Something incredible happens when I’m on the soccer field: my mind stops running through lists of to-dos.

I want to let the profundity of that statement sink in for a minute.

To give you some context, I’m the graduate student who can’t focus on the task at hand until I’ve gotten the thoughts ‘out’ and onto a piece of paper. At any one time I have half a dozen to-do lists floating around on my desks (work and home) and spread across my electronic devices (phone notes, emails, desktop notes, reminder applications, etc.).

These to-dos buzz around in my head until I write them down, keeping me up if I’m trying to fall asleep, and waking me up hours before my alarm if it’s a particularly busy time. The irony of the effect on my sleep is not lost on me: I study the effects of sleep loss on fat metabolism.

Sports are my re-grounding, re-centering, to-do silencing medicine. When I’m on the soccer field there is a beautiful and resounding nothingness in my brain. It is replaced by an acute awareness of my body. My heart skips: I’m the last defender; the adrenaline makes my muscles sizzle. My diaphragm and chest muscles bring raw, cold air deep into my chest, which burns and satisfies, always threading the line between torture and bliss. My foot catches the ball. Dead stop. Push away, one step, swing, hit, and follow though. I send energy into the ball as it flies, imbue it with a piece of hope, so that when it connects with my teammate, their reception is as fluid as mine was.

The Corinthians: 2017 Co-Ed IM Soccer Champions. Back row, from left: Abdullah Elhawary, Zul Hilmi, Blake Dickerson, Vítor Cumino Recchia, Konstantin Guryev, Kasra Mokhtari. Front row, from left: Anushka Kapur, Kelsey DeCarteret, Ally Lonas, Kelly Ness, Chelsey Bickel

That brings me to the second gift of sports: teammates. I am a reserved person, it can be hard for me to open up to new friends, but being a part of a team builds a deep and immediate trust. There is mutual sacrifice inherent to team sports. I know that my teammates will push through their aching muscles and burning lungs to come to my aid, just as I will do for them. We will stand shoulder to shoulder to face a direct kick and work together to break down the other team’s offensive attacks. There is shared success too. A goal is the team’s goal; a win is a win for everyone.

I feel doubly lucky to have ended up at Penn State for graduate school, not only are the resources that are available for my research second to none, there are exceptional intramural and club sports opportunities and community sports leagues, fed by recent university graduates, faculty, and staff, which benefit from the impressive university facilities.

Some students may not realize that we as graduate students can participate in intramurals and club sports teams. For me, clubs and intramurals have provided some much-needed exercise and socialization, plus the regular practice times encourage me to actually put down my work and get out of the lab for a couple of hours. The team atmosphere promotes accountability in my workout routine, plus it is refreshing to interact with people totally outside the scope of my current field of research.

I have been lucky enough to play co-ed IM volleyball, run for a season with the club track team, learn ultimate frisbee via the State College Ultimate League and now the women’s club frisbee team, play in Centre Soccer Association’s recreational and premier leagues, and, of course, play both co-ed and women’s IM soccer. This year my team actually won the IM soccer championships; we came in first out of one hundred and eighty-nine other teams. More than the title, I appreciate the camaraderie our team developed across our nine-game season.

For my head, and my to-dos, it was a blissfully silent nine hours. Thank you, Corinthians!

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