This picture came on my twitter feed today with the caption “Memorial Day is not National BBQ Day.” I don’t know how many of you know, or even care, about what I’m doing with my life, but I’m taking some time now to tell all of my followers.
I went to the University of Minnesota and just graduated last week with a degree in Sport Management with a minor in American Studies. My American Studies minor was focused on the popular culture response to war; mainly how it is portrayed in movies and TV, but also general cultural response to wartime and veterans. Throughout my undergrad I was fortunate enough to intern with every sport team in Minneapolis/St. Paul besides the Vikings. While I had some really cool experiences meeting professional athletes and getting some free swag along the way, I realized that professional sports aren’t for me. Last fall I started looking into other things I could do with my degree. I have a love for sports and have experienced first hand how sports can change your life through the relationships that are built between teammates as well as the life skills learned along the way. One of my classes assigned a project where we had to do a presentation of sports that aren’t in the spotlight of American Culture. My group and I presented on Sled Hockey, which is exactly what it sounds like: people propelling themselves around the ice on sled using their arm strength. The project taught me a great deal about adaptive sports; adaptive sports are physical activities for those who are labeled as having a disability, whether it be cognitive or physical. Being a Minnesota born and raised girl, the Olympics were all about Hockey for me. I had 3 classmates from school on the Women’s Olympic Team and plenty of alumni from the University of Minnesota on the Men’s team. After the Olympics ended, the Para-Olympics began. Most of the athletes in these games are wounded veterans. I have always been emotional when it comes to military matters; you don’t want to see me during Christmas when all the TV commercials are service men and women surprising their family at home. I literally sob every single time I see one. I also have a cousin who served two tours in Iraq following 9/11. The second time she was deployed she was the only member of her platoon that wasn’t killed. Because of this she has very severe PTSD–post traumatic stress disorder. I have personally seen the change in her and have watched it change the dynamic of my family. While she is completely functional, there are many military veterans who are not so lucky, and unfortunately there hasn’t been a huge push for funding for treatment.
One night I was bumming around on the internet, probably procrastinating doing homework of some sort, and came across an article highlight the potential that adaptive sports have for treating PTSD. Whether you support it or not, sports are a huge part of American society, and when someone loses their ability to compete, even recreationally, it alienates them from society. Ever since the Vietnam War Veterans have struggled to find permanent jobs following their service due to poor public opinion surrounding the war. Unfortunately, the War on Terror is nearly identical to the Vietnam War in terms of public support (seriously, don’t even get me started on this. I wrote a 25 page paper on it for a class and got way too involved in my research). For some reason that I don’t understand, gone are the day of glorifying our American Heroes. Instead now they are mislabeled and left to fend for themselves when they return home. The largest demographic of homeless people are Veterans. This angers me so deeply because how can we turn our backs on someone who risked their life for us?
Anyway, getting back to my point. I finally figured out that I wanted to dedicate my life to helping military members and their families through physical activity. I was lucky enough to get a job with the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition following my graduation. They work very closely with the First Lady’s office helping with the Let’s Move and Joining Forces initiative; it was my interest in the latter that landed me the job. I’m going to be spending my summer and fall (and hopefully a great deal of time after that too) helping plan events for military families that involve physical activity in some capacity.
Coming full circle on this post. I know that Memorial Day is the unofficial kickoff of summer for almost all Americans. I’m not saying don’t enjoy your weekend, but please don’t forget the meaning on the day. Memorial Day is a day to honor the lives of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice to defend the freedom of our country. And I know that in light of everything that happened today at UCSB people will fight me and say that our country is far from perfect, and I won’t disagree with you. I’m incredibly angered that 7 women lost their lives because some man was upset he hadn’t had sex, but when it comes down to it, America is a pretty good place to live compared to some other counties in the world. There is plenty that can be fixed, but that doesn’t mean it’s your worst option either. I just want people to remember that they have the ability to fight for their equality and to complain about the lack of because of the men and women who put their lives on the line to protect America.
So please, if you see someone with a Navy baseball cap or Marine sweatshirt or Air Force T-shirt or Coast Guard Jacket or Army camouflage, SAY THANK YOU. It’s because of them that you can enjoy your BBQ this weekend.