Letter to My Younger Self

Dear 15-year-old Kacey,

How about that entrance?

The long driveway that winds up to a group of ivy covered buildings, all framed by the pines clustered on the Berkshire Hills  — the whole setting is beautiful, isn’t it?

I know, I know. You’ve driven through it once before. Only a couple of months ago, you arrived at the foot of Mount Everett in Massachusetts to visit the Berkshire School.

And now? This is the entrance to your home for the next four years. You’re about to be something you never thought you’d be: a prep school student.

But you’re so excited. All those years of playing travel hockey with boys didn’t exactly make it easy for you to make girl friends. Now, you have the opportunity to build relationships with people from all over the world. I guess this is what Dad meant when he told you to “get out of your comfort zone.”

Of course, you’re also pretty nervous. How could you not be? I hate to tell you this, because I know how much it’s going to hurt. But I want to let you know right now. The first two weeks of boarding school are going to be the worst two weeks of your life. Please hold in the tears — this is supposed to be an exciting time.

You’re going to really miss Mom, Dad and your siblings. You’re going to finally understand how important they’ve been to you. All the fighting and arguing that you’ve done with your brothers and sister will soon seem trivial. Your family is the only group of people you’ve ever been able to lean on during troubled times, especially since most of the people you hung out with were the boys on the travel hockey team.

But you can’t waste too much time right now thinking about how difficult the next two weeks are going to be, because you have someone to meet.

It’s your roommate. Part of the reason you’re going to have such a difficult time adjusting to boarding school life will be because you share a room with someone. That will be hard, especially at a young age. You’ve also never lived with anyone except your family before. It will certainly be a transition.

It’s no wonder you’re going to hate Berkshire.

You probably want to stop reading right now. I don’t blame you.

But don’t even think about doing that. Why? Well, here’s a reason: One day, you’re going to be an Olympian.

Want to know more? Good. Let’s keep going.

In a couple of months, you’re going to return home for Thanksgiving break. I can’t tell you how happy you’re going to be to curl up on the couch you’ve missed so much, sleep in your own bed and see your dog. Not to mention that, at home, you don’t need to worry about bugging your roommate.

Which brings me to an interesting point.  

Just when you get used to having a roommate at school, she’s going to leave. One day after Christmas break, she’ll have all her bags packed up and be gone.

As homesick as you are, do not think that you should do the same. Do not leave school.

Because you’re going to meet someone pretty special who will make all the hardship worth it.

There’s going to be a girl in the dorm room across the hall from your room. Her name is Kat. She’s a member of the cross country team, the theater group and every academic and spirit club that Berkshire has to offer.

Pay attention to her.

She’s going to be your best friend.

Yes, really.

Kat’s also going to be your biggest fan. She’ll go to dinner with you when you’re alone. She’ll tell you that she believes in you when you want to quit school. She’ll listen to you when you need to vent, and she’ll come to every single one of your sports games. Every single one.

Which brings me to the ice.

After Thanksgiving break, something pretty special will happen. I almost don’t want to ruin the surprise. Kacey — you’re going to make varsity girls hockey as a freshman.

Around school, no one’s really going to notice because of how many great athletes there are at Berkshire. You’re going to fly under the radar. But that’ll be O.K., because there will be one girl who will take the time to congratulate you. Her name is Roxanne, and she’s the team’s goalie. You don’t know her yet. She’s going to be the prefect — the upperclassman — in your freshman dorm.

You’re never going to meet anyone quite like Roxanne. She has the rare ability to connect with younger kids. So, listen to me closely:

When she asks you if you need directions to class, say yes.

When she asks you if you want to go grab dinner, say yes.

When she asks you if you want to walk to practice together, say yes.

Because she’s going to take you under her wing and mentor you, both on and off the ice. And because you and your best friend, Kat, hang out a lot, she’ll start to look after both of you.

When you first step onto the ice at Berkshire, all of your insecurities will vanish. And guess what? Since you’re playing with girls instead of on a boys travel team, you’re going to be able to change in an actual locker room. That’s right! No more awkward moments dressing in a tight stall in a dilapidated bathroom.

After most of your games, you’ll come out of the locker room to see her smiling at you.

She’ll say, “Kacey, Kacey — you’re so good. You’re going to be in the Olympics someday.”

All you’re going to think when she says that is, This girl doesn’t know a thing about hockey!

No, Kat doesn’t know too much about hockey, but comments like that will make all the difference in the world. That’s who Kat is. That’s who Kat will always be.

Things don’t sound too bad anymore, do they?

As you get closer to the end of freshman year, you’re going find out that your older brother will spend his last year of high school at Berkshire. Not only will he be on the football team, but he’ll also be a stud on varsity boys hockey team.

Your brother’s going to be very, very popular. He’ll introduce you to a bunch of older students. You’re going to start getting pulled into different group of friends.

But before you get too excited, Kacey, listen to me right now. Listen very closely.

Do not be a social climber. Do not forget about Kat. She’s the reason why you’re going to make it through Berkshire.

Choose your friends wisely. Don’t forget about the core group of friends you made during freshman year. They’ll be the ones to push you to be an Olympian one day. You’ll almost befriend a group of kids who don’t have your best interests at heart. Stay away from them.

One of your best friends will be Lori Charpentier, the head coach of the girls varsity hockey team. The first time you meet her, you’ll marvel at how she pushes you to be your best. You’re going to have to learn to work extremely hard if you want to see results.

Fortunately for you, there’s a young woman who can push you to be a better hockey player. Her name is Sylvia Ryan, and not only is she the assistant girls hockey coach, but she’s also your academic advisor. (You’re probably wondering what the heck an advisor is. Don’t worry about that for now. It’ll be a good thing for you to have an advisor.) Ms. Ryan is wise beyond her 23 years. Latch onto her. She’ll push you in the classroom every single day, even making you go to a structured study hall. She’ll be hard on you, but her guidance will make you a better person on and off the ice.

No matter what happens at school, remember these three things: Be a good person, be a teammate on and off the ice and work your ass off.

Nothing will come easy. Nothing. As Mom always says, the cream will rise to the top — it’s just a matter of working hard.

I know it’s crazy to think about right now, but one day, Berkshire will be in your past. One day, you’re going to be in college. And you’re going to be playing hockey. Where? Well, it’d be a shame if I ruined that surprise, wouldn’t it?

One day, while you’re sitting in your college dorm, you’ll receive an email inviting you to attend a under-22 tryout for U.S. women’s hockey. It’s an amazing accomplishment to get to that point.

But Kacey, I’m sorry to tell you that you’re going to get cut from the team.

You’re going to get your heart broken. You’re going to have sleepless nights filled with tears and emotion. You’re going to think about quitting hockey for good.

But you’re not a quitter. You’re going to use the adversity as motivation. You are going to stitch up every interior wound through work and sweat. Every 5 a.m. wake-up. Every sled push. Every shuttle run. They’ll all be worth it — eventually.

Because one week after you get cut, you’re going to send the coach an email. You’re going to ask her what you can do to become a better hockey player. She’s going to tell you five things.

It’s always hard to take criticism, I know. But these five bullet points are the most important pieces of advice you’ll ever receive. Print that page out and put it in every notebook and binder you own. Tape it to your mirror. Look at it every day. Because, if you don’t, you won’t be ready.

You won’t be ready for another opportunity.

Two months after getting cut from the under-22 team, you’ll receive an email inviting you to the Four Nations Cup. Yes, the Four Nations Cup — that the senior national team plays in.

You’re not going to make the under-22 team, but you’ll make the senior team. Weird, I know. But that’s why you need to be prepared. You must always keep working.

I know.

Don’t stop smiling, Kacey. Don’t stop smiling.

The first time you dress for a game with the national team, take a moment. Take a moment to reflect on how you once had to dress and undress in a tiny bathroom stall. Take a moment to remember Kat and Roxanne and Ms. Charpentier and Ms. Ryan. Take a moment to stare at the U.S. crest right before your eyes.

Every single time you look at that jersey, stare at the U.S. crest.

One day, you’re going to come across a man named Mike Boyle. Mike will be your strength and conditioning coach for Team USA. Luckily for you, he’s based out of Boston, which is where you’re going to live. This man is going to make you question everything about your work ethic. When you get to the highest level, you’re going to need to prepare as though you belong there. Mike will teach you the importance of hard work. He’s going to tell you that you don’t deserve to be on the 2011 team. It’ll be hard to hear that. But listen to Mike. Don’t get too comfortable with your workout regiment now, because Mike will change your whole outlook on training outside of the rink. And, candidly, it’ll be a turning point in your career.

I can’t put into words what it feels like to represent your country. Make sure to live in that moment with your teammates. Cherish that time with them. They’ll be your backbone for success on the ice and in life. They’ll be your lifeline, pulling you along every step of the way. You’ll cross paths with many of them from season to season in college and beyond. Oh, and remember to invite them to your wedding (it still hasn’t happened, by the way!), because they’ll invite you to theirs.

You’re going to play for the U.S. team for a long time. But never take anything for granted. Make the most of the opportunities you have.

Wear the U.S. jersey with honor and pride and love. It will be something that never gets old.

And never forget to keep working. Always keep working.

Through it all, stay close with your siblings. Your little sister will teach you how to live life to the fullest happiness, your younger brother will make you laugh like no other human being and your older brother will be your strength through it all.

Good luck with everything, Kacey.


29-year-old Kacey