Sports have always played a major role in my life. Ever since I was young, I’ve played and studied sports. You could almost always find me throwing the ball around the house, shooting hoops in the driveway, watching every minute of every basketball game I could find and then reading the articles next to the box scores in the next morning’s paper. While other kids were watching cartoons, I was watching games.
I played a variety of sports growing up: baseball, basketball, handball and volleyball. Despite trying a number of different sports, basketball has always been my favorite to play and, even more so, study. I have always loved breaking out my whiteboard and diagramming the plays I saw on television, thinking, what would I draw up if I was the coach?
My love for the game birthed a dream. Like many kids, I grew up with dreams of playing in the NBA. But, in order to make my dream a reality, I knew I would have to someday play college basketball. So in middle school, I took the first step toward my dream and signed up for the basketball team. Unfortunately, I was quickly humbled by the high level of competition and my lack of height and strength.
By the time I reached high school, I had a pretty good idea that basketball, more likely than not, wasn’t going to work out for me. But, I still wasn’t ready to give it up. Determined to play college sports, I set a new goal, this time, to play college volleyball. As a result, I spent my freshman year playing both junior varsity basketball and varsity volleyball.
After a year of giving volleyball and basketball a go, I felt an urge to try out for the cross country team. Mostly, because I really liked the coach and thought I would have success in the sport since I always had great endurance in other sports I had played. And, I was right.
During my sophomore season, I found success in cross country and quickly became obsessed with the sport. That year, I won two league titles and ran a personal best 4:45 minute mile. My newfound success made the idea of running collegiately a realistic possibility for me. However, my goal of earning a cross country scholarship began to distract me from many other key areas of my life.
My life began to center around cross country, which by now, completely occupied my thoughts and actions. Everything I did, my eating, sleeping and free time, went toward running. I allowed the sport to sweep me away from my passions, family, and most importantly, my faith. In fact, I used to pray before my races, but only in hopes that God would let me win. My spiritual life began to deteriorate. I began neglecting church or time with God in order to train harder or get more sleep.
My junior year, I set lofty goals for myself that turned out to be unrealistic, which led me into a depression after every race. Despite our team performing well, I wasn’t able to enjoy it because I was too concerned with myself not living up to my own expectations. And when the success didn’t come, my interest and passion for the sport began to diminish. I began to realize that I didn’t truly love the sport, but more so the success I had in it.
This time, when track season rolled around, my legs began to feel heavy and quickly fatigued. I found myself crying through workouts and felt as though I had lost my identity and the goal I was chasing. Throughout the summer, I ran through injuries and the sadness continued. It got to the point that, once my body couldn’t take it anymore, I went to my coach and was forced to quit the team. I was terrified that my coach, whom I had grown close to, would never talk to me again. But to my surprise, my coach completely understood and we have become even closer since my decision to stop running.
My senior year, with running out of the picture, I devoted more of my life to studying scripture, spending time with God in prayer and even got baptized. I grew immensely closer to my mom and spent more time with friends. In fact, I had even more time to get back to my true passion: basketball.
After much prayer and reflection, I decided to manage my high school basketball team. It was one of the best experiences of my life up to that point. In my position, I was able to operate video and film study, track stats, help out in practice and grow close to the team. It made me realize how much I love the game of basketball and that I would love to be a coach one day.
Today I attend the University of Iowa, and I am blessed to be one of the managers of the men’s basketball team. I now have the opportunity to work alongside great players and some of the top coaches in the nation. Even though the job of being a student manager for a Big Ten basketball team demands a lot of my time and effort, I feel as though I am on the team. So in that sense, God gave me what I had been dreaming of all along, but in a new role – one that I am passionate about. I’m working hard to glorify God in whatever I do and keep my eyes fixed on Him. Colossians 3:23 tells us to, “Work willingly at whatever [we] do, as though we were working for the Lord, rather than for people.”
Going through my struggles has opened my eyes to the beauty of God’s plan and His divine will. I was blessed that my mom was always there for me, helping me through the obstacles I faced. She had a significant impact on me through her patience, forgiveness and lavishing love. During this time, my mom and I grew in our faith together which bonded us more than ever before.
Now, I am exponentially happier than I was before and feel that I am pursuing God while being able to do something I am passionate about. Although I was fixated on the idea of becoming a college athlete, God allowed injuries in my running career to redirect my passion and mind, not only on Him, but also on my truly favorite sport: basketball.
Dylan Mihalke is a student basketball manager for the University of Iowa men’s basketball team.