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A letter to future me,

On my flight home from the week in Panama with the ACE program I found myself scrolling through my camera roll of all the photos I had taken. Each photo captured a unique experience that will serve as a reference as I share memories from the trip with friends and family. It is hard to believe that in 5 years the memory of each distinct moment will fade, but I know I will always remember my trip to Panama as a perspective-altering experience that I will be forever grateful for.

When I look back on a photo of the entrance to the school, I hope to remember the reaction that the kids had when our van arrived on the first day. They lined the entry staircase jumping up and down and clapping in excitement. When we stepped out of the van, with volleyballs in hand, the entire school welcomed us with open arms as they sang a welcome song in Spanish. We then ate lunch with the kids; they were a little shy, but we could tell they were excited to get started. Once we started to play, the kids were no longer shy. They were running around with us and each other, laughing and giggling, eager to learn new volleyball skills. I did not know much Spanish before going to Panama, but in that moment, I realized that sport, and the joy that comes from it, has a language of its own which allowed me to build relationships with the kids. Although I learned new words and phrases to better communicate with them as the week went on, the smiles, laughs, and high-fives that we shared spoke for themselves.

I will never forget the sparkle in the kids’ eyes as they played with each other and conquered new skills. Witnessing this each day reminded me of the true purpose of sport: joy. The kids reminded me of the reason why I play my sport and why I chose to play at the next level; I play because I love it and because I have fun doing it. As high-level athletes, it is so easy to get wrapped up in outcomes or become distracted by adversity along the way, but experiencing sport in the rawest form from the kids in Panama grounded me in the joy of sport and teamwork once again. I have no doubt that I will carry this reminder and each individual experience from Panama with me throughout the rest of my time at Duke and beyond.

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