night — this one is even bigger.

On November 2, 2016, the Chicago Cubs set free all those chained by the “curse.” The Cubs reminded America why baseball is a beautiful pastime, rich with history. They gave us that fuzzy feeling that’s been hard to find lately. And, my, doesn’t it feel great to feel like a kid, again? 

A lesson on change

A lesson on change

Change. It’s inevitable. It’s one of those “unknown” things that always rocked me. I’ve never been of a fan of it, especially when I least expect it. I’m a creature of habit, so much so, that I order the same latte at Starbucks.

“Try something new,” they say.

“But what if I don’t like it?” I whine.

I’ve fallen into this cycle of habitual living. It’s seeped into my core. How do you fix it, overcome it? You make change.

I lived at home for a whole year following my graduation from college. I never planned this — I never planned on being jobless upon earning my degree either. Sometimes life throws things at you that you don’t plan for. But, living on my own wasn’t an option so I moved home with my parents. Almost all of my family lived within short driving distance of me, and I got used to being at home and a part of family shenanigans. But, even with all of that, I became bored and complacent. I scouted out new ventures, whether it caused me to move across the country or just a few miles from home. 

I moved back to the Kansas City-area about a month ago, now. I didn’t move for a journalism job, and yes, that was slightly disappointing and embarrassing for me to admit to people. I strongly desire to make ground in my field, and too often, I care about what other people think of me. It shouldn’t matter. I shouldn’t need approval. And, yet, I do.

It’s been rough but I’d feel more miserable if I gave up on my dreams. I live with a phenomenal example of how to pursue those dreams. Without even knowing it (or maybe she does), she pushes me to do better, to push myself. At home, I didn’t have the same sort of mindset. The goals I have for myself won’t be achieved without hard work.

Nothing about the path that I want to take in life will be “easy.” Female sports writers are constantly criticized and questioned. Journalism isn’t an easy field to make a name for yourself. Sports journalism is even harder. As a woman, it’s 100 times harder — it’s a boys club. Nothing is going to stop me from achieving my goals and those become more clear each day. I’ve known since high school that I wanted to pursue sports writing, but I’ve known even longer that I wanted to spend the rest of my life writing.

This is my passion. There are many different roads that will lead me to where I want to be. It’s a part of the process. There’s a need for more women in the sports industry. I want to be a part of that change; I want to be a trailblazer for other women, who, like me, want to pursue a career that they’re passionate about. And that’s exactly what I’ll do: be a part of the change. 
Change isn’t all bad.

Baseball: my second family

Baseball: my second family

In fifth grade, I loved drawing and writing. In fifth grade, I found my new love: sports. This is the (bizarre) story of how that happened.

It started in Mr. Farwell’s fifth grade class when asked us to create a perspective drawing of a city. My drawing was almost complete when Mr. Farwell approached me.

“You should add the Green Monster to the background,” he said.

I looked at him unsure of what to say. Was I supposed to know about some ‘Green Monster’ cartoon? Was it like Godzilla? Was it some joke I was too young to understand?

“What’s the Green Monster?”

Mr. Farwell laughed. (I assume because he realized he instructed a 10-year-old to draw a Green Monster in the background, and she took it literally.)

He explained to me that the wall in left field of Fenway Park, the Boston Red Sox home, had a nickname. The Green Monster. Mr. Farwell was my first male teacher, and his knowledge of “manly” things interested me. He used sports themes in the classroom, which sparked my interest, and he encouraged his students to get active. Some mornings, when the weather permitted, he’d take us outside to do basketball drills, which he said “got our blood flowing.” Fifth grade was my favorite year in elementary school for many reasons — aside from the fact that I met some of my closest friends still today that year. Mr. Farwell taught me about the Red Sox. I think he was a casual fan, although I couldn’t say, but I’m sure he knew my dad was a fan. Plus, I had a pink Red Sox shirt that I’d wear on occasion. That must’ve given my “fandom” away.

2003 — the year I was a fifth grader — was one of the most disappointing years to be a Sox fan, and I didn’t even know it. Roger Clemens pulled my dad in as a fan, which is why he latched onto the Red Sox in the 1990s. His love for the Sox, as my dad puts it, grew from there. My dad also said the history of the team and Fenway Park further drew him in. Even better, the Red Sox, at that time, weren’t spending money like the New York Yankees. (My dad’s always despised them.) The BoSox were a bunch of facial-haired misfits, who had no chance of winning anything as far as the Yankees were concerned (I’m assuming). From 1990-2002, the Red Sox made the postseason only four times. Not exactly a team that you’d pin an out-of-towner to pledge allegiance to. In 2003, the Sox lost the ALCS to the Yankees in heart-breaking fashion (via Aaron Boone home run). My dad certainly didn’t mind rooting for a losing team. It’s something I’ve always admired: He’s loyal and optimistic, even during the times that it’s hard to be. Oh, and he never jumps on the bandwagon. Ever.

So, while the rest of Red Sox Nation mourned during the 2003 offseason, I slowly transformed into a baseball fan. The pink Sox shirt I owned led me to become buddies with an office para, who’d grown up a Red Sox fan. The pink shirt caused Yankees “fans” in my sixth grade class to taunt me. The pink shirt served as my Halloween costume — the year I decided to be a “Red Sox fan.” The pink shirt also somehow, maybe, brought good luck to the 2004 team. I often joke that since I became a dedicated fan, the Red Sox curse vanished and winning seasons returned. (Omit the Chicken and Beer Scandal year, please.) I remember watching Nomar dance at home plate, adjusting his gloves in between each swing. I remember when he was traded to the Cubs, and how I said, “I’ll just become as Cubs fan!”as if I thought that’d be better. I remember Manny and Pedro and Damon. And Youkilis and Wakefield and Foulke. I remember when I decided Trot Nixon would be my favorite Sox player, because you need a favorite if you want a jersey. I remember Arroyo and A-Rod and The Slap. I remember scrunching my face at the word, “Yankees.” I remember staying up late to watch the Red Sox win their first World Series in 86 years. I remember the phone call with my cousin in Boston, who I could barely hear because of all the cheering in the background. I remember wearing red and blue face paint to school the next day (and skipping school in 2007 when they won again).

The Red Sox obviously mean a lot to me. I’ve spent 13 years of my life rooting for the same team. I’ve also gone on two trips to Boston — and admittedly fallen in love with the city. Sadly, I wasn’t smart enough (or rich enough for Harvard), but maybe I’ll live there someday.

I can’t begin to describe how much I love baseball. It’s been there for me through everything: puberty, death, graduation, breakups, etc…. Baseball is long, in season and game-length, but it’s a constant. Baseball is like a family. I think Jimmy Fallon’s character in “Fever Pitch” best described what baseball means to me:

They’re here. Every April, they’re here. At 1:05 or 7:05, there is a game. And if it gets rained out, guess what?  They make it up to you. Does anyone else in your life do that? The Red Sox don’t get divorced. This is a real family. This is a family that’s here for you.

From April to October, I can count on a game being on my TV. I can count on bat flips, bench-clearing fights, an almost no-no or two. Maybe baseball hasn’t ever loved me back, but it’s repeatedly given me reasons to never let go. For as long as I live, I’ll be a baseball fan, a Red Sox fan foremost. Baseball isn’t boring; baseball is fun. Baseball is a part of my life; it’s a piece of my soul.

Ben: You know what’s really great about baseball?

Lindsey: Hmm?

Ben: You can’t fake it. You know, anything else in life you don’t have to be great in – business, music, art – I mean you can get lucky.

Lindsey: Really?

Ben: Yeah, you can fool everyone for awhile, you know? It’s like – not – not baseball. You can either hit a curveball or you can’t. That’s the way it works…

Lindsey Meeks: Hmm.

Ben: You know?

Ben: You can have a lucky day, sure, but you can’t have a lucky career. It’s a little like math. It’s orderly. Win or lose, it’s fair. It all adds up. It’s, like, not as confusing or as ambiguous as, uh…

Lindsey: Life?

Ben: Yeah. It’s – it’s safe.

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Me as Trot Nixon

One year

By Heather Nelson

The yellow of the sun illuminated my room, awakening me from a restless slumber. The sunlight was a sign of a new day — a day removed from the comfort of my fuzzy blankets and my dogs, who would definitely come to snuggle with me. I looked at the clock on my iPhone: 9:15. Only two hours later than I meant to get up. I pulled my Red Sox blanket back over my head.

I wasn’t ready to get up. In fact, I didn’t know when I’d be ready. For the past three weeks, I rarely moved from bed. I didn’t have a fever. Or a sore throat. Or two broken limbs. I just didn’t have the will to move.

Each day became another obstacle. My body begged me to rest, but my mind raced 1,000 miles ahead. The overwhelming stress of adulthood hit — hard. I’d become nocturnal because of the sedentary life I’d created. But I couldn’t muster the energy to remove the blankets from my weak body.

I’d been neglecting my job during this time. I needed to fund-raise my entire salary by the second week in August. That time had come. I’d only raised $200 per month of support. The magic number? $3,200 per month. My head spun. I’d exhausted most, if not all, of my resources — my contact list — and still nothing came close. My next option? Quit.

Except that’s not something that I do well. I don’t like quitting. I’d never quit a job before. And this job wasn’t ordinary; we were supposed to decipher if it was God’s will for us to take this job… Almost all of my mentors said once you discern, God doesn’t choose a different path for you. (Plus, I believed I’d get to where I needed to be, if it was his plan. I never once considered quitting because I couldn’t raise the money.)

But God vanished from my life. I slipped into a place where I questioned — and still question — his existence. I was overwhelmed with extreme sadness, anxiety, insomnia and an overall loss of interest in life.

My phone rang for days, but I screened calls from higher-ups, unsure of what news to relay to them. I was supposed to be making progress, and I knew how the conversation would go:

“How many calls did you make today?” A made-up number. “How many appointments did you have today?” A made-up number. “How many people did you add to your list?” A made-up number.

I hated to lie, but I didn’t want to disappoint, and I figured that soon I’d have the strength to move again. This time, I spoke up.

“Evan, I’m not well.” I paused. I could feel tears welling; my throat closed. “I think about killing myself daily.”

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It’s weird, but a year ago, I was at Lake of the Ozarks with friends — but so miserable inside — that I didn’t fully enjoy myself. This year, I returned with family. I’m reminded how truly loved, lucky and thankful I am.
That was a year ago. Since then, I’ve been diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I’ve started therapy and prescription treatment. I quit my job as a campus missionary, and I started working at a daycare. I put my passions (writing & sports) to work with a few different blogs. Most of all, I’ve found stability.

What I’ve learned in the past year goes far beyond anything I learned in school. I learned that I hate big change, — when I’m not prepared for it — but I know how to manage that, now.  I learned that life after college isn’t all that it seems. You live far away from your friends and have to make new ones. You don’t get your dream job right away.

Most of all, I learned that it’s OK to ask for help. You can be self-sufficient but still need assistance sometimes. You can choose to bottle up your problems or deal with them accordingly.

I spent years overwhelmed by anxiety and in between waves of depression. Because of the stigma, I was too afraid to ask for help. I thought that going to talk to a therapist meant I needed a laundry list of problems — crazy being at the top of that list. This is far from true. In fact, I’ve learned so much about how our minds work and how emotions are evoked since I started therapy.

The tools that my therapist gave me work far better than guzzling pain pills or avoiding the problem all together, which I did quite often. Instead, in the past year, I’ve gained confidence to take control of my life. I can ask for help when I need it. I light a candle and read or go outside to exercise when I’m stressed. I make lists. I created a vision board. I read self-help books. I write.

I’m not cured, and I won’t be, but that doesn’t mean I can’t live happily. Depression comes in ebbs and flows. But that’s life. I choose to be happy, and I’m thankful for the support system I have. Because without their help I might still be in bed with uncombed hair wearing yesterday’s clothes.

Celebrate we will. Because life is short but sweet for certain. — Dave Matthews Band

 

 

 

Bye 2015, hello 2016

By Heather Nelson

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Celebrating four years of friendship at our favorite place, The Sandbar.

Blogging about the year end makes me feel like a little piece of me has withered away. In a sense it has — I (could be) one year closer to dying.  (Or I could die in five minutes.) Regardless, I’m one of those people who hangs on to bits of the past. If you took a peek at my closet, you’d find my favorite Barbie doll from when I was three, an accordion folder of treasured schoolwork, and old issues of Sports Illustrated I can’t seem to throw away. It’s funny, though, because I don’t look back at 2015 with much endearment.

2015 kicked my ass.

I relate it to this: I fantasized that when I graduated from college, I would have all the answers. I’d have the dream job, the dream life that I’d long imagined as a child. I’m sitting in a coffee shop (writing this) six months later, and I have none of these things. 2015 got me on that one. I didn’t know what 2015 had in store — the possibilities were wide open. That’s the rest of adulthood.

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Pledge class 2011 in initiation order for the pub crawl.

Life threw me quite a few curve balls. The first: I failed a journalism class, which left me three credits short of receiving my degree from the University of Kansas. The second: I quit my full-time job as a campus missionary to take care of myself, which leads me to…. The third: I was “diagnosed” with depression and general anxiety — I started seeing a therapist (major humility for me). The fourth: I spent two months in unemployment limbo.

Through all of these things, I’ve learned the art of vulnerability and humility. It’s important to share experiences that you’ve learned from so that others don’t feel alone. If 2015 taught me anything, it’s that. I’ve spent hours, days, weeks, thinking, “I must be the only miserable person on the planet.” (Really, what percent of 23-year-olds are working at their dream job?) It’s hard to exit the black hole in your mind.

So, here’s my suggestion for 2016: share life with one another. Worry less about closing yourself off from people who might hurt you. (Be less of a robot.) Pain is part of life. (Trust me, I’ve experienced plenty of this.) Listen to your gut. (*Shia LaBeouf voice* just do it.) If you feel that tug to share an experience, advice, a hug, a hand… Do it. The world needs extraordinary humans to spread love.

It’s too late to say sorry, 2015, but we’re gonna have an adventure of a lifetime, 2016.

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Nelson family Christmas 2015.

 

Racial tensions at University of Missouri

By Heather Nelson

If you haven’t been following the goings on in Columbia, Mo., there’s a very important story that’s been going on for quite some time now. Across the border from my Alma Mater (where we pride ourselves as the Free State, see: Bleeding Kansas) there’s been turmoil caused by racial tensions.

A number of racist incidents have gone unnoticed/unpunished by the University. Jonathan Butler, a graduate student at the University, went on a hunger strike on November 2. He said that he wouldn’t end his strike until the University’s president resigned, even if that meant death. This weekend the Missouri football team backed the members of Concerned Student of 1950, a student group named for the first year a black graduate student was admitted to the University, by going on strike. On Monday, faculty showed support for students via walk out. Not much later, Tom Wolfe, the University’s president, stepped down.

The football team most likely played a major role in creating a decision. The University of Missouri would’ve lost $1M if the game this weekend in Kansas City wouldn’t have been played. So, unfortunately, I think the administration made the decision to have Wolfe step down because of monetary reasons. But, if sports really have this large of an impact, I hope it continues to be used to create a positive influence. Sports can be used to bring people together to rally behind a common cause, such as this one.

Side note: For me, the death of a student would’ve been enough to make me admit my faults and leave my position as president.

To read more about the events check out the links I provided below:

From The Atlantic: http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2015/11/whats-happening-at-the-university-of-missouri/414870/?utm_source=SFTwitter

From the Columbia Missourian: http://www.columbiamissourian.com/news/higher_education/racial-climate-at-mu-a-timeline-of-incidents-to-date/article_0c96f986-84c6-11e5-a38f-2bd0aab0bf74.html

From the Chicago Tribune: http://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/college/ct-missouri-football-players-president-20151109-story.html