Sports made me feel full of life

No matter what, I could always turn to soccer and track

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photo of Simran Sarai holding a photo of her when she was battling cancer
PHOTO: Simran Sarai / The Peak

By: Simran Sarai, Sports Writer

When I was five-years-old, my parents registered me in soccer. I loved it, and I especially loved kicking the ball around with my twin brother and younger brother. I had the best year of my life.

When I was six-years-old, I was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (blood cancer). As a kid, I didn’t really understand what cancer was, or why I was suddenly in a hospital bed being poked and prodded by scary looking — albeit very nice and apologetic — nurses and doctors. 

I did know that nothing would ever be the same. Life as I knew it was turned upside down. The one constant I had was soccer, and the community that came with it. Throughout my two years of treatments, my coaches and teammates made sure I knew that I was still a part of my team. Even if that meant just sitting on the sideline, wearing multiple touques to keep my bald little head warm.

After I went into remission, I knew I wanted nothing more than to head back onto the field. At eight-years-old, I had a massive chip on my shoulder, and a lot to prove. Two years away from sports had left me behind the other girls. I remember running in an elementary school cross country race in one of the first years after completing treatment. I was so slow — I came 62nd. I was frustrated. But while my stamina was gone, my competitive streak was not. I kept running and playing soccer, and while I wasn’t extraordinary, I was committed. Soccer, cross country, and track and field were the sports I loved and probably always will.

I never told my teammates or coaches about my medical history, if I could help it. I graduated high school before my track coach even found out, and I wasn’t even the one to tell him. There’s this look that washes over people’s faces when you tell them you had cancer as a child, and the look is not one I love. There’s no ill-intent behind it, but it makes me feel as if people expect less from me, and that’s not the way I want to live any aspect of my life.

From the time I was diagnosed, soccer and running kept me grounded. I am so fortunate to have had the ability to keep playing and running after my diagnoses, especially when I know this isn’t the case for so many other kids. Growing up playing sports allowed me to grow into a version of myself that felt confident taking risks and challenging the limits of what I was capable of — whether that was in athletics, academics, or another area of life. Soccer and track gave me lifelong memories with my brothers and friendships I will cherish forever. Although I don’t really play organized sports anymore, I give a silent little thanks each time I hit the track or pitch. I know every crappy weather practice or losing game kept me going and led me to exactly where I am now.

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