Sports Story

How Memories of Playing Sports with My Dad Keep Him Alive

By Melissa Wickes
March 23, 2022
4 min

I grew up shy, but had dreams bigger than the Empire State building. Reaching big goals was not always easy for me as a quiet girl, growing up feeling torn between two different worlds.

My parents divorced when I was a baby and have lived in two different states since I was six. While it was difficult to fit in at times—feeling split between two places, two parents, and two homes—I was lucky enough to find my place anyway, mainly thanks to youth sports.

From the time I could walk, I was involved in gymnastics and dance—ultimately choosing gymnastics and sticking with it until the 8th grade. Once I got to high school, I took my gymnastics skills to the swim and dive team. While diving was my “main” competitive sport, my parents always encouraged me to try anything. I have been an avid skier since I was four years old and I’ve also tried rugby, wakeboarding, snowboarding, tennis, basketball, horseback riding, and golf. Each experience contributed to who I am as a person today. 

What Playing Youth Sports Gave Me

Living between two states required adapting, getting out of my comfort zone, and learning new things. Something that was always a constant was finding a sense of belonging and team through the sports I played and the people I had cheering me on.

One person who was always cheering me on was my dad. My whole childhood, he took the time to bring me to the pool to practice, buy me gymnastics equipment, or buy me new shoes for tennis—not only so he could support my growth, but more importantly, practice with me. 

He was always in awe of new skills I learned. He led by example that you should never stop trying to learn something new, as he would attempt to copy the dives I was throwing. (This made me nervous at times because he was a 6’2”, adult man throwing inward dives into a dive well). He never ceased to amaze me and always encouraged me to keep going. 

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My dad introduced me to skiing and it was one of the places where I always felt the most at home—it was just me and him against the world. Skiing is how he showed me that there’s one way up, but many different ways down. All I had to do was believe in myself. It never mattered how small I was against the huge mountains or how scared I was looking down the steep slopes. The second I looked at him and saw the pure excitement and belief he had in me, I knew I could conquer anything. And that is something that stayed true on and off the mountain. 

A year before I joined LeagueApps, I lost my dad to a single car accident that rocked my world. The strongest, smartest, most loving man in my life was taken away in a blink of an eye and my world came crashing down around me. At 23-years-old, one of the last things that I expected was losing a parent. I felt a piece of myself fade away because I had lost someone who helped me become the best version of myself. It was a scary place to be. 

Grief is a strange thing—it’s dark and sad, yet it brings to the surface all of the memories, lessons, and love that made you who you are. When I think about my favorite memories with my dad, a lot of them surround sports. Even though he lived two hours away from me, I could always count on him to be standing in the crowd of every gymnastics and diving meet with a huge smile on his face and a bouquet of flowers. 

Playing youth sports with my dad by my side taught me that no matter how many times you fall—and trust me, I fell a lot as I learned—you always have to get back up, brush yourself off, and laugh knowing the next time you’ll be that much closer to nailing it.

How This Led Me to LeagueApps

LeagueApps empowers organizations to provide kids with the opportunities to experience the very things that made me who I am today and the memories that have helped me through my hardest battles. When I first joined LeagueApps, our president Jeremy was talking to me about how the effects of playing youth sports go far beyond our youth. That has stuck because I know I have been better prepared to face hardship in my life, including facing the loss of my dad, because of the lessons I learned from playing sports as a kid.

No one wants to experience hardship, but it’s truly about how you come out on the other side that matters. If giving more kids access to youth sports allows them to not only grow and build themselves up now, but also to carry on in the face of difficulty, who wouldn’t want to be a part of that? That’s why I joined LeagueApps.

One of my favorite quotes comes from Winnie the Pooh. “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” That quote is a reminder to me that all of my favorite memories of playing sports with my dad are truly gifts that will live on forever. 

Read Also: How Sports Helped My Family Heal After 9/11