By Audrey Warner
“You go to Harvard?” they said.
“Yes, I play hockey” I replied.
This has always been my immediate response up until this year. Now, when asked this question I say “yes” with a very apparent hesitation. But why the hesitation? The answer is that hockey was my identity. I was not a student at Harvard, I was a hockey player at Harvard. Hockey was my passion and hockey was my life. Every daily decision and sacrifice I made for years was in the best interest of me as a hockey player – whether that was getting up early to skate extra, shooting countless extra pucks, working out more, getting my rest instead of hanging out with friends or always eating the healthiest option. I will be one of the first to tell you that all of this can change in an instant.
I want to offer each and every one of you reading this a challenge: don’t let your sport define you. Everyone laces up their skates, ties their cleats, or buckles their helmet for the last time at some point in their life; unfortunately for some, it happens much sooner than others. Furthermore, unfortunately for some, it is not by choice.
Up until February of this year, I was just a Harvard Hockey player from Shaker Heights, Ohio. Growing up, I even left my home town to go to Minnesota. My friends knew I only left them to play hockey. I dropped everything to be a hockey player my sophomore year of high school. I left my family, my friends, my school and my hometown to be the best possible hockey player that I could be. I put every ounce of me into the sport that I not only loved, but that defined me day in and day out because I let it.
If I have learned one thing from suffering traumatic brain injuries, it is perspective. When a doctor looked me in the eyes and told me that I should not go back to doing what I love, I was heartbroken. Not only was I heartbroken, but I definitely did not know who I was without hockey.
I will never forget the day my dad looked at me and said, “in life we do not get to choose our cards, we only learn how to play them.” We can look at a career-ending brain injury as stripping us of our identity or we can use it to help redefine our identity. Words cannot express my gratitude for what the game has given me and taught me over the years. It has put incredible people in my life. Hockey undoubtedly is and will be a huge part of my life, always.
I am not going to tell you that walking away from your sport is easy. To this day, my eyes glisten as I walk across the bridge to the rink to support my teammates every weekend, but I cannot help in doing so with a grateful heart. I will hold on to the memories, the lessons and the friendships that hockey has given me forever. I would not wish for even a second of doing what I loved back. I truly believe that everything happens for a reason, even when we ourselves are unsure of the reason.
Where would I be today if I had not been a hockey player? The answer is not at Harvard.
Lastly, I would not have the opportunity to be a part of this great community and the Concussion Legacy Foundation that is making the best of life’s circumstances.