Op-Eds Opinion

Guerard: Thank you for helping transform my identity

By Gabby Guerard
@GabbyGuerard

When my mom drove me to Springfield College to move in freshman year, she said something I’ll never forget.

“You’ll always be a different person from this point forward. College will change you,” she said.

I’m sorry, what?

Isn’t this the moment when moms are supposed to talk about how proud they are of you? Explain all that you have to look forward to in college? Drown you in some last minute motherly advice?

“What do you mean?” I spit back.

“It’s not in a good way or a bad way, it’ll just be different,” she persisted. “You’ll see.”

I didn’t think much of it. How could she possibly know that? Yeah, okay, Mom.

After all, I was heading into more or less what I thought I already knew. I was playing field hockey, something I was passionate about — almost to a fault. To be honest, all I focused on was getting through preseason: passing the hybrid and learning how to play on turf instead of the horrible, bumpy grass I had spent seven years navigating.

Sure, I was studying something new: “Communications/Sports Journalism.” But one English teacher in highschool told me that I was a “good writer” and advised me to never let someone tell me otherwise. I didn’t know anything about journalism, but I was ready to learn. Plus, I loved sports, so it seemed like a good fit.

Sports were what I knew. I was an athlete. That was my identity.

But, Mom was right. That, too, would change.

I spent my first two seasons immersed in the student-athlete experience. Practice every day on Stagg Field, ice baths during preseason, game days every Saturday — sometimes marking the third game in five days. 

Out of season there were lifts and conditioning, not to mention spring season and extra workouts to try to prepare for the fitness tests. We had five of those my first year — one in each of the first five practices of our double sessions.

I loved every second of that. Being able to wear THE jersey truly is a privilege. I knew that when I had the opportunity to wear it, but even more so when that was taken away from me.

I already spent every day in the Athletic Training room for my IT bands. I had hoped I’d never wind up in there for what would prove to be my career-ending concussion. My neurologist said if I got one more, that was it. 

I thought if I were careful, I’d be fine.

I was wrong.

The hit was minor. It didn’t catch anyone’s attention. But by the time I got to Hot Table after the game with my dad and felt the headache, I lost my appetite in seconds.

I wasn’t going to just miss the playoffs. I was going to miss the last two seasons of my college career. 

It was over — along with my identity as a student-athlete. The one thing I knew how to be.

Little did I realize it opened the opportunity for my new identity.

It’s hard to cover sports when you’re playing sports. In the fall, I was so busy I could only cover women’s cross country. We didn’t host meets, so all I had to do was reach out to a few runners and look at the results to write a weekly story.

In the spring, I had tried to cover the women’s lacrosse team, but it was hard enough juggling my own spring season. We had the random practice times when the in-season teams weren’t using the facilities. Times would switch three or four times a day, which made scheduling interviews a nightmare.

The winter was my best shot. I was lucky my former EIC Shawn McFarland gave me the second-biggest beat of the season. As he put it, “You made women’s cross country sound interesting and you never missed a deadline. Pick anything you want, except men’s basketball.”

I did miss the 2017-18 season because of my concussion. But, Coach Graves understood. She knew I’d be back.

I knew I would, too. But I didn’t realize how that would look.

I was completely and utterly lost. Fortunately, Coach Sharpe let me stay on as the team manager, with the understanding that I could be as involved as I wanted — and as my schedule allowed me to be. This gave me a lot of flexibility, I just needed to decide how to navigate it.

That’s when I turned to journalism.

Sure, I already was an editor and a beat writer. But this meant I could take on new opportunities. It meant I could start learning layout and photography. It meant I could tackle harder stories and work on my skills.

It also meant I could stay involved with the sports world. Athletes are some of the most fascinating people there are, and I got to maintain those same connections — just through a journalistic lens.

The sense of competition never left, either. Everything became a competition with myself: how quickly I could transcribe interviews, how many posts I could write in one day, how many page views my stories could get, how quickly I could calculate stats after Friday night lights… anything a dorky journalist could get excited about — I felt the adrenaline.

I still spent most of my Saturdays at Stagg and Blake Arena, just from the press box or crouched shooting photos courtside instead of in the action.

But seeing as I wasn’t competing in athletics, I also got to spend my time interning for WEEI, MassLive and NESN — opportunities I wouldn’t have been able to pursue if I were still a student-athlete. Some of these experiences were the highlights of my time as a college student.

If you were to tell me I’d be able to intern for those three publications when I was just beginning my college experience, I would’ve laughed. And then when I finally caught my breath, I would’ve laughed even harder.

My coworkers at my internships and my editors at The Student weren’t just my friends. They were my teammates — my new teammates. And like the best kind of teammates, they became family.

Shawn, Greg Allen, Gage Nutter, Jill Campbell, Vin Gallo, Sam Leventhal, Evan Wheaton, Danny Priest, Jack Margaros, Joe Arruda, Irene Rotondo and Helen Lucas: thank you for all the nights in the newspaper office. For all the trips to the Union and Subway combinations. For all the laughs and chirps. I can’t believe it took four years before someone finally figured out how to turn the heat off. Good find, Joe.

I’ll always remember one of the first times I was in the office as an editor. Shawn threw away half of a “perfectly good” meatball sub in front of Vin. Big mistake. That’s the moment I knew this was going to be about a lot more than editing stories and coming up with witty headlines.

There were the trips to San Diego and San Francisco for the ACP Conferences. Being a part of The Pride Sports Journal, writing four stories in four years. The infamous PSJ photoshoot of 2017. The attempted COSJ formal. The 2018 Basketball Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. Covering the 2020 Hoophall Classic. The Saturday nights in Townhouse No. 6.

It was an honor to have been Editor In Chief this past year. I learned from the best before me. I’ll miss being called “Chief” when my editors were happy with me, or my favorite, “Gabrielle” when they were salty about something.

I always envisioned this moment. I figured I’d write my column down in the newspaper office inevitably on a Wednesday night — even though it should’ve been done by Tuesday. I’d try to focus, but would get sucked into the nonsense with my best friends. Who knows what we would’ve been laughing about, but there was always something.

I didn’t want it any other way.

Unfortunately, that’s not how my senior year got to end. But in looking back on all the moments that have happened in the last four years, it’s just another twist that’s changed me. 

There have been more of those than I can count. But none bigger than shifting my identity as a student-athlete to a sports journalist. 

And for that, I couldn’t be more grateful.

Looks like Mom knew what she was talking about after all.

Let’s go break some news.

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