It began in a small town in Minnesota. Most people are unaware that I spent a few years in the blistering cold that migrates directly from Canada. Being accustomed to a harsher climate for over half the year, I began playing basketball in the snow. I would help my dad shovel snow so I could practice after school in the driveway. It was then that I began regularly spending time alone to try different moves. On the surface, putting the ball through the basket seemed to be an elementary concept, but I found there to be a very detailed science behind it. It was also around that time when I began to appreciate basketball as an art form. When friends disagree that basketball is a form of art, I encourage them to watch a few videos of a guy named Stephen Curry; I know those few will suffice.
I love to play basketball for a number of reasons. I see beauty in studying the fundamental and improvisational techniques of a professional athlete. I find joy in trying to emulate moves alone the morning after watching a game, trying to appreciate the depth of detail, practice and passion that must coalesce to hone one’s abilities. In between the series of dribbles, I also take advantage of the rare moments of silence that happen in the gym, to pray and gather my thoughts before the day begins.
For me, basketball has become an avenue to cultivate an innate desire to be keen to detail and improve at a unique set of skills. To top it all off, there is an indescribable exhilaration in integrating an individual set of skills to play a team sport. At its core, I thrive off the unique avenue of basketball to share my life with others — it is a passion that makes me feel blessed to be alive.
As a medical student however, I will not pursue my passions in basketball as a profession. I will be involved, and around the game for some time, but I am not on the track of being able to pursue playing professionally. That ship sailed quite some time ago.
There are few, very fortunate (or blessed if you will), who find their passion at a young age and have the opportunity to spur it into a profession. Kobe Bryant began playing basketball at the age of six and, as he describes, it became “a love so deep that he gave it his all.” He not only began to obsess over that passion early on, but also sustained it for decades.
From his days in high school, Kobe was known to be the first in the gym at 5 a.m. before school began and also the last to leave after practice at 7 p.m. Even after he had already won five championships to forge his legacy in basketball history, he was known to be in the gym around 4 a.m. in preparation for team practice at 11 a.m. His unparalleled dedication paved the way to for him to reach milestones in virtually every facet of the game and earn the utmost respect of his peers.
I watched Kobe’s career for about a decade, more especially during the last few of his storied twenty-year stint. As he drew closer and closer to his last days as a professional athlete, Kobe was much more reflective, transparent and graceful throughout interviews — in stark contrast to his often ruthless image on the court. So often, Kobe had personified intensity. He had exemplified the uncompromising and relentless will to succeed. Then one evening, as a student who had been buried deeply in paperwork to prepare for the upcoming med school application cycle, I came across a quote from Kobe’s interview that gave way into his perspective unlike any during his prior years.
It read, “You get older, you start seeing the beauty that’s in that process. You start trying to find love in that, find the beauty in that — which is completely different than being 21.”
It struck me then that what Kobe had achieved, aside from the countless accolades and trophies, was the ability to love the process to succeed. With passing time, he had found innate beauty in the process, perhaps even more than the success in itself that drove him day after day and enabled him to enjoy his work. As frequently seen in sports, wins and subsequent championships are never guaranteed. For a team to win a championship, it must sit at the ever-elusive nexus of talent, timing and frankly some luck; even if a team was to do so, celebrations will quickly fade into preparing for the next season, the next set of goals and always for the next championship.
In medicine, I have found so far my experience to have a similar ring to that of sports. Through each phase of education, I aspire to be detail-oriented and as competent of a physician as I can be to make a practical difference in the lives of others. In this season of training, as a second-year medical student, it requires that I take exams with increasing regularity. It has led to more early mornings, late nights and cups of coffee as I strive to process the seemingly incessant lectures of biomedical information. I often find myself weary of the disappointments of underperforming on a midterm, only to be quickly forced to move past the emotions and prepare for the looming final exam. Even successfully completing an organ block, has an increasingly hollow ring: its gratification is transient and gives way to studying for the next quiz, exam and organ block.
I know that second year of medical school will prove to be just as difficult as, if not more than the previous one. It will be the year that marks my transition into clinical rotations and the beginning of a series of board exams. As I continue to culminate knowledge in basic sciences that translate into patient care, I will strive to love the art of studying, listening to and forming a narrative of patients beyond just their conditions. I am reminding myself with increasing frequency that I chose to pursue medicine not for the pathophysiology or pharmacology, but for the people who make those subjects matter. I am slowly but surely, starting to grasp that studying medicine is a unique way to intentionally exercise habits to understand and engage patients in a way that they would sense my humanity pressed against theirs. Through the early mornings and late evenings still to come, I will remind myself of the beauty in the process that allows me to grapple with these perspectives during my lucid moments of reflection; in all this, I will continue to nurture the passion to share life and journey along with others every step of the way.
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.