Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt personally victimized by something that has happened in your life? *raises both hands* My name is Jennifer Keddy and I going to walk you through The Match Of My Life.
My guess is you raised your hand, and my guess is at some point in your life, you’ve asked the question, “why me?!” When something bad has happened to you. Don’t worry; you aren’t alone. Adversity: difficulties, misfortunes, and hardships we experience during the course of our lives. People often run the other way when faced with tough situations instead of looking at the opportunity these struggles present.
If life were easy, we would never grow; we would never be given the chance to learn from our mistakes or the mistakes of others. Who would we be without growth? My name is Jennifer Keddy: 27-year-old Cal Poly graduate and current professional volleyball player. When I say this, people see a free education from an athletic scholarship and a “job” that lets you travel the world and see new places. But if you think any of this was easy, you are so, SO wrong.
First Real Adversity
During my senior year of high school volleyball, we had just gotten our butts kicked by the best team in the west; we were not playing well together, and everyone was getting angry at each other. After the game, the coaches came into the locker room and began to rip me a new one. ME; just me. In front of the entire team. They were shaming me for being too competitive and told me I was the worst teammate in the entire world. I started to sob uncontrollably—I think out of embarrassment—and I still had to ride the bus home with everyone.
The next day, instead of going to practice I went home and debated whether or not to quit the team. My parents supported my decision, but it didn’t feel right. So, I decided to use this as a learning experience and take a closer look at myself. I changed the way I communicated with my teammates, changed the energy I was exuding on the court and changed the way I interpreted my coach. The next time we played this team was at the state tournament, and we beat them in three to qualify for the semi-finals.
This experience was my first real introduction to adversity.
Who Am I Without Volleyball
I took this lesson with me when I left for college; I was going to be playing with a lot of different girls from different parts of the country, all with their own backgrounds and personalities. To be on a successful team, you need to have good chemistry and get along (somewhat). However, getting along with teammates would be one of the easier tasks asked of me during my five years at Cal Poly. Academics, coaching changes, time demands, early morning workouts…these were all things I experienced while playing college volleyball. Also, on top of that, I dealt with injury after injury (an athletes worst nightmare). My body was worn down until I was forced to have three surgeries within a year and a half. I missed my last season due to a foot injury that turned into a botched surgery which turned into another surgery.
My whole life was volleyball, so this took a mental toll. Depression, anxiety, body issues all surfaced as I didn’t know who I was without volleyball. What was I doing at Cal Poly if I wasn’t able to play volleyball? I didn’t think my life could get any worse.
Fast forward three years and I am playing professional volleyball in Germany. That was my fourth year as a professional athlete. I have played in Finland, Czech Republic, Germany, the Philippines, and again Germany. Each country presented me with different struggles: from -30 temperatures to language barriers to a difference in coaching to teammates; I have pretty much seen it all. Each time I left a country after the season had finished, I felt like I grew more not only as a volleyball player but as a person. And I was able to take each lesson with me to my next country.
The last season I was in Wiesbaden, Germany and I was having a tough time. I didn’t speak the language and the coach refused to speak English; he would go over the game plan and not tell me about it. During the game I would do one thing when I was supposed to do the other, and it became a real problem. I lived alone away from the rest of the girls and didn’t have any other American teammates. I started to get sick, and the coach stopped playing me. My brother was diagnosed with cancer during the season and all I wanted to do was go home.
The Match Of My Life
About halfway into the season, I went to the doctor and they found a large tumor; it was so big they weren’t sure where it started and ended. They just knew it had to come out. I took this as a sign and left Germany to have surgery in Montana, my home. I was diagnosed with a super rare form of ovarian cancer and had emergency surgery. They weren’t sure how bad it was so there was the possibility of a total hysterectomy with bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy—the removal of the uterus, cervix, Fallopian tubes, and ovaries—waking up in menopause at the age of 26. I woke up from surgery, blessed with everything but one Fallopian tube and one ovary. After the surgery, I was told many times that this was only the beginning of a long, hard road; “it is a marathon, not a sprint” they would tell me.
The next four months I endured a rigorous and aggressive chemotherapy treatment. I had life-threatening side effects and TONS of different medications to go with them. But I took this as my next match: I would do MY best and control what I was able to control and whatever happened, happened.
I worked out every day and did the things I enjoyed doing because I wasn’t going to let cancer and chemo dictate what I would and wouldn’t be able to do. And my entire athletic career gave me the ability to handle this situation like a total badass (yes, I am a self-proclaimed badass). I give most of the credit to my faith, but a lot of it has to do with the experiences that lead up to this moment in my life. I experienced, I learned, and I moved on. As I am writing this blog, I am sitting on my bed in my apartment in Lima, Peru, waiting to head to volleyball practice. Because I kicked cancers ass for four months, trained my little booty off, and refused to let anything stop me from doing what I loved most.
You are not defined by what you do or what you’ve been through, but by HOW you do it and HOW you handle it.
It’s A Marathon, Not A Sprint
You will be exposed to adversity for the rest of your life. Trust the process, embrace the journey, and keep your eyes open for the blessings they may bring. During my athletic career—high school, collegiate, and professional—I have experienced many challenges that translate into everyday life. But I have also experienced challenges that only competing in a sport can teach you. For that, I will be forever grateful.