01/30/2012 02:16 pm ET Updated Mar 31, 2012

You Can't Take the Athlete Out of the Girl

In elementary school, I remember shuffling through cones in my defensive stance and running 'suicides' up and down the basketball court. I remember jumping into my teammates' arms when we won the county championship. I was the captain of my high school team and I started every game for four years. I am an athlete. The first 18 years of my life had been largely shaped by competitive athletics but when I got to college, my identity was stripped away. I considered trying to walk on a team at a Division III school but after being brutally honest with myself, I admitted that my heart wasn't fully in it and my game wasn't up to par. On the surface I seemed content with moving on, but as soon as I got to college, I loathed the idea of starting over.

When I arrived on campus for orientation, I disappeared into a crowd of little freshmen, clueless about who I wanted to be in this new place. I introduced myself to a blur of unfamiliar faces during icebreaker games and continually corrected myself when I told people that I was a basketball player. I had always been grounded by the routine of practices after school and I missed going out for team dinners after a big game. I had a recurring dream of winning the league championship in high school and the exuberance I felt after the victory. I missed being able to compete outside of the classroom. A part of me felt incomplete without athletic competition.

For my entire freshman year, I struggled to find a replacement for basketball. I started to feel silly by sophomore year as I flaunted my basketball shorts and basketball sneakers to run on the treadmill at the gym. For some reason, I wanted people to know who I still thought I was: a basketball player. I joined the intramural basketball team along with some friends because that seemed like the next best option. I was disappointed to find that the level of play did not compare to that of my AAU travel team. After the intramural season ended, though, the thrill of playing basketball began to fade. I hadn't picked up a ball in months.

Now a second semester senior, my gym wardrobe has transformed. I wear neon pink workout tank tops and spandex shorts and I traded in my basketball sneakers for running shoes. I'm building my endurance from a sprinter to a long distance runner and I completed a 7K race last semester. I have also taken up spinning and I have plans to become a certified instructor. Tracking my weight training and cardio progress helps satisfy my competitive nature although it will never have quite the same effect as playing a team sport. When I watch the women's basketball team play at my school, I feel nostalgic and a part of me wishes I had been a better player with a genuine passion for the game. However, when I leave the arena after the game, I feel confident that I made the right decision. I am a team of one and I am growing stronger every day. Although basketball may not be a major part of my life anymore, it was a critical factor in making me the woman I am today.