Since grade school, I’ve been blessed to play sports at different levels. Some were through organized clubs while others were at the local gym or the park nearby. Each sport required that I commit time and considerable effort to learning a unique set of skills. Some placed emphasis on hand-eye coordination, while others required endurance and footwork. For the most part, each demanded that similarly committed individuals form teams and compete against one another. As a teenager, full of energy and desire to utilize it for everything but studying, I chose to play sports; I was driven by the simple desire to win and have fun. I was unaware, however, that this simple desire would also provide opportunities to forge relationships with many along the way.
Through playing sports, I gravitated towards desiring to be a part of teams. More specifically, I wanted to be a part of winning teams. Early on, I dreamt often of making the game-winning shot or throw, or being the final leg of a record-setting relay. Slowly but surely, I realized sports in its purest form revered the accomplishments of a group more than any individual accolade alone. I wanted a role, however big or small, that made an impact towards achieving a common goal.
Sports, at an early age, obligated that I confront the emotional highs and lows that accompany victories and losses, respectively. The highs were augmented by the camaraderie and joy to be partaken with those who would later become life-long friends. The lows, more often than not, overwhelmed a volatile teenager who struggled to process the frustrations and disappointments that, unbeknownst to him, would be alleviated by camaraderie and nuggets of wisdom.
Taking sports at its intrinsic value — demanding various talents, requiring excellence in given roles, and evoking fundamental emotions while striving to achieve a team goal — I’ve been drawn to sports time and time again. I can say with unequivocal hindsight that the joys and memories that stand the test of time are not celebrations of my individual milestones, but those that celebrated common visions and decidedly blessed friendships forged along the way.
Tony Romo, a professional football player inching close to the end of his long, illustrious career writes:
I can remember when I was a kid just starting out wanting to be part of something bigger than myself. For every high school kid out there or college player, there is greatness in being the kind of teammate who truly wants to be part of a team. Everyone wants to be the reason they winning or losing. Every single one of us wants to be that person. But there are special moments that come from a shared commitment to play a role, while doing it together. That’s what you will remember. Not your stats or your prestige, but the relationships and the achievement that you created through a group. It’s hard to do, but there’s great joy in that. And all the while your desire burns to be the best you’ve ever been. You can be both. I have figured that out in this process. It’s what separates sports from everything else. It’s why we love it. It’s why we trust it. It’s why I still want to play and compete.
The memories, lessons, and fondness of sports now serve as incessant reminders in medicine. As I continue rotating in different clerkships, I am striving to be the most effective and efficient medical student I can be in light of the patients who make the pursuits matter. I long to be part of a team of health care professionals, with a role however big or small, that protects life and forms a narrative of patients beyond just their conditions. I pray for opportunities to journey along with colleagues, patients and their families. I want to be present on the day that the NICU team celebrates the discharge of a baby following her six-month stay since birth to finally go home for the first time. I pledge to be alongside family and friends during moments when a patient breathes his last, to partake and be present in the forged path that lies ahead.
Paul Kalanithi, a gifted neurosurgeon, posthumously writes:
Don’t think I ever spent a minute of any day wondering why I did this work, or whether it was worth it. The call to protect life — and not merely life but another’s identity; it is perhaps not too much to say another’s soul — was obvious in its sacredness. Before operating on a patient’s brain, I realized, I must first understand his mind: his identity, his values, what makes his life worth living, and what devastation makes it reasonable to let that life end. The cost of my dedication to succeed was high, and the ineluctable failures brought me nearly unbearable guilt. Those burdens are what make medicine holy and wholly impossible: in taking up another’s cross, one must sometimes get crushed by the weight.
I will strive to endure medical school and the training to follow with those reminders held near. Although I will often be buried in reading, memorizing, or charting treatment plans that, unbeknownst to me, hinder me from being relational, I will try my utmost to engage with patients. To the degree that time is one of the most precious and rapidly depreciating assets, I desire to grow older in medicine by lingering in the moments to be present in the lives of patients, partly because they beautifully offset the often-hectic pace of patient care and partly because they confront and elicit fundamental emotions of humanity that set medicine apart from everything else. It’s immensely difficult to do, but there’s great joy in that. I have figured that out in this process.
Aside from the obvious anatomical and physiological implications that dictate sports, I am convinced that there are numerous principles that run parallel between medicine and sports. The aim of The Sport of Medicine is two-fold: to show that there is power in understanding the journey of others to help mold our own, and why I believe that medicine is a sport in its own, unique way.