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Rybczynski finds her passion….again

by Matthew Ondesko: Managing Editor

Photos: Geoff Scheider:Sports Union

Every high school athlete goes through it at some point. You are the big man on campus at your high school, everything comes easy to you on the athletic field. For the most part, when you step on the field, you are the best athlete out there. No one can even come close to you.

Then you jump up a level, and everything is different. Not just the athletic part of the competition, but also school and socially. You went from the big fish in the small pond, to the small fish in the big bond.

There is a time of transition. Everyone goes through it. At some point an athlete may lose that passion for a while. In high school it was all fun and games. In college it’s a little bit different.

There is the pressure of you having to perform. After all, they did give you a scholarship to come to the school and make the sport you are participating in better. The coach has a lot riding on certain recruits to help them get over the top - that’s a lot of pressure to put on an 18-year-old fresh out of the high school ranks.

“The huge part is that everyone is of the same ability,” stated Wake Forest redshirt junior track and field athlete Anna Rybczynski. “Everyone is just as good as you if not better. That is absolutely a shock, because you came being one of the best in the section, but you are third on the team in just your event. Just trying to figure out the new coaches training that’s a huge transition.”

Rybczynski came to Wake Forest has a very decorated athlete. She was a dominating force while running for West Seneca West High School, winning 17 varsity letters. You would think it was just a piece of cake when she came to college, Rybczynski was already one of the best.

But, her freshman year different from what she had expected. She redshirted during the indoor season, then Covid hit, which threw everything up in the air. At one point, Rybczynski admits that she lost the passion.

She lost that fire that once burned insider her when it came to getting out there everyday and competing. It was a mental game that she had to play with herself - but after a little while, Rybczynski found that passion, and love, for running once again.

“I was just starting to get into it, and than we were done for a while,” stated Rybczynski. “I still love running, but Covid did affect some of that passion, but than I found it again. And, I love running again, which is all I can ask for.”

Something that Rybczynski had to deal with for the first time in her career was injuries as well. While in high school, Rybczynski was never injured. She would go out there and run her races, and win, then do it the next day and so on.

Once she entered college, those injuries started to creep up. It was something that Rybczynski wasn’t used to dealing with. When injuries started to pop up, it’s not the injury itself that messes with the athlete. It’s the constant mind games that they play with within themselves.

“I never had an injury in high school,” stated Rybczynski. “As soon as I got to Wake, I started getting stress fractures left and right, which kind of took me out months on end. It is draining on your mental health, because all you are used to is running and competing. That was my life, and now I had to figure out who I am.or who I was as a person - and not only as an athlete. Because, I wasn’t going to be an athlete forever.”

Everything that Rybczynski went through early on in her career made her take that step back and see what else is out there. She will always love running, and sports is a big part of her life.

But, sports won’t be there forever. Some athletes have a hard time making that transition from athlete to normal person. When they fans stop cheering, who are you going to be? What is your purpose going to be moving forward?

Those were some of the questions Rybczynsk was kind of asking herself and she was going through the healing process.

“Really going through the injuries had me spending more time with myself, and really looking at the bigger picture instead of a small factor,” stated Rybczynski. “But, it’s really just surrounding yourself with people you love and care about, and still treating your body right. Still eating right, and trying to get to the weight room. Still doing the things to get your mind right, while you are trying to heal.”

Getting your mind right is something that has become more prevalent in society these days than every before. Even at the high school level, schools will now take a mental health day so the students can get their thoughts back in order.

As athletes, you are expected to compete at a certain level all the time. After all, you are an athlete. This is what you do. Some think athletes are robots, they don’t have emotions. They just go out on the field and perform in front of the crowds.

Those days have changed. More and more athletes have stepped out of the shadows and taken their forum to social media, where they can express themselves more. Of course, the old guard still doesn’t understand when athletes are going through.

But, the new generation does. They understand there is more to just competing everyday. They want that balance, and that balance is extremely important - especially when it comes to being a student-athlete.

They go through the most between school, practice, weight room, and competing at the highest level. It can get overwhelming at times.

“It’s very, very important (mental health).” stated Rybczynsk. “I believe mental health is top priority over everything. I suffer from many issues in that category, and it’s really tough to do anything is your mental health isn’t up to par. I think focusing on more of what you want, and what your mind is telling you, is the most important thing first. I would stop running to get my mental health ok. Ask me that a few years ago, I would probably disagree with that. Now, mental is so important. If you are not right mentally you won’t be able to do what you want to do on the track or in the classroom. So, it’s extremely important to figure all that out, and make time for yourself.”

If you aren’t right mentally you won’t want to do anything. That spark you once had won’t be there anymore. It’s a tough thing to juggle, because sometimes you just don’t really know what’s going on.

When you get to college, a person loses that support system they had in place for so many years while growing up. They need to find a new support system, something, or someone, that will push them again.

“I definitely lost that spark when I got to college,” stated Rybczynsk. “It was a hinge change, and I wasn’t running. I wasn’t taking care of myself, and I didn’t really have anyone to push me to become a better athlete or an individual. I had a coach, who isn;t at Wake anymore, he really put his own time and effort into me, and made me feel wanted on the team - and new what I was capable of, and, new my abilities. He really made sure I was doing everything I needed to do. Made my a priority of his”

Still, it wasn’t something that happened overnight. It’s not like one day Rybczynsk woke up and said everything is good, I’m ready to go. It took time.

It took time for her to get back out rand find that spark. Find that passion that once fueled her to all those wins in high school. It went from running for the school, or running for the scholarship, to running for herself.

“It took awhile for me to love running again. I would show up to practice, even though I didn’t want to, but I knew I had to get out of bed,” stated Rybczynsk. “I knew I had to run. The more I did it, the more I actually wanted to do it for myself. It took awhile. It took about four months of training before I really loved running again, and competing.”

Once she started doing it for her, and not for everyone else, that’s when the passion came back. That’s when everything clicked. Rybczynsk was always the type of person that was like what is this person thinking, or am I going to embarrass me family.

Now, she is all about doing it for herself. Find that inner drive, and not worrying about the noise that is around her.

“I was very much the type of person to really think about oh what is this person thinking about me. Am I going to embarrass my family, or coaches by not racing well,” stated Rybczynsk. “Now, I’m realizing that I’m doing this for myself, and there is no one else in the world that can do this for me. It has really changed my perspective. I was no longer scared before I stepped on the line to race. Of course, I’m still nervous, but it’s a healthy nervous. All of those fears, they sort of go away. I’m having fun with it. I’m having fun competition.”

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