My name is Nicholas Padgett, and for two years I was a center-back on the Missouri State Men’s soccer team. I was never a starter, and I barely got any minutes of the 50 some odd games that I was on the team for. One might say that I was an average player who got the opportunity to attend a Division 1 soccer program. I was told I was a late bloomer and was expected to be a superstar by the start of my Junior year; and upon hearing this, I spent my summers doing fitness and working on the ball, hoping to be able to compete when the season came around. I was always focusing on bettering myself and challenging the players who got the nod over me, aspiring to be a part of this nationally recognized defense, whether it be in the next game or in 2 seasons.
I was never able to achieve this goal.
I went in to college with 2 concussions under my belt. I figured that these were just freak accidents and this never really affected my play. As a 6’5” center-back, it was my job to be fearless in the air and to be willing to do anything to keep the opposing team from reaching the back of the net. Over my next 2 years at Missouri State, I suffered 3 more concussions until I was forced to retire after the summer leading up to my Junior year. I was becoming more and more tentative after each concussion, something that forced me to think big picture and about my long term mental health. Mental health being something that I had struggled with since my early days as a teenager, and with each concussion, the growing fear of long term damage and increased anxiety over the subject, the decision was incredibly difficult to come by and even more difficult to voice to my peers and my coaches. Through the tears, I came to realize how incredible my experience truly was. My last training session with the team was filled with compassionate hugs and tearful moments that showed how lucky I was to have a family away from home who would support me even if I wasn’t out on the field with them.
I know a lot stories are about the overcoming of injuries and how they made the individual stronger-but mine is different. I miss playing the sport I love. Reflecting on the countless sprints, endless trainings, and unforgettable moments I had spent with my 27 brothers, I knew that it was something that I would cherish forever. No matter how many times I was yelled at and no matter how many mistakes I made, it was all worth it. Every minute that I got to spend on the field, battling alongside my closest friends, was worth the blood, sweat, and tears that gave in the time leading up to my early retirement, was unforgettable.
Transitioning to a life outside of the sport that I had devoted so much time to, was difficult to say the least. I found myself alienated and alone at times of the day where I would be gasping for air after ten 240 yard sprints. I reached out to my dad who had experienced something similar in his collegiate career. What he told me will resonate with me forever, “you are not defined by soccer, you are more than just that”. Hearing these words gave me a newfound confidence to go out and attack my daily life with the same ferocity that I did my training sessions.
And for those who are struggling with this same thing, all I have to say to you is that you are incredible, and these things you have been through, and all the scars you have accumulated over the years not only make you stronger, they make you unstoppable.