This morning, prior to Oklahoma’s Rose Bowl matchup with the Georgia Bulldogs, ESPN’s College Game Day aired a segment on Oklahoma QB’s Baker Mayfield’s relationship with Mackenzie Asher, an eleven year old battling cancer. As I watched the way he interacted with her and heard the love in his voice as he talked about her, I was reminded of what it is that makes sports so special: the way they allow people to connect with others and make a difference in the lives of so many. Tragically, Mackenzie passed away recently, and when he heard the news, Mayfield reached out to her family and told them he would be at her funeral. I love what he said there: “I’ve been able to meet a lot of special people, but I’ve never fallen for someone as fast as I fell for her…. we’re going to dedicate the rest of our season to Mackenzie.” The segment made me view him differently, and it made me fall in love with sports all over again.
I couldn’t help but think of times in my own life when sports have encouraged me and helped create relationships in my life that I’m beyond grateful for. While I was in the hospital, the University of Florida’s volleyball team was playing in the NCAA tournament. I watched every game on a laptop, and for the duration of the match, I forgot where I was. At a time when nothing felt normal, cheering on our volleyball team made me feel like myself. Because while I may not be watching where I normally did, my love for our team hadn’t changed. They were a source of encouragement and strength, because as I went through rehab, I kept thinking about how hard they had worked to get where they were. They were my motivation. But more than that, I’ve met a few of our players and coaches, and they’re all incredibly kind and amazing people. If I was ever having a rough day, I would think back to the time I spent with them, and I would have the strength and encouragement to keep going.
Florida’s volleyball team exemplifies what’s so amazing and special about sports: they give people a platform to leave a mark in the lives of others that can never be erased.