Aug. 9, 2007
Throughout the year, select Illinois women's basketball players reveal what life is like behind the scenes in a periodic Women's BasketBlog. In this special summer edition, junior Lori Bjork talks about the dog days of summer and the tough goodbyes she and her teammates had to endure along the way.
Women's BasketBlog // August 9, 2007 // Lori Bjork
For any student, the summer is a toned-down, laid-back version of the rest of the year. The story is no different for Division I student-athletes. We go from taking classes, practicing, and weightlifting, to taking summer classes, playing pick-up, and conditioning. (I hope English majors everywhere will nod in approval at the use of parallelism in that last sentence to really accentuate that stark contrast.) Almost all of us have spent the past 8 weeks on campus taking summer courses, enjoying the benefits of the university at 50% capacity. Classes become much more personal when their enrollments drop from 600 to 300, parking spaces become plentiful, and even the sternest of professors finds a heart (albeit temporarily) after a streak of five beautiful days in a row.
The NCAA rules prevent the new coaching staff from working with us, so we get to spend our summer under the direction of our favorite strength and conditioning coach, Coach Price. The fact that the team is still speaking to him at the end of the summer is a tribute to him, as it is very difficult to like someone who barks out your time (inevitably behind pace) as you run around the sun-baked track in 90 degree weather. But just when you feel about ready to quit, you look around and realize how good this team could be next year, and that helps carry you through. The summer menu of weights and running is not too different from years past, with perhaps a bit more emphasis on the conditioning end of things. I guess the new coaching staff is following-through on their pledge to make us the best-conditioned team in the Big Ten.
Of course, for my teammates and me, this summer has proven to be a little more stressful than most. With a new coaching staff on board, we have been introduced to new faces and new methods, but we have also had to steel ourselves for a series of farewell parties and tearful goodbyes. For the players, a coaching change is a revolving door over which you have no control. Each day that you arrive at the gym, you are wondering who else will be gone. One day it's a coach who imparted knowledge to you extending far beyond basketball, and who never stopped believing in you. The next day it's an academic adviser who you turned to for guidance on issues far weightier than what class to take.
However, the departures stretch beyond the coaches and support staff. This summer, my teammate and roommate, Danielle Gratton, decided to transfer (I'm going to have to put the ex- tag on the latter soon, but I don't think I'll ever be able to bring myself to call such a good friend an ex-teammate). I still remember the first time I saw Danielle on the AAU circuit before my senior year. She knew Illinois was recruiting me, and she spotted my dad and me leaving the gym at a tournament. She sprinted out into the parking lot to introduce herself, and I wrote her off as another overexcited teen I'd (hopefully) never see again. The obnoxious orange cast she sported on her hand did little to help her cause. One year later, on one of our first days of summer school before our freshmen year, we happened to pick lockers right next to each other. The next two years were a complete blur, with too many good memories to count. I guess some things are meant to be.
Unfortunately, however, some other things are not meant to be. Every time that I've dreamed of where this team could go, I always saw Danielle right there in the thick of things. Achieving those dreams without her will not be easy, but I guess I've always loved a good challenge. While this summer has been marked by loss, every time I come close to calling in to the Delilah show to request a sappy song for my good friend who is moving away, I realize that this friend would be touched for 30 seconds, and then would proceed to make sarcastic cracks about it for the next decade. I guess that just means this friendship is built to last.
My high school coach always said that in every crisis lies an opportunity (I just hope the opportunity doesn't involve me making a fortune by buying up Kleenex stock before its demand skyrockets). I've been blessed the past two years to have a teammate and friend like Danielle. She's given me much more than a few great skip passes.
Don't cry because it's over; smile because it happened.
Lori Bjork #20