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It's More Than Just a Sport: A Self-Discovery Journey

Sports. Physical Activity. An unspoken connection. A safe space.

My name is Lea Schmid and I have played sports my entire life. For the longest time, my weeks consisted of three football training sessions, one endurance run, and a weekend game-day. As life moved on and I graduated from university, the rhythm transitioned into three gym sessions and Sunday yoga. One way or another, I am always on the move.

I was the football captain who led her team to three consecutive victories, the daughter of sporty parents, and the girl who proudly walked around school hallways wearing her last name and the number 13 on her back… for years.

In middle school, sport was everything. Like any classic American high school movie, our mascot was a wildcat, we had gym lockers, and all our trophies were displayed in our gym’s "Hall of Fame". Once I wore my jersey and pulled my socks over those shin pads, I was hooked for life.

MIS Sportsmagazine photo, 2015

Growing up with that passion and understanding that my teammates were always more than just 11 players on a field, I fell in love with the adrenaline and my little family away from home.

MIS Junior Varsity Girls Team, 2016

For me, and I am sure many others can relate, football was more than just a way to fulfil a passion. In high school, it was a way to process my emotions and helped me learn lifelong lessons. Have you ever been so stressed out, that all you want to do is just relieve that tension? My answer? Football. Ever been down in life, that you need a little pick-me-up? My answer? Football. For any situation life threw at me, football was my answer.

Today, I am the dissemination coordinator and deputy editor here at Inspire the Mind, and being constantly surrounded by discussions regarding mental health has had a huge impact on my way of thinking and my personal development. We all know that physical activities are good for your mental health, helping you relieve stress and process the little complexities of life. According to the Mental Health Foundation, physical activity has a huge potential to enhance our wellbeing, including positively impacting our mood, reducing stress, and increasing our self-esteem. Research has also shown that using physical activity to improve one’s overall health has direct impacts on the prevention of cognitive decline. In 2021, physical activity of any kind was identified as a protective factor for dementia, showing that there is approximately a 20% to 30% lower risk of depression and dementia for adults participating in daily physical activity.

However, it is important to remember that whatever journey you are on, it should be the right fit for you, whether that takes the form of recreational or leisure-time physical activity, transportation (e.g., walking or cycling), occupational activity (i.e., work), household chores, playtime, games, sports, or planned exercise in the context of daily, family, and community activities.

But, as with everything in life, nothing is perfect. And sometimes sports can come with some hurdles along the way.

Whilst I have had my fair share of injuries, from broken bones to muscle inflammations and torn ligaments, my mental health relies heavily on sports. It wasn’t until May 2022, when I over-extended my knee ligament, that I truly understood how much physical activity played a role in my daily life. Before this, all my injuries were short-term. A couple of weeks on crutches and three months of physio at maximum. I felt as though I had never really been tested until last year.

I am aware that I have grown older and that I have, since my last injury, grown a lot. I have learned to understand that my self-worth is not determined by the number of kilometres I can run, or by the number of trophies I've collected, and definitely not by comparing myself to other non-injured athletes around me. Yet somehow, this injury had me challenging my own self-esteem. I could no longer test myself on runs, I could no longer out-challenge, and could no longer find joy in the activities that brought me the most peace.

Whilst navigating this journey, I started to discover more about myself. As much as it was hard to admit at the time, I now realise that I did not like asking for help. Growing up, my parents always encouraged me to spread my wings, find my own solutions, motivate myself, and find the answers I was looking for, by myself. For a long period of time during this injury, asking for help made me feel like I was too weak to do it on my own. This way of thinking triggered a long process of self-development.

MIS Varsity vs. Alumni Match, 2023

Feeling isolated from doing what I loved forced me to self-reflect.

I realised that this was just a temporary hurdle and that I would come out even stronger on the other side.

That this is how I could channel that inner fire. All I had to do, was change perspective.

So, after many months of kinesiology tape, ice-heat patches, and some training, I can say that I am fully recovered and whilst I do still have some things to work on, football really is more than a sport. For me, it is similar to life, it requires perseverance, hard work, self-denial, failure, dedication, respect, and authority. It is a way to build meaningful relationships and learn a whole lot about oneself, and today, I am incredibly happy to have been on this journey.

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