It was my mom who got me into field hockey. She saw an ad in our local newspaper and signed me up when I was 10 years old. Before that, I actually thought I was destined to be an ice hockey player.
My dad used to take our family to see a minor league team that played near our home in Wilkes-Barre. And my neighbor and I would play every day, out in his driveway after school. I’d put on my Rollerblades, go to his house and play until dinner time. After we ate, we’d turn on the lights in his driveway and keep going until it was time for bed.
We used to pretend we played in the NHL, and we’d even come up with designs for an ice rink in his backyard. If only his parents hadn’t shot down our plans.
But until I went to camp, I didn’t know the first thing about field hockey.
The camp wasn’t even a sponsored, professional operation. It was put together by these three high school girls from the area who had decided to do it as part of a senior project.
But from the moment I picked up a stick, I knew I had found my sport.
My cousin Stephanie, who went to the camp with me, could tell I was hooked. From the day we arrived at camp, field hockey was all I wanted to play and all I wanted to talk about. Stephanie and I are still best friends, but as we grew up she gradually moved on to cheerleading and other things. But I didn’t. I was in love.
Nobody was a bigger supporter of my obsession than my mom. Both she and my dad were so patient and willing to do anything so I could play. They drove me to every game and practice. They paid for all my equipment. And they sat through every team event I attended, from pizza parties to awards ceremonies.
Field hockey has taken me from camp, to college, and to the Olympics. It was my life for 16 years. And now today, I am officially announcing my retirement from the sport that has given me everything. I only wish that my mom was here to celebrate with me.
I remember being in my bedroom one summer night when I heard my mom call up to me from the family room.
“Paige, it’s the opening ceremony! Come down here and see this!”
When I was a little kid, watching the Olympic opening ceremony was fun for maybe a minute. After that it just seemed like hours of the same people dancing and flying through the air and shooting off fireworks. I watched them with my mom every four years, but I didn’t care about them very much. I had no idea why she was so interested.
After I got a little older and had matured a little, I realized that my mom and I weren’t just watching a bunch of people dancing and flying through the air and shooting off fireworks. We were watching thousands of the world’s best athletes gathered together in one place. The ceremony wasn’t really for us, it was for them. The entire spectacle was something they had worked their whole lives for. I think that’s part of what my mom — my biggest supporter — was trying to show me.
The thing is, my mom has been gone for 12 years, but my memories of those nights with her are still with me. I wish I could go back and tell her how much I thought about them during all the grueling training sessions that I endured in order to get to an opening ceremony one day myself.
By the time my own Olympic journey began, my mom was already sick with ovarian cancer.
Hundreds of field hockey players make it to the Junior Olympics, but only 16 of them are selected for the under-16 national team. In the summer of 2004, right before my freshman year in high school, I traveled to Iowa to play in the Junior Olympics.
My mom was battling every second of the day, but she went with us just so she could watch everything, from the first practice to the championship game. I’ll never forget the look of surprise on her face when she heard my name called for the under-16 national team. She didn’t care about anything else in the world in that moment. She was so genuinely happy, and I was so proud to be able to share the experience with her.
The next year, she passed away.
If I have one memory that makes me feel like my career in field hockey was special — that it was about so much more than just wins and medals and travel — it’s of my mom at Junior Olympics in Iowa after she heard them call my name.
I started playing with the senior national team in 2010, when I was a junior at the University of Virginia. Three years later, we qualified for the London Olympics. It was almost surreal. We didn’t do that well over there, but I marched in both the opening and the closing ceremonies. I couldn’t help but think of my mom, wishing she could be there with me.
From 2012 onward, I tried to do everything I could to make sure I’d be in prime condition to compete at the Olympics in Rio.
But after 3½ years of training, I got injured in the early spring of 2015.
My mom was a fighter; she made me resilient. And I think one of my biggest strengths when I was playing was my determination and ability to push myself. But in this case, my strength was also a weakness. I developed a hamstring issue that I thought was minor. I told my team trainer about it so we could come up with a plan. I tried rest and rehab, but ended up coming back too early. Knowing we had a team goal to qualify for Rio, I didn’t want to let anything slow me down … but it just kept getting worse.
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Finally, it got so bad that six months before the Olympics, I underwent surgery. When the doctors were examining my leg on the operating table, they discovered that 50 percent of my hamstring had actually torn away from my pelvic bone.
The surgeon told my dad he couldn’t believe that I was walking, let alone running and trying to play field hockey. Without surgery, it would have been impossible for my leg have healed on it’s own.
My rehab schedule was four intense workouts every day: two physical therapy sessions, followed by a recovery session in the pool, then an upper-body workout at the end of every day. I knew the odds were not in my favor for the Olympics, but I had to try.
It was supposed to take at least six months, but I made it back on the field in five. And I made it to Rio as an alternate.
I didn’t get to play, but it was so meaningful just to be there with my teammates after having put in so much work.
My mom was gone before I had to start making any of life’s “adult” decisions. I know that when I was young, I never really thought too much about planning for the future. I think I just had this idea in my head that there was going to be plenty of time for that kind of stuff.
I never got a chance to talk with her about a retirement plan. We never discussed social security or grandchildren or how much to put into my 401(k). We never even really had a serious discussion about college. We just lived in the moment, enjoyed our time together and loved each other.
She got me into field hockey. And the amazing friendships that I formed with so many people over the years are what kept me into field hockey. Even when I was at my lowest, my injured, miserable self was able to come through it a better person — and that was all because of the people in my life. My family, my friends and my team.
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Is 26 too old to keep playing? I don’t think so. But that’s where I am now — 26 and ready for the next chapter of my life story. I don’t feel too old or too worn down to keep playing, but for the first time in my life, I feel complete. And I know my mom would be proud if she could see me now.
I’ve been accepted into the premed program at Thomas Jefferson University, and I plan to start attending classes there in the fall. I’m still not sure where this path will lead me, whether I will become a physician’s assistant, or follow in my mother’s footsteps and work in nursing. I can only say that I feel confident that now is the time to move forward.
So here it goes.