When I was in high school, I found myself constantly questioning who I was outside of softball.
This was challenging, as I placed my self-worth in my performance in my sport for most of my high school career. I made it my mission to find my value outside of being a softball player.
The summer going into my senior year of high school, I was given an opportunity to attend a leadership camp that was sponsored by my local rotary club. Camp RYLA (Rotary Youth Life Awakening) is a leadership camp for incoming seniors in high school. The motto of the camp is, “You can’t lead others until you can lead yourself, and you can’t lead yourself until you know yourself.”
The camp was six days of intense workshops and activities where I got to build relationships with other students my age and find the value of myself beyond being a softball player. This camp left a mark on my life that I still think about every day, even years later.
This experience left such an incredible mark on my life that I decided to give back and became a counselor this past summer. As excited as I was to go back and get to experience the camp as a counselor, I was also extremely nervous for what to expect from this new perspective of the camp.
I had such an amazing experience four years ago that I was anxious being a counselor would not give me the same passion and love that I felt as a camper. This anxiety quickly disappeared on the first day of camp. The experience I had this summer as a counselor was indescribable.
Prior to camp four years ago, I found myself questioning my value, but this time it was bigger than just softball. I had a very challenging junior year of college, overcoming some of the most difficult experiences that I have faced thus far in my life. I was in a place where the world was very confusing.
Being a counselor at RYLA reminded me of my value in this world. I got to give back, inspire and be inspired by a group of 100 incoming high school seniors. I was reminded of who I am and was able to let go of the anger and frustration of the year that I had leading up to camp. I was able to feel like I was more than just a softball player. I got to be 100 percent myself that week, and I saw the lives I touched simply by being myself.
I decided that RYLA was the story I wanted to tell because when I think about who I am, I think about RYLA. To me, RYLA encompasses every aspect of who I am. RYLA has taught me how to appreciate and love every moment life throws my way. It helped me become a better softball player, friend, teammate, student and family member. It is because of this camp that I no longer see myself as just a softball player or as a product of the challenges I have faced, and to me that is the greatest gift I have ever received.
Carli Cutler is a student athlete and a member of the UConn women’s softball team