Mackenzie St. Onge: The Power of Perspective, From a Former D1 Athlete

This piece was originally published on The Positive Coaching Alliance blog on February 11, 2021.

My athletic career was a roller coaster ride. Full of ups and downs it was one that I sometimes questioned if I was enjoying… until I stepped off and wanted nothing more than to get back on again. I look back and it’s easy to remember the good. The times when I was high on life and my chosen sport of hockey brought me pure joy. But in telling my story, I would be remiss not to touch on the parts where I was simply holding on for dear life. There are moments I wouldn’t change for the world, and moments I wish I could go back and give myself the gift of perspective…

At 10, watching the USWNT soccer players on TV with my dad…

You don’t know it yet, but this generation of female soccer players are going to redefine what it means to be a female athlete. You’ll look up to them in every way, even cut your hair short like Abby Wambach, and grow up with them as role models. They are the first to teach you that women can be strong, powerful, and use sport as a platform for good. You may never wear a national team jersey, but you will join them in that mission.

At 15, crying in my kitchen, thinking I might get cut from my first elite hockey team…

You get a taste of what it means to play with the best in the country and, for the first time, the fear of not being good enough creeps into your mind. This is a seed that, once planted, will take years to unroot. Your identity as a hockey player is strengthening, you worry about something threatening that identity, and you decide you will do whatever it takes to protect it. For better or worse, it is a turning point in your commitment level to the sport. You will have years where you lose yourself in the game, but your work ethic will set you apart and be the reason for your future success.

At 16, winning a soccer State Championship…

You slice the ball into the bottom corner, and after double overtime and a round of penalty kicks, cinch the State Championship for your school. It is simultaneously the pinnacle and the end of your soccer career. Bittersweet and your first taste of transition, this will be as close as you get to your USWNT role models. You look for new ones in the sport of hockey… but where are they? It will be up to you and your teammates to become them. The women’s landscape is just finding its feet, you’ll have to fight for your opportunity to play the game.

At 19, getting the official recruitment call…

It’s a bright sunny day and your phone rings from a familiar number. It’s a call you’ve been waiting for your entire career. You have to pinch yourself as you hear coach say “we’ve got a spot for you.” You’ll know in your heart Dartmouth is where you’re meant to be, and you’ll be right. The people, the team, the opportunities will be more than you ever imagined. You’ll score your first collegiate goal in your home opener and jump into your parents arms in celebration after the game. The only thing going through your mind: it was all worth it.

At 21, facing my anxiety…

There will be a moment you know you’re not okay –where you realize your teammates don’t face the same crippling anxiety around food choices you do, don’t hyperventilate after eating ice cream the way you do, and don’t train excessively to manage their body size the way you do. There will be a moment you know you’re not okay, and then there will be another moment you decide to be brave enough to ask for help. In getting that help, you will begin to untangle the narratives around being lean, being an athlete, and being female. You will realize that in your pursuit to be a better athlete, you were compromising your ability to be a healthy human. It will take time, but you will take your power back from a system that took it without asking.

At 22, being named Captain… and making hard decisions

Your senior year you will be named captain of your Division 1 collegiate hockey team. A lifelong goal accomplished, that thought pops into your head again: it was all worth it. You are prepared for what it means to lead, but when it comes time to execute, you will be surprised by how much the right decisions can still hurt. You will learn that you can’t always trust people’s words, but rather their actions, and you will experience the real meaning of accountability. It will be hard to face your teammates when they don’t hold to team standards, but it will be a life lesson in integrity that you will take with you forever.

At 23, saying goodbye to hockey…

The buzzer sounds and that’s it –a 12-year chapter closed. Senior day on home ice, with crowds of friends and family in attendance. You got yourself on the scoreboard, skated hard until your last shift, and played from your heart. Sure, there were other levels to reach, other places you could go with the sport –but you knew in your heart you were done with competitive hockey. You gave it your all for so long, you didn’t even realize that there was a weight that lifted off your shoulders that day. For the first time in your life, you’ll allow yourself to look back with pride on your accomplishments –with no next step to chase, no uphill battle to fight to get to a higher level, and no more sacrifices to make in the name of the sport you have forever identified with. You will bask in that freedom for a while, and then the question “what next” will hit you like a ton of bricks… It will take time to answer but with exploration, curiosity, and encouragement from friends and family, you’ll stumble upon your next passion: supporting injured & retired athletes. You’ll get to use the ups and downs of your career to speak to the next generation. Your training, your hard work, and your dedication will be transferable to a new context and fuel you as an entrepreneur. You’ll spark conversations and change the narrative of what it means to be sidelined.

Once again you’ll think to yourself: It was hard, but it was all worth it. 

Mac is a former D1 athlete and Dartmouth College graduate. Passionate about athlete development, she currently works for U.S. Ski & Snowboard as their Athlete Career & Education Manager. She is also the founder of The Sideline Perspective – a community based platform where injured and retired athletes can come together to find connection, share stories, and move forward with purpose. Through storytelling, interviews, and podcasts Mac has helped to shed light on the hidden challenges competitive athletes face when temporarily sidelined or no longer able to compete.