Alyson McWherter: Softball
My sophomore year in college I joined the Army ROTC (Reserve officer training corp) at UW. I was already a scholarship athlete playing/practicing and training for softball full time but with the building uncertainty surrounding my life after college and the many hours spent wondering what I wanted to do with my life, I decided to join the Army. I addedmore demands on my already limited spare time. So I trained all through school, I took extra classes, trained at 4:00am before softball practice and school. I trained on weekends, over the summer and at night. I went on Field training exercises, learned how to disassemble and reassemble a weapon, learned how to navigate the woods of Washington State using nothing but a compass and a map (not a google map) and the list goes on. I jumped at the opportunity to add some clarity and direction to my life after college.
The 1st year was not too terrible there were outrageous hours and early mornings but I made it work. I wasn’t starting from scratch, my father served for 22 years and retired as a Lt. Colonel so I was fairly familiar with the material.
My junior year though – it got bad: As a Junior in Army ROTC your leadership ability, grades overall knowledge and physical fitness is all tested and put on display. The demands on your time increase as you begin to prepare for the upcoming 30 day Leadership Development and Assessment Course. Your success during this course sets an early trajectory for the rest of your career. Your performance ranks you on an order of merit list (OML), #1 (most qualified cadet) to #5,000 (least qualified cadet). This list helps the army determine your qualifications and thus assign you to different duty stations and occupational specialties around the world. There are some occupational specialties like Medical Service Corps, Engineer and Military Intelligence that are in such high demand that only the most qualified cadets are selected into them. As you can imagine there are also premier duty stations like Hawaii, Italy or Washington State and your performance at LDAC determines whether or not the Army even considers what you want or if they assign you what is left based on the needs of the Army. The Army uses this list of cadets in conjunction with the cadets preference list to fill each
occupational specialty staffing requirements and each duty stations staffing requirement. For example if you finished 20thon the OML and there were 15 slots for Medical Service Corps but there were 15 cadets in front of you that put down Medical Service as their #1 preference, those slots would be filled and the Army having filled its staffing requirement for that branch would move on to the next specialty in line and your #2 choice……. And so on and so forth. The lower you finish on the OML the less likely you are to have any control over your future assignment or branch. The math is simple, do well and you have a much better chance of getting what you want, do poorly and you will fill the needs of the Army, whatever and wherever that may be. Oh and by the way these are orders there is no changing them.
Ok now that I have given you the back story let me tell you the real one. About half way into the school year around January I had a meltdown. I mean a legitimate meltdown. I began to question everything. I wanted to play softball and focus all of my attention, energy and effort on that but I signed a contract with the Army and now had a contractual obligation I could not just walk away from. Then there was a part of me that knew softball was just a game and only 2 more years of my life so maybe the Army was where I should commit and dedicate my time. I knew I wanted to serve in the Army but the timing seemed wrong and the work load unmanageable. I felt like every area in my life that I was supposed to be good at, I was failing. My grades, softball and the Army. I would even go a little further and say my relationships with the people I cared about began to suffer as well. I was slipping on all fronts and could barely keep my head above water. My mom had come up to visit for the weekend and I remember crying my eyes out and wanting to quit everything. Not a gentle hold me while I cry in your arms but a frustrated, angry and scared loud cry. What do I do? Do I walk away from softball because after 4 years of playing in college that story will be over and there isn’t any longevity there? Do I walk away from a potential career in the military? I earned that scholarship to play softball first but have my priorities changed? How do I get out of this? Who am I letting down? I had no idea what to do. My parents tried to calm me down and talk me through it but I was still so lost in my own headspace. I had all the support I needed from my own family and I knew no matter what I decided to do, they were going to be there to support me. I had to fight through all of this on my own time and I had to rely on myself for the right answer. Deep down I knew I wasn’t a quitter. Up until that point I had never quit anything in my life. That’s when I realized then that I wasn’t afraid of letting other people down, I was afraid of letting myself down. I was afraid of not meeting my own expectations. So I reevaluated my measurement for success. I decided there was only one thing I could do and only one thing I could control. I could do my very best at managing both softball and the Army by giving 100% of my best effort and that was it. There was not any more that I could give and no matter what the outcome was going to be, I had to be okay with it. I could no longer evaluate my success based on the results. That was obviously not working. It was really hard to convince myself that my best effort was good enough but once I settled on that and changed my measurement for success in my mind, I was able to manage both beasts. I won’t begin to pretend that I didn’t still suffer, struggle or wonder why I decided to stick with both throughout the rest of that year. I would be lying to you. That was one of the most difficult years of my life. But, I made it. I kept reminding myself that I could only give my best effort to each endeavor. Some days my 100% effort probably looked and felt like 80% to others but it was all I could give on that day and I was proud of myself for that. That year ended up being one of the most stressful but successful years of my life. I committed to both teams and I wasn’t going to give up on myself. We won the NCAA Division 1 Softball National Championship that year and a short 15 days after returning home from the World Series, I went to LDAC for 30 days. I graduated LDAC 2nd in my class and the following year I got both of my number 1 preferences; Medical Service Corps and Ft. Stewart, GA (3rd Infantry Division).
The truth is life is hard. If it wasn’t terribly hard it wouldn’t be as profoundly rewarding as it can be. Trust yourself. Don’t quit. Be proud of yourself for the effort along the way, that alone is more gratifying than any trophy.