It's not all about the Olympics

Jaclyn Kitnzer

Midfielder Katelyn Falgowski kicks the hacky sack during a pre-game, get-the-jitters-out hack session with her teammates.

Dear Self,

Be vulnerable. Put yourself out there. Communicate. Ask for help. Let others make you better. Give kindness and receive it. Share your load. Don't hide behind bravado, or pretty hair. Let it loose. Go wild. Say how you feel. Let the world hear you sing. Dance. Be weird. Be you. Smile. Give you.

Share your food. Pack a picnic, sit at the table a little longer, order dessert and share it. Take walks, have coffee, sip it slow. Talk. Share your story, lend your ear. Learn. Tell a joke. Have fun, make a mess. Always help clean up. Savor life. Share the road.

Have faith. Choose to see the good in yourself and others, choose to work for good, and always, always trust what comes of your choices.

Love,
Me

It has been a long month. After nine days in Australia, 14 days in New Zealand and 11 hard-fought games, I am finally home in California. Cue the long sigh.

It was a humbling trip Down Under. The games didn't pan out the way we wanted. We didn't win. We started strong in Australia -- won two of the three-game series versus the "Hockeyroos," which is what they call the national team. Then we traveled to New Zealand, and very slowly, things started to unravel. We played two 4-Nations tournaments against New Zealand, Australia and India. We finished third in the first tourney and a dismal fourth in the second competition. We were inconsistent. We squandered important opportunities.

Yet for all of its hardship, I am unbelievably thankful for the trip. It was one of the best experiences of my life. On that 23-day journey with my teammates, I smiled more than I have smiled in a long time and shared simple yet meaningful moments with my teammates -- Easter Sunday mass in a small Australian church; sunset wiffle ball games on the beach; morning coffee runs to Pickles, the local New Zealand coffee shop; smorgasbord meals at the coaches' "Real World" house; laughs over new nicknames (Smeds, Puuuzzz, and Lippy); chats about God, life, books, animals and movies. While sharing and smiling, I realized something invaluable: This journey is not all about the Olympics.

Heck, it's not even about field hockey. It never was for me. In 110 days, the Olympics will be over. This journey is about giving myself to my team every day, giving my purpose and my passion and growing from what I give. It's not about perfection. It is about constant improvement -- going beyond myself and becoming a part of something way bigger than just myself. It's about enjoying every moment, even the ones that are filled with uncertainty and fear. It's about us all opening up, embracing one another and sharing the road.

It has taken me a long time to learn these things even though I have been on teams my whole life. I've never played an individual sport. I tried once, ran a few laps around a track, and said nope, not for me. I loved winning too much and on my own, I didn't stand a fighting chance, because I am an average athlete at best. I am not very fast, can't jump very high and despite my affinity for spinach, I'm no Popeye. Anyone I have ever played with will tell you, I am a klutz. I can even trip over the painted sidelines on the field.

But as a kid I dreamed big and did what any logical Olympic dreamer does -- I accepted the hand I was dealt, gave up my inspiring yet impossible dream of becoming Flo Jo Jr., and decided to leverage my few athletic assets with the talents of others.

I entered the wide world of team sports.

Except being on a team meant working with people, which wasn't quite my forte. I am not what you'd call a "people person." I am not a pleaser. I don't beat around the bush. I like staying home on weekends. I hate small talk. I enjoy eating alone. I can't stand "coolness," and I hold firm in two beliefs -- if you have something to say, say it, and if you have something to do, do it.

I survived on teams because I clung to the unspoken contract between teammates. We want the same thing. You want to win, and I want to win. I need you at your best. You need me my best. So let's do whatever it takes to be at our best. We'll win.

But being a good teammate also requires communication, understanding and respect. You have to relinquish some of your control and choose to trust others. I didn't always understand that. I thought wanting the same thing badly enough was enough. I thought winning was enough, but it's not.

There was something powerful about this 23-day trip that changed my perspective. We were uncomfortable. We were forced to share. We shared the joy of victory and disappointment of defeat. We shared our fears and uncertainty. We shared our courage. We shared small living spaces and jars of pickles.

One moment, against India, sticks out. For the first time since moving to the midfield four years ago, I was asked to play in the backfield. I hadn't trained there in years. I was unsure of myself, of what the game would look like from the position -- would I see passes, would I hold the right defensive zones, would I communicate the right things? I was scared. I felt sick to my stomach. Right before the whistle, I turned to my teammate Lauren Crandall, my eyes ridden with fear, and said, "I need you today. Help me get through this." She nodded her head, took the burden off my back, and together we weathered India's attack.

This trip changed something in me. It was hard. We were uncomfortable. We were disappointed in ourselves and unsure of our path. Yet, we found strength and joy, not in the outcomes, but in the presence of one another. I let go of my expectations. I let go of the Olympics, of being great, of making the team and of winning. I let go and decided to focus on what I can give every day.

I still want the Olympics, for sure. And I still want to win, badly. But I've also made a bigger promise to myself. I am going to give myself to something bigger. I am going to be vulnerable and share my food. I am going to live with faith and I am going smile, win or lose, every day. I am going to find work and do work -- not for myself or for the Olympics, but for my team. Because if there is one thing I am certain of, it is that we are in this thing together. And we have to work and fight for each other.

Rachel Dawson will be blogging for espnW in the lead-up to this summer's London Olympics. Check back in a few weeks for more from Dawson, and read her previous posts here.