Mackenzie Krueger: To All The Athletes Who Are Not Starting

For two years, I played on the Waterloo Women’s Varsity Rugby Team. I had only been playing rugby for a few years when I joined the team and even though I was not a “starter” I was proud of myself for working hard and getting through training camps and tryouts.

After my first year, I committed myself fully to the off season, getting up at five in the morning to go to the gym. Those winter mornings were cold and dark, and I could feel myself becoming obsessed with my training. I continued this workout routine through the summer, panicking in the few months before training camp about being cut from the team, as we had more players trying out the upcoming year than ever before.

After summer, I was excited to get back to school. Our training camp lasted two weeks and we had a new coach. However, a wrench was thrown in my plan when I was asked to change my position based on my size and the newfound speed I had gained in the off season. Learning a new position takes time, but I focused and grinded throughout training camp. My body was bruised, my feet blistered so badly it was hard to walk around, my quad developed a large strain, and everyone got shin splints. I felt good
though, lying in bed thinking about the effort I was putting in.

I didn’t start our first game. Fair enough, I was new to the position, but as the weeks continued, I continually did not start. It began to wear me down. Each day, I went to the gym on my own and went to practice an hour early to practice my skills. I was so tired when I got home that I would collapse in my room or cry while cooking dinner. Not only was my mental health suffering, but my physical health began to deteriorate. I started attending physical therapy to get rehab and taping on my leg, which I had never needed before. 

Looking back, I probably needed to let my body recover more, but that didn’t feel like an option. 

Our coach always said that to move from a substitute to a starter, you had to practice as hard as you could to demonstrate you had what it takes. I firmly believed I was doing this. When other players missed practices, but still started, it broke me. 

One night, I went home quietly, limping into my apartment. I took a shower and cried as hard as I ever had. I fell onto the floor soaking wet and just lay there. I did not have energy anymore to keep fighting, I had given all I had and it was not good enough. The main thought that I had was “my dad won’t be proud of me”. This had always been an underlying pressure I put on myself, as I wanted my dad to be proud of me for my athleticism. I think this stemmed from being a bigger child and wanting to prove to him later in life that I was fit. 

In that moment, on the shower floor, I considered hurting myself. I only thought about it once, and I am thankful that I did not, but I never want to feel that low again in my life. I had spent weeks berating myself, pushing myself, bottling up frustration and sadness from everyone. It took a toll on me, which I was only able to realize when I was removed from the situation.

I am now transferring schools, for other reasons, and I will miss rugby and my team the most. Despite everything, I had a family there. I am going to have to learn what else besides rugby defines me and I know that the transition may be a bit bumpy at first, but I will succeed. 

To all the athletes who are not starting every game, who work tirelessly, who may be new at a position, who are recovering from injuries, I see and hear you. 

Your mental health struggles are just as valid as those who are starting. Keep fighting, but congratulate yourself on how far you have come and reach out for help. I suffered in silence. Thankfully, I was able to come back from it, but some days I wasn’t sure. Sometimes, I am still not sure how far I have really come from that dark place. I know there are many athletes out there who can connect with my story, and in case no one has told you, I’m proud of you.