Reflecting on struggles as chapter in life ends

This story was originally published in the sixth edition of The Lion’s Tale (May 5, 2021).

The approach of graduation has made me think about my past years. I have thought about who I was, how I changed and who I want to be. I remember that I was a kid who was fearless, someone who never bowed down to anyone- then I got bullied. Not by my parents or by other students, but by someone who was five times my age. I was in third grade at the time. I had just turned 10 years old. He and his family had just become homeless. My family and I thought they were our friends, so we let them stay in our house for three months. Over that time, I was bullied by them in my own home. I don’t remember how I broke down to my parents about it, but that family was out the next day. Even though they had left my house, I still had to run into them at the youth league that I was a part of.

My family was upset at the fact of what happened, so we went to go visit our family up north to get away for a couple of days. My family saw a change in me, and I started getting calls everyday by one of my family members. Little did they know I was having horrible nightmares that would wake me up at night.

I would be sleeping and out of nowhere, I would wake up and be crying so hard that I would not be able to go back to bed. It was hard to tell people how I felt and how it happened; it just made me uncomfortable to talk about. It started to affect my school work. I still have nightmares here and there, but I do not let it affect me. There are days where I force myself out of my house, even when I have a bad night. This way, I show myself that I am not letting it not affect my life anymore.

I was 10 at the time, and my friends who knew me saw a change in me. I was now a kid who was shy and quiet. I would not show up to school, and if I did I was in black pants and a hoodie. One day, my friends used their “sit anywhere” tickets to sit with me. At that moment I broke down to them. They were all there for me. I moved to a different bowling alley, Boardwalk Bowling Center, and it has been my home to this day. During middle school, I was finding myself again and regaining what I lost. I wanted my confidence, my strength, but it seemed so far away. My struggle had gotten to the point where I thought about horrible things like hurting myself or ending my life. I did not realize that if I did anything to myself, I would be letting them win. I wanted to be the person I wanted to be, not the one others expected. I decided to fight for myself and not be afraid to be myself.

When it was time to enter high school, I had to go back to the other bowling alley. After my freshman year ended, my coach wanted me to join the junior gold program at that alley so she could coach me, so I joined.

That’s when everything started happening again. Instead of bullying though, I was stalked by a member of that same family from earlier. It got to a point where I broke down to the prior bowling coach at OHS, and that is when we put a police report in. We gave the report to the coach to give to the owners of the alley. Then we reported it to the United States Bowling Congress (USBC); when the USBC sent a complaint to the person who stalked me (because he was involved in the bowling league), I was punished. I was trespassed by the owners.

We went to the school, and nothing happened initially since we were told the alley would no longer be used by Seminole County teams. However, this did not happen because my coach had connections to the center. After USBC said it was my parent’s word against my stalker’s word, we went to Safe Sport, an organization which aims to address child abuse in sport. Again, nothing happened. They told us to go to the Orlando board, of which the man who stalked me was a member.

Then at the beginning of the junior year, my parents went to the school board and nothing happened. We were no longer welcome at the alley. The owners allowed me to go in to bowl for the high school team only, but my parents were not allowed and had to watch me through a tablet for all of my sophomore, junior and senior years in high school. This brought back those same terrible memories.

As soon as my parents found out about my thoughts, they took me to three different therapists, and I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Over the last three years of my high school life, I have seen myself in an old yet, in some ways, new light. I see that I have gone back to being who I was in the past and speaking my mind, but I still hesitate sometimes. I have seen myself grow from someone who you might consider broken to someone who is considerably stronger than most people think.

Through all of this I was able to fight for who I was. I was able to place sixth in my senior year at the state competition with help of my coach, Shawn Ryan. My parents, Coach Zach Waters, Mike Morran, Elizabeth Viles, Dr. Daniel, all the amazing staff at Boardwalk Bowling Center, my friends and family were also there for me and did whatever they could to help me feel better.

Since bowling was so difficult, I was able to find another home through the school newspaper. The reason why I love the newspaper class is that it has made me feel like I can be who I want and write stories that can make a huge difference. In high school, this was like my second home since bowling was not the best during those years.

It makes me sad to leave the newspaper behind since it was an important part of this large chapter of my life. I am ready to start moving forward from my past experiences and not let thoughts overpower me and make me change who I am. Life is what we make of it; we all have a history that we can not change, but we can change the future. Know that in times when you feel alone, you have others by your side. My favorite saying was always “play the game you love; love the game you play.” But now, my favorite saying is “do not let other people’s opinions get in the way of who you want to become.”

I can not wait to see how my next chapter of my life goes. I know it will be amazing and full of wonderful, life- changing things.