By Kori Levingston, NSU Communication Major
My sophomore year at Northwestern State was a tough one. I completely lost myself. I lost my mind, I was no longer the young woman that my mom raised me to be. It was all because I trusted a boy. Each day I had to look that person in the eyes at track practice, there was no escaping him. I was young, foolish and never experienced heartbreak. I allowed the pain to overtake me and I lost focus of the bigger picture, my athletic obligations, and most importantly, my academics.
On a hot Monday in Dallas in the summer of 2019, I was hanging out at home in Dallas with my mom. When my phone buzzed, I looked down and saw a notification from my NSU email that said there was a highly confidential letter waiting for me at the post office just a few miles away. I wasn’t expecting any mail so I worried. “What if they’re kicking me out of Northwestern State University? What if I lose my athletic scholarship?”
My mom and I were talking about the previous school year and she was encouraging me to consider transferring to a school closer to home. But she left the final decision up to me, and I didn’t want to leave. I was comfortable at NSU, and he was there.
I convinced myself that the letter was probably just an outstanding bill from the university. Not worrying at all, I walked outside, hopped in my Camaro and sped down Debbie Lane to the post office. Once I arrived, I was handed an envelope sealed with an NSULA track and field emblem, my heart dropped. I knew it was my yearly scholarship notice that would tell me if I was officially still a part of NSU’s track and field team. I didn’t worry much because I was sure that it was a guarantee that my scholarship would be renewed, regardless of the tough school year I had just completed.
I hopped back into my car and couldn’t wait any longer to see what was inside. I eagerly tore the letter open like a child on Christmas Day. It was not a present, though. “This letter is to advise you that on the recommendation of the Athletic Department at Northwestern State University, your athletics aid will not be renewed for the 2019-2020 academic year.” It felt as if my world had ended. An uneasy feeling began to settle in my chest. I tried keeping it together, but I couldn’t deny the feeling any longer. Repeatedly I thought to myself, how was I going to tell my parents? But most importantly, how will I be able to afford my education?
I was taken back to my very first track practice. I remember when I used to beg my mom to put me in track, but she wouldn’t budge. “Track can become very mentally exhausting after so many years, trust me, I’ve experienced it,” my mom told me hoping that I would stop asking. It wasn’t until I was 13 that my mom finally gave in and took me to an all girls team to see if I still wanted to participate after day 1. I was filled with so much joy. I was eager to get the practice started. I hopped out of the car with my drawstring backpack, water jug and track gear and ran over to the team. I was so excited that the girls thought I was insane because who actually gets excited to run? I was different. I never missed a practice. I executed every workout like it was my last. I had heart, and focused on one goal, receiving a scholarship to run on a collegiate level. When I read the words in that letter, I felt like all of my hard work had gone to waste. I disappointed so many people who believed in me. What was I going to do?
I sat at the post office for a few minutes to regroup, I wanted to cry but couldn’t. I put my car into drive and drove as slowly as I could to waste time getting back home. Cars were honking at me to speed up but I didn’t. They sped around me angrily, but I didn’t care. I had just received the worst news of all time.
Finally, I arrived at my home. I tried my hardest to avoid my mom and make it to my room discreetly to hide the letter. I slowly and quietly walked inside only to find my mother waiting for me in the kitchen, just as I had left her. I tried playing things cool but once again, I couldn’t put it behind me long enough to make it past my mom.
“What’s wrong?” she asked
“Nothing!” I responded quickly trying to convince her everything was fine, but my mom knew me better than I knew myself.
“Kori! What’s wrong? She asked again sternly.
This time I couldn’t lie. I burst into tears and responded, “They took my track scholarship!”
I couldn’t believe the words that came out of my mouth. Reading it in the letter was one thing, but actually saying it aloud made it reality. Instantly, my body felt overheated, my heart raced and my hands sweated. I handed my mom the letter and moved far as away from her as I possibly could.
Surprisingly, she wasn’t as furious as I imagined she would be. Instead, she took the letter as a sign from God that my time at Northwestern State had come to an end, just as she had suggested earlier that day.
There wasn’t one time in my life that I was faced with something so serious and life changing. Up until now, my life was easy. I never experienced rejection, I got everything that I ever wanted, so the feeling of failure cut me deep. I was lying in my bed trying to do everything in my power to fix things. I sat and thought to myself:
“Maybe if I contact the coaches and try to ask for another chance they’ll be generous.”
“Or maybe I should try compromising with my parents and they’ll find a way to pay for school.”
“Oh no, I have a better idea, I should just apply for other scholarships to lighten the load.”
“Ugh!! I feel so overwhelmed with negative emotions and energy!”
“Just sleep on it and try again tomorrow.”
I reached over to turn off my lamp and went to sleep hoping that my dream would give a sign of what to do next.
“Quack Quack Quack.” My iPhone alarm sounded the next morning.
I reached over and hit the phone angrily because I didn’t feel any better.
“This is your new life, may as well get used to it,” I thought to myself.
I knew that everything happened for a reason, but this time, I really wish I knew what that reason was.
What was waiting for me on the other side of this tragic moment?
At the time, my one year old brother ran into the room and said, “sissy, mommy.”
Of course, being one year old he couldn’t quite put sentences together so this was his way of telling me that my mom had called for me. I took my time getting out of bed because I didn’t know where the conversation would lead. I really wasn’t in the head space to hear bad news.
I slowly walked to her bedroom with a frightened look on my face and stood close enough to the door in case I needed to run. I peeked into the room and she looked at me as if I was crazy. If I knew enough about my mother, I knew the next thing coming was her yelling at me to get my ish together. But fortunately, that’s not what happened.
“How are you feeling?” She asked in a calm voice.
Whew, I sighed in relief to myself, maybe I don’t know my mother as much as I thought after all.
She only wanted to talk to me and give me advice on how to push forward when adversity sets against you.
“When things like this happen, you have to take a step back and re-evaluate everything that is in front of you. If they chose not to renew your scholarship then they simply do not see what you have to offer, but maybe others will.”
She told me to look at it as an opportunity for something better and to get out while I could.
After receiving great advice from my mom, I immediately applied to other universities such as the University of North Texas, but it didn’t feel right. It felt as if something was off. I still wanted to attend Northwestern, so I settled to still be a part of the track team as a walk on. I wasn’t receiving anything in return, I was practically running for free and as a hobby. I worked hard and I was ready to prove myself and why I should still be on scholarship. I felt stronger than ever, but I worked myself so hard that I strained my hamstring, pushing me back to square one. I didn’t have much time to recover as the indoor season was two weeks away. I was devastated. Every time my life was going great, something always came along and brought me down. I was taken back to a few of my counseling sessions, where I learned to let go and do what makes me happy. Trying to figure out the next stages of my life, I knew it was time to shift my focus elsewhere. Track was over for me because it no longer made me happy.
Not only did I learn to let go of what made me unhappy throughout my weekly sessions, but I learned that three main points that I still incorporate when in distress. First, acceptance: You first have to accept the troubles that you’re going through and tell yourself that you will not allow negative energy to control your life. Let the past be the past and look more into the future. The second key point: Focus on positive concepts only. You can do this by practicing affirmations or journaling all the positive things that are happening in your life. And finally: be open to new things. It was so hard to let go of the things I loved because I wasn’t open to trying new things. Being open helped me build self-esteem and opened new doors in my life.
I have to admit, at first I was ashamed to say that I was an athlete. I needed help regulating my emotions. I often dressed in oversized hoodies and wore hats hoping that others wouldn’t recognize me as I was getting on the elevator to go to the third floor of the student union. I was afraid of what people would think of me. I learned the very first session that the hardest part is to admit that you need help. My assigned counselor assured me that because I was brave enough to step into the office, that I was strong.
A year later, I am still at Northwestern State University and I’m completing my last semester. It is bittersweet when I think back on the past and where I am now. Life is great! As a senior, I still experience minor stressors. But now I just tell myself, you can’t give up now. Keep pushing!