Dear Generals

I wanted to write you ever since our car drove away Sunday morning. It was a perfect game day- the sun was bright, the air felt especially crisp and smelled a perfect mix of flowers and that incredible smell of grass that reminds us older folks of our youth spent on fields. While we drove away I was filled with regret that I was missing your game, and didn’t get the chance to speak to you all, to hug and hive five each and every one of you.  I missed a chance to tell you just how much what you’re achieving, working toward, sweating for, sacrificing for, and playing for means to others.

I know none of you know who I am, why should you? I graduated in 2002, and please don’t sit there too long thinking about what you were doing in 2002… I know… it was 15 years ago. But I too played lacrosse for the Generals. I was a defender and two-time captain. I shared that locker room, spent too much time in a much grosser weight room, ran that track, taped my bruised body in that training room, and wore the same blue and white.

I lived and breathed the sport growing up in Alexandria, VA, and probably much like you, I chose W&L as a way to play in college while also having some balance in my life that I feared a D1 school couldn’t provide. My freshman year I  spent a good bit of time in the training room even by fall ball. Ankles tapes, legs wrapped, ice baths. I will never forget during that first month, however, sitting on a training table and a guy plopped down.

“What sport do you play?” he asked.

“Um, lacrosse. Women’s lacrosse” I stammered.

“Oh, club sport, right?”

As if my glare could pierce his face, I looked him in the eyes and said “Nope” and limped off.

I knew in that moment this wasn’t my high school anymore where the women set the records and had the stature. The women had come so far at W&L to establish a great team by 1998, but I knew then we women had more work to do. I remember thinking that what happened in the past didn’t matter, it was up to us now to change how women’s lacrosse was perceived. We gave it everything we had- we won often enough those first two years, we practiced late, we pushed our bodies to their extremes. We limped around campus, trying to achieve the level of success only the men so far had known in the sport. To me, with 15 years of distance from my last game, I truly feel we moved the proverbial ball forward for the sport in Lexington. Following our four years, more recruits came, more teams found success, and there were more awards bestowed on W&L. Each set of classmates wanted to go further, achieve more, and make a bigger name for women’s lacrosse on campus. We have all felt equally proud to wear that uniform, and watching your current success, I’ve never been so proud of what every year of women’s lacrosse accomplished. Each and every woman that played helped this program get where it is today. Even if it was just enough success that it attracted your beloved Coach to consider moving there and take you to where you are right now.

 

I know it’s been hard for you girls. I remember what it takes to be a General. Practices after full days of classes, night games right before you have an 8am test or paper due. We spent an inordinate amount of time on a bus to Florida every year, never made it to a Fancy Dress ball, watched our friends board buses to Foxfield while we boarded our own bus to a game. Spring break was spent in town, winter break was spent at home attempting to tackle the workout program.

I know the countless things you have missed, the parties, dates, even quiet time after classes. I know what it takes to cram for exams on a bus that well… you know… smells like a bus. Spring in Lexington is also wildly wonderful. It’s also incredibly hard to stay focused on something that you feel not everyone understands. Most of my best friends didn’t play a sport and hadn’t even seen lacrosse before they met me.

Staying focused right now is an important test. Maybe one of the hardest yet in your young lives. I see that, I respect that, and don’t ever think that you’re alone in feeling that way.

All of this sacrifice, all of this time dedicated to your team, to this sport, to the Generals… I’m here to tell you it’s worth it. It’s always been worth it for me.  Of all of the things I did while at Washington and Lee, and since then in my adult life, playing lacrosse and giving it all I had is one of the most important things I’ve ever accomplished. And what I wouldn’t give to be able to do it all again…

So, my fellow Generals, enjoy every moment of this post season ride. Enjoy the practices, the time spent together on that field, in the locker room, and be proud of your dedication. Do not forget be grateful for this time you have together as a team. Know that I am with you every step of the way, watching you online and wearing my blue as often as I can. And don’t ever forget to listen to Coach… she’s world class… and also my friend.

Again, I am so proud of each and every one of you.

GO GENERALS!! PROVE IT!!!

With all my love,

Eloise

priest11

 

Induction

Three weeks ago I was inducted into my school’s Hall of Fame. I’ve written about the honor before so I won’t go too far into the story again. I did, however, want to share the words I said that night.  Before I share though, I have to say what a truly tremendous experience that weekend was for me.

First, it was Landon’s birthday… so those emotions are rolled up into this symbolic tapestry. Second, I was surrounded by people I love.. my family. And lastly, my school and the little town it sits in are a cornerstone of my life. My experiences, deep and life-long friendships, trials and love I found in Lexington are a huge part of me.  I’ve spent ten years living in New York not playing lacrosse and living a very opposite kind of life to Lexington. To celebrate something I accomplished a decade ago awakened a part of my heart that’s been pretty dormant. I remember that girl I was fondly. I remember the player I was as well and the emotions I still have about the sport of lacrosse. About my teammates and coaches. I hope the words I shared that night express the celebration I’ll always feel when remembering this honor and that weekend.

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Thank you to the Hall of Fame committee and the Athletic Department for this honor and for organizing such a special weekend.

To begin, I want to thank my family –especially my husband for driving here from all over and supporting me this weekend and always. Thank you to my mother and Tony and to my in-laws, Bubba and Krissie, for all making the trip. I love y’all so much.

Next, I want to thank all of the parents here. For the hours logged in the car taking us all to practices or meeting us at away games. For the orange slices and juice boxes.  For the early morning wake ups. For healing the bruises- physical or emotional. For the encouragement, sideline-coaching, referee wrangling and the hugs after the games won or lost. For the extra balls and sticks, replaced windows, gloves, cleats, running shoes, and endless laundry. Thank you. We would not have been the athletes we were… without y’all.

Thank you to my father for his unwavering support while I was here at school. And thank you mom…. for your athleticism.  For your Title 9 pride and the bumper sticker that went with it.  For encouraging me to always try harder. For always showing up. And for reminding me to be proud of myself.

What can I say? I’m honored to be here in this company. I can’t tell you how many times I bragged about these other athletes’ accomplishments while I was here at school.  And how many times we all discussed how wonderful of a person and AD Mike Walsh is and was. It’s wonderful to share this night with y’all.

Lacrosse was a way of life in Alexandria, VA. I went to a school where women’s lacrosse was THE sport. It was cool to be on the lacrosse team. We set the records. We had rows and rows of fans and national accolades. That team expected perfection, though, and that’s hard to live up to at 15 or 16. It required a lot of discipline. It required long afternoons into evenings, after practice, with a ball on a wall. Graduates went to play Division 1.  When time came for college visits, I went through the motions with other schools…all the while counting down to W&L. When you idolize your grandfather like I did… visiting his school was a big deal.  I will never forget my W&L visit. As poetic as it sounds, I decided to come here while walking across the footbridge to a football game. It was a perfect September day and I walked with the women’s lacrosse freshmen. It felt right. It felt meant to be.  It was where my grandfather had walked before, with his own team when he played here.

I thought from my high school experience that I knew what dedication to a sport was. I thought I understood what committing to a team meant. I realized over the course of my freshman year that I did not know this brand of commitment. Being a General would require me to dig deeper, find patience, another level of discipline, and a yet to be discovered maturity.

I remember our first lacrosse meeting in those old classrooms in the old athletic building the fall of my freshman year. We sat in those old, tiny wooden desks and I realized just how different this would be that what I’d known. I knew instantly that whatever happened in my past lacrosse life didn’t matter. As someone who loves tradition, change is hard.  There were big shoes to fill on the team, holes from last year’s graduates. Slowly, in January when practice started up, we began to put the pieces together as a team. We stepped out of the shadow the year prior had cast. I learned what it meant to share the field with older girls that had played all of their lives and those that had never seen lacrosse before. I learned to love more than just winning. I learned to truly love the game.

We missed dances, horse races, parties, and moments our friends would brag about. We spent an unnatural amount of time on a bus and eating at Subway and Golden Corral. What we gained though…you can’t explain to someone who didn’t play college sports all four years. You gain a family far and above what a sorority or fraternity offers. You create your own moments that exist when the bus lights go out and it’s just you and your team telling stories on an overnight drive to Florida. You gain discipline, dedication, patience, and it’s where I learned that I loved leading and teaching. And from my high school years where I was accustomed to winning, I had to learn how to lose. I had to learn how to swallow that particular type of pain. We didn’t lose all the time, but we weren’t number one in the division. We weren’t undefeated. But we absolutely wanted to be. We had to really work for it as a team.

I recall Jan telling us in the locker room time and again that it didn’t matter if you won or lost, it mattered how you played the game.  I gotta tell ya… I really had a tough time with that sentiment. I loved winning. But now… 11 years later. I really get it.  It matters that we fought until the whistle blew. It matters that we pushed ourselves so hard that our faces turned purple. It mattered that we helped our opponents up when they fell down. It mattered that we wanted it more than they did. Those details that make up the game… all mattered.  Taking the losses in stride and showing up the next day to practice is what it’s all about. Jan, you taught us life lessons in that locker room. It wasn’t just coaching for our sport, and I thank you deeply for that.

Jan, thank you also for being patient with me. For allowing me to stumble and pick myself back up again and hugging me afterwards. For giving me the room to be a leader for our team for two years. For your time and dedication to this school.  I think a pretty good part of me is still remiss that I didn’t go right into coaching after graduating. The exciting thing is that we never know what the future may hold.  With our imminent move to the south, I might just have to start up a lacrosse league in Charleston so it catches on in time for Landon. I will remember to believe in myself though, just like you did as my coach.

I’ve done a lot of reflecting during this last year of my life. I’ve spent time looking at myself and what I gained from my time here and how it serves me in my life now.  When we had Landon, our expectations had to be reset. Not majorly, but in order for her to have a truly “normal” life, we’d have to work at it. We would have to persevere and be dedicated in therapy rather than only playing. I have to manage my emotions, I have to dig for strength when I learn about or contemplate her surgeries. I am learning still to accept our new reality and not dwell too far into our future. I am celebrating everything she is and championing her special needs. The teacher and leader in me is researching and learning how to let her excel in every way. I can say with strong conviction that I can champion her and be the leader in our new community because of what I learned here. What I learned on the field, in the locker room and on those endless bus rides. My experiences as a General have made me more capable to be this kind of mother. My competitiveness lends itself to never settling and always working harder for her with her doctors and in her therapy.

Today is my baby girl’s first birthday. So as every parent here will understand, I’m dedicating this award to her. May she one day experience all that I did here and more.

Thank you.

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xoxo,

Eloise