"I’ve struggled to write authentically because I’ve forced my persona through the archetypal lens that I thought most people saw me through. The victimized, tortured athlete is the story in my past that I trapped my pen in, and I’ve struggled to give myself permission to exist and write outside of it."
On a warm July 5th at Aréna Slovany, Plzeň, Czech Republic, my nerves thrust air through my lungs so thoroughly that the taste of blood coated the inside of my mouth. Canada was playing Japan in the 2014 FIBA World Basketball Championships, and at 16, I was one of the youngest on the team.
11.1 seconds left in Q4—our possession on the sideline.
I was 4-4 from the three-point line, shooting 100%.
I could feel my tailbone against the back of the red plastic chairs as I sat forward, my bony teenage elbows grinding into my knees. My teammates sat and stood around me as we absorbed both the diagrammed play my coach was drawing, and the paint-thinner scent of the black Expo dry-erase marker. As we stood to return to the court, my mind was free of internal dialogue. The hum in the arena was like background ASMR: I couldn’t hear the crowd’s conversations, I couldn’t understand the Japanese players’ defensive strategy, and I couldn’t read the Czech ads/posters that encased the court like a bedframe. I was what you might call “in the zone” as my heart rate and breathing slowed. I never registered the buzz of distracting stimuli, and perhaps that’s why the next few seconds unfolded as they did.
After inbounded, the ball zipped between my teammates’ fingers, breaking in my hands with ~four seconds left. Three defenders rushed to me, but I was the calmest and most confident I’d felt all tournament. I pump-faked my first shot, dribbled, and patiently stepped back behind the three-point line. My shot left the tips of my fingers with two seconds left. My body was completely off balance, but I’d squared my shoulders to the rim mid-air.
The clock stopped with 0.2 seconds left. There was no way Japan could get a shot off in time. We’d won.*
Now retired, I’ve hesitated to return to this moment, having meticulously wrestled my relationship with basketball around the ring*. I’ve never known what this moment meant for my life, but the fact that it’s popped back into my consciousness, especially now, grips my heart.
A few weeks ago, it occurred to me that this moment in my basketball career might have taught me the one thing that would finally allow me to let this version of it go.
I graduated from Stanford in June 2020, my basketball career having ended a few months prior, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March. Throughout the three years since, I’ve worked, spoken out, and written extensively in the athlete mental health space. I’m immeasurably grateful to have added a few drops into the white caps of that conversation, but I’ve never felt quite right about it.
"I’ve known and felt for a very long time that if basketball was my first love, writing was my lifelong partner. But I’ve never been confident in choosing that path, nor have I prioritized it."
I've ebbed & flowed through melancholy, disconnect, and dysregulation for the past ten years.
I’m angry, lost, physically aching, struggling to eat, and nearly crippled by anxiety and depression these days. I attempted suicide twice since 2017 and came close many more times. Since 2015, three people in my life died by suicide, including my therapist. Two others died in tragic accidents.
In early September 2023, something inside me broke. I paused work on all of my projects, including my Ph.D program centred around understanding suicide through poetry, until 2024. My mind, body, and spirit feel like they need a factory reset.
Nine years ago, that step-back 3 was the product of nearly two years of practicing precise mechanics, each Monday night, in a tiny gym in Etobicoke. I was intentional, not perfect. I didn’t take time in perfect wedges, I learned to swim in its sea of boredom, failure, and scrap piles.
Now, I see clearly that the game against Japan was the moment I truly fell in love with basketball, and not because of the ‘glory’ or opportunities that followed. I fell in love with basketball because it taught me how to slow down time.
Time can stand still if we carefully curate our wading through its waves, stretches, and folds.
Basketball taught me that a game can be won in just 0.3 seconds.
We tend to see milking time as synonymous with cramming more in—how fast we can wring out the cloth. But time only lengthens when we slow down, pay attention calmly, and shuffle our deck of routines.
I’ve known and felt for a very long time that if basketball was my first love, writing was my lifelong partner. But I’ve never been confident in choosing that path, nor have I prioritized it.
I began chewing on why I’ve written almost exclusively about sport and mental health (and most frequently, how the two are intertwined). Though these topics are immensely important, I felt odd writing about them, because I believe the roots of everyone’s hurt and joy spread through deeper layers of soil.
I’ve struggled to write authentically because I’ve forced my persona through the archetypal lens that I thought most people saw me through. The victimized, tortured athlete is the story in my past that I trapped my pen in, and I’ve struggled to give myself permission to exist and write outside of it.
“Esse quam videri” is Latin for “To be rather than to appear.” I spent a lot of time appearing in places I’m only just learning how to be in.
I see now that basketball has been dribbling toward writing for a handoff, and in slow intentionality, enabled me to see the difference between letting basketball go and untethering my identity as an athlete.
Truthfully, I struggled to write this piece—there are many other painful facets of my life to work through during the next few months. This was one pillar, and I’m grateful for the ability to share my process with you.
But perhaps most importantly, alongside this privilege comes the responsibility of my voice, writing, advocacy, and eventually my Ph.D. Slow is, unfortunately, a privilege. It shouldn’t be.
Among my age group (18-34), suicide ideation is particularly high, driven by financial instability, inflation, food/housing insecurity, unemployment, low income, and debt. (5)
Braided into the backbone of suicide awareness campaigns and messaging is the idea that someone struggling with suicide ideation doesn’t want their life to end, but rather something about their life that’s causing insurmountable pain.
This is true. And there is comfort in supporting someone through parsing this out.
But what happens when we know what needs to end, but feel we have little/no power to change it (such as financial insecurity, unemployment rates, income level, the social determinants of health, debt, inflation, and cost of living)?
This is where the work is. And where I will keep writing.
 Many of my coaches and teammates think I should have taken this shot, haha.
 I believe the rule is that you can’t catch and shoot in time if there is less than 0.3 seconds left on the clock.
 You can still watch this game (and this moment) here. Please don’t judge how baggy my shorts were (yikes).