This past week I had the honor of attending the 2012 University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame Induction ceremony and banquet in Gainesville, Florida. I was in my Alma Mater town for a mere 5 hours and yet the experience was so impressive that I wanted to share in a short post with my fellow Gators and even non-Gator others as what I experienced can be parallelled in other people/circumstances.
When I reflect on my collegiate years it was a mini-career in academics and athletics that provided me a framework to work off of as I barrelled through the rest of my twenties and onward in life. Moreover, the friendships and colleagues I accumulated in those years also influenced my social trajectory.
Being back on campus this past Friday, I was immediately slammed with the shadow of the life that was when I was there as it was paled by the stark reality of the present moment. I remembered the spring alumni weekend as it was when I was a student-athlete there and was seeing folks dressed in black tie formal entering the Ben Hill Griffith football stadium for some event (Hall of Fame banquet) that on this particular evening I was attending in my long dress with baby in tow.
Meeting up with my lady Gator teammates was a refreshing familiarity that made it seem as if no time had passed by except for the funny details like marriages, children, careers, break-ups and the countless other things we’ve respectively thrived in and endured in the decade or more since we all went our separate ways.
Upon entering the Touchdown Terrace in the football stadium, a surreal buzz came on while greeting my former coach and teammates and seeing so many faces I recognized from those Gator days and now here we were all dressed and grown-up! I came for my Gator sister track and cross-country teammate Hazel Clark Riley as she was being inducted into our Hall of Fame. It was an added treat to witness other Gator greats like Alex Brown, Udonis Haslem, Jeff Morrison, Stephanie Nickitas and Abby Wambach also get inducted–these were fellow student-athletes whom I crossed paths with during the same years at UF by way of our weight room, Gator dining, sharing the same athletic facilities and split moments like exchanging words of congrats in the hallways where we all passed through during our time together.
Everyone’s acceptance speech had a similar thread of common truth–we all had gone on after our Gator days to compete in our sports professionally or to other professions like corporate work, military, government, education, raising families, coaching et cetera but our hearts had always stayed true to what we forged in our collegiate days. Certainly there is an obvious Gator alumni pride but for many of us there is also brother/sisterhood that we still foster and cherish no matter where our respective lives take us.
Hazel’s acceptance speech hit the tone right on: part of us is ready to suit up again in our Gator uniform and jump back into the race/game and at the same time we are grateful as we continue to grow and navigate our newest adventures in life to embrace what those years together gave us. We’ll always be teammates from that time together and whether or not we stay in touch I feel that we are able to pick up from where we left off.
Perhaps I’m a little over-optimistic in this topic but I can’t deny that I was so overwhelmed with joy to see Gator teammates that evening and even to link up over the social media tools to celebrate a Gator sister. Life in general can be like this for us when we bond with others over a common goal and regardless of our differences achieve greatness and endure failures as well. For instance, our track and cross-country team during the late 1990s and early aughts saw some amazing victories and some painful disappointments—but it made our time together solid and real which we will always have as a memory and a foundation for future rendezvous.
In closing of this personal reflection I’d like to post a poem I wrote as a fledgling college sophomore during one of our UF cross-country seasons. Congratulations again to Hazel (Peachy) Clark Riley and our other Gators for their 2012 induction into UF Athletic Hall of Fame!
Ramona V. Saridakis Bean
Heat is beating down on me,
through my sweat I can hardly see.
Blood is rushing in my legs,
heart is pumping way too quick.
My muscles are screaming for relief,
have to stand more of this heat?
The air is thickened with fatigue-
I look at my teammates and believe
they are tired, just like me
in this humid, hilly feat.
Coach gives the signal…
…and we’re off!
One more repeat…
…this is rough!
Once we’ve finished
we soak up water
like the driest desert sand
and congratulate each other
with a clasp of the hand.
The workout is finished,
there’s no more to run.
Yes, no more to run
’till tomorrow’s one.