It isn’t always easy to find yourself in college. Our obsession with the future tends to blind us to what is right in front of us. There are expectations to be met. This mentality is magnified at a place like Penn, where every move we make is towards a bright future that we’ve deluded ourselves into believing we already have figured out. The truth is, we have no idea how to go about finding our path. That’s the beauty of playing a sport.
Coming into Penn, I had never played rugby before. I heard a great deal about how physical it was. The name of the sport itself carried so much weight. It’s association with hard running and harder tackling made it seem like a sport that only the strong could play. My desire to prove myself in front of my peers led to me to walk on. This spur of the moment decision may have been the best decision that I’ve made at Penn.
The practices are grueling. I’ve been sore for so long, I don’t remember how it feels not to feel that way. The action during matches is nonstop and exhausting. Every position is an important position. Slipping and letting your guard down for even second all but ensures that you’ll expose a weakness in the team’s defense. Nothing has ever prepared me for the world beyond college more.
Rugby has taught me discipline. It has taught me that preparation and working hard is meant to be painful. Striving to be the best at what you do isn’t easy. If it was, everyone would do it. But the exhilaration, the pure ecstasy of realizing how far you’ve come and what you’re capable of because of the work that you’ve put in beats the pain every single time. You grow to love and care about every member of your team. Success can’t be reached alone. You need people around you who care about you- people who will always have your back because they know that you will always have theirs as well. You grow to respect them more than you can say. Nobody on a team actually wants to be the best player. The goal is to grow together. You even grow to have a begrudging respect for the athletes on the team opposing you. They’re playing their hearts out just like you are. The handshakes at the end of the match are completely genuine. Most importantly though, rugby has taught me to run without fear. There will be times when you have the ball and the only option is to run forward. There will be guys on the other side waiting to tackle you to the ground. This is something that you accept. The best option is always to take the hit. Run without stopping, have no fear, take the fall. It always leads to you and the ones you care about being able to move up to field. Even when things seem hopeless, they aren’t. The field constantly changes. As is life.
There’s an entire world waiting for me after college, but it doesn’t seem very scary anymore. All I have to do is keep moving forward, for myself and for my loved ones. The best advice I have when it comes to finding your way in college: find a club or a sport to love.
-Ibrahim Bakri '18