By: Abby Lyons

For most kids, the sport they long to pursue in college is one they have been involved with for their entire life. However, my journey to finding a love for field hockey took me a while to realize and was not always clear. In other words, if someone would have told me ten years ago that I would be playing Division I field hockey at the University of Richmond, I probably would have laughed and asked, “What is field hockey?”

The majority of my life, I was a competitive gymnast. Spending every waking minute at the gym, practicing for four hours a day was a grind for any ten-year-old. However, I was determined and a perfectionist, two great things for an aspiring gymnast. Through many injuries and setbacks, I always found my way back to gymnastics and the thought of devoting my time to any other sport was out of the question.

However, 8th grade hit, and for some reason, I was finding myself dreading practice. I was having a more difficult time coming back from injuries than when I was younger. It was truly disheartening. One of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make was to retire from gymnastics, something that was a piece of my identity since I was three years old. Little did I know that this would be the best decision of my life, due to the opportunities that were to come in my future.

The first time I had ever picked up a field hockey stick was at a summer camp the year I decided to step away from gymnastics. I was living in St. Louis and I was currently trying to pursue soccer with hopes of maybe playing in college. However, I heard about field hockey and thought might as well give it a try. In the Midwest, field hockey is not very common so I jumped in not knowing anything about the sport and the weird rules like only being able to score within the circle, and not being able to use both sides of the stick.

It wasn’t until a year later when my family and I moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin that I started to realize my love for field hockey and to consider that I could play in college, let alone at the division one level. It was refreshing to find this sport that was so new to me; it was a chance for me to start from scratch. I knew this was for me and I really became vested in this sport because I have never enjoyed going to practice as much as I do with field hockey.

That being said, my most favorite memory while playing field hockey goes beyond one game or experience. It is the entirety of my first season as a D1 athlete surrounded by a group of girls who are the most supportive and encouraging group of people I have ever met. There is nothing more satisfying than waking up at 6am for conditioning with your team and knowing you are all working for the same goal. We show up ready to work and to push ourselves to the next level, even on the days when sleep seems like the best option, we fight through, together. I have always wanted a sister, and I could never have imagined I would be so lucky to have 25 incredible sisters that double as best friends. Playing a sport in college is no joke, and definitely different from high school; everyone here wants to be here and wants to get better.

I will never forget making my first start in our opening game against American this past season, and the nerves I was feeling were unlike anything I had ever experienced. However, all those nerves went away when one of my teammates came up to me, looked me in the eyes, and said “Ab, you’ve got this. No matter what happens, I will have your back every step of the way.” In that moment, I realized there is so much more to this team than just field hockey. This team is a sisterhood, where no one is going to let their sister fail. The belief my teammates had in me gave me the confidence to keep growing in my abilities and to not let the little mistakes mess up my game. I am beyond blessed to be a part of such an amazing program, and to continue playing the sport I love with such an incredible group of girls. I sincerely cannot imagine myself anywhere else but Richmond, and I cannot imagine life without field hockey.