my letter to sport

The beginning was exciting, and the ending was sad,

but it’s everything in between that made it all worth living.

I knew this day would come, and the thought of it has always filled me with dread, it’s not by choice, but because my body can no longer continue, and so here I am, my time as an athlete at an end. I can’t imagine life without competitive sport, without the spark, the feeling, and all that it gives us, and whilst I know there is life after sport, right now it doesn’t feel like anything in life will ever be quite as good. But my overwhelming feeling is one of gratitude, as I’ve been so fortunate for what sport has given me and meant in my life.  So here’s my letter…to sport!

Dear Sport,

As a kid, all I wanted to do was sport. Wherever you were, I wanted to be. There was very little acceptance for a girl in football and boxing back then, yet on a football pitch or in the boxing gym was where I felt happiest, where I could be myself. Throughout my life you’ve given me purpose, meaning, and goals to strive for, and my life has revolved around those sporting dreams. You will leave a void that can never be filled, but have also taught me so much, so it’s time to say thank you…

For Resilience. Several times you broke my heart. On a football pitch in California when we lost on penalties in the National Championships; in a boxing ring in South Korea when I lost in the World Championships… and the many times where I felt the crushing feeling of a devastating defeat, the type where your stomach drops to the floor and the world falls in. But you taught me that not only could I get through it, but that I could get back up and have the courage to put everything on the line again and again to pursue my dreams with everything I had. And that’s exactly what I did.

For Persistence. You’ve tested me to my limits with injuries. Nine surgeries and 12 broken bones to name but a few! The long lonely months of painful rehab, and the doubts and fears of a comeback. But through this you taught me the value of commitment and consistency, to keep going, to always find a way. Even in the hardest of times, I knew I’d be prepared to go through that same struggle and pain again and again, such was my love of sport. I always did, and it was always worth it.

For Courage. In the changing room before my England football debut, and the final moments before my pro boxing debut, my heart racing, nerves flying through my veins like electricity and my mind spinning with doubts…“Am I good enough,” “What if I let everyone down?” At those times, I’d hear an inner voice, quiet but strong telling me, “YOU CAN DO THIS!” And it’d get louder & louder until I felt fierce as a lion and ready to fight. You taught me a lot about fear! To embrace it and channel it, and that fear will always accompany big dreams, but it will never be greater than my will to succeed.

For Determination. Pre-season training in the intense summer heat of Texas, lungs on fire, everything hurting. The final rounds of a title fight, muscles screaming, my body desperate to stop, but my mind pushing me on to the final bell. You taught me that I am capable of things I didn’t know were possible, that I can push beyond my furthest limits and then keep going some more.  

For Team. You taught me the immense power that is generated by people joining forces together. You allowed me the opportunity to follow, and to lead; and you gave me the chance to experience what it means to give everything you can, just to be part of something bigger than yourself.

For Equality. From early on, I was aware that my sports did not welcome females, as a youngster it affected me greatly, and the injustice of it all made me angry. Unequal weight categories in women’s boxing meant that I never even had the chance to go to an Olympics, Commonwealths or European Games, destroying my dreams of experiencing a multi-sport games. It made me feel less than. But over time, I also came to deeply respect the pioneers who came before me, and I began to use my own voice for change. Sport can show humanity at its very best and I believe in what sport can do for all of us, so I’m committed to paving the way for the next generation and encouraging others however I can.

For the Power of sport. Most important of all, you’ve helped me to positively impact others. Sport is one of the most powerful things on the planet for making a difference, and I’ve had the privilege of seeing that magic happen…running sports sessions for kids in refugee camps in France, playing footy with kids in Brazil, basketball in America with the homeless, a football session with teens in prison, volleyball with kids at a children’s home, a boxing display for school kids in Zimbabwe, visiting schools and community clubs, supporting charities and causes…and so much more, every time feeling humbled and overwhelmed all at once by just how much sport can transform communities and change lives. It’s been my greatest honour to be part of that kind of magic.

Competitive sport is not an easy path, it challenges every part of you. You can give everything you have, put it all on the line and then your dreams can be cruelly snatched away in a split second by the tiniest of margins. It’s real heart break. But every bit of it feels worth it for those precious moments where it works out -when you win- then it’s truly the best feeling in the world, there’s nothing like it, the adrenalin, the intensity, the focus, the unpredictability, the excitement and raw emotion so unique to sport, and you have given me those memories which I can now treasure forever, moments where I got to be my own hero.

And finally, in my personal life sport has been my best friend through the toughest times, my medicine on the darkest days, my support and my safety net no matter what. Sport has taken me to so many countries all over the world, given me amazing experiences, and brought people into my life who’ve been amazing mentors, friends and supporters, what an impact they’ve all had one me. Best of all, I got to share it all with my family & friends, their love and support always lifting me up.

So thank you sport, for taking a kid who was made to feel weird, ashamed, and bad for doing what she loved, to being an athlete who’s represented her country in two sports, and a woman who finally feels proud of what she’s achieved and who she’s become. And I promise, that with the same commitment, heart, and passion I’ve always applied to sport, I will now do my best to inspire others and make a positive difference, just as sport has done for me.

Thank you,

Stacey ‘Spongebob’ Copeland 😊