One More Toss

Eight years of training was dedicated for this very moment. Eight years of late nights, special diets, countless injuries and hard work. Now, at the age of eighteen, Andrea was competing in the semifinals of the National High School Volleyball Championships—a match which could well be her last.

There comes a time for every athlete and classical dancer to make a choice of whether they will become a professional, or stop altogether. The processes one would have to undertake if they continued would be strenuous and even harmful for their body. Andrea had always known that she would one day have to decide, but it had always felt so far away that there was not a need to worry. Then all of the sudden, it was here.

Knocking at her door is her last year of high school, and Andrea has to make up her mind.

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2. One More Toss

Thwack. Thwack. The wooden floorboards of the gymnasium vibrated with each movement. Thwack. Squeak-thwack. Tension was in the atmosphere, every audience on the edge of their seat and every player anticipating. Andrea’s eyes followed the volleyball, which was being passed from the libero to the setter of her team, as she pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose with the knuckle of her index finger. Everything was happening at a very fast pace; her feet moved on instinct, and within a split second, she was in front of the net and in the air. C’mon, she thought. Give me one more toss.

Eight years of training was dedicated for this very moment. Eight years of late nights, special diets, countless injuries and hard work. Andrea was ten years old when she watched her first volleyball match, and it was then, sitting in front of the television with her father, that she decided that this sport was going to be her obsession. She could still remember the foreign feeling—it was not exactly excitement but something so much more intense—in her chest when she joined the volleyball club at her primary school the very next day. It was the first time she had actually wanted to take part in something and signed up on her own free will. The club was not at all a good team, and they lost every match they played, but Andrea’s interest in the sport surprisingly never faltered. With her new-found determination and self-practice, she did not fail to improve. She was fortunate enough to be noticed by a coach from a high school with a strong team to which she joined, and now, at the age of eighteen, she was competing in the semifinals of the National High School Volleyball Championships for the second time—a match which could well be her last.

Andrea had spent her last few months looking as far as she could until the two roads in front of her bent away from each other and she could see no more. There comes a time for every athlete and classical dancer to make a choice of whether they will become a professional, or stop altogether. The processes one would have to undertake if they continued would be strenuous and even harmful for their body. If performing for a career was not on their mind, it was advised that they quit for their own benefit. Andrea had always known that she would one day have to decide, but it had always felt so far away that there was not a need to worry. Then all of the sudden, it was here. Knocking at her door was her last year of high school, and Andrea was forced to stand at the intersection.

Volleyball was more than a hobby for Andrea, it was her passion. She would choose to stay on the court in a heartbeat if she did not have to consider being a good daughter and living the life her parents had planned out for her. It was frustrating, the fact that they could not understand that their socially inept daughter could only be her true self when she was standing in a gymnasium. She felt invincible every time she wore her jersey and, as she stood with her team, she felt as if she belonged somewhere. But Andrea knew that her parents meant well, only wanting the best for her. They had sacrificed so much that the least she could do in return was to obey them and fulfil their wish for her to be a scientist—a safer and apparently more stable job. Being a traveller on a journey, she knew better than to take her choices lightly as she knew that, once she took a step forward, she could never come back to take the other road for another day.

In Andrea’s eyes, she was travelling in slow motion, her breaths echoing loudly in her ears. She could see the opponent’s blockers, all three of them, throwing their arms in the air as they jumped in unison to create a barrier to prevent her spike from getting through to their side of the net. There was a time when all Andrea would see was a high wall. She was not blessed with tall genes or strength and was never able to break through the blockers in her way. This, naturally, had discouraged her at the time. But Andrea will never forget the day she had been especially close to giving up her dream position as a spiker. Right before their final attempt during practice, Julia, the setter, had said to her, “This time, I want your full speed and your best jump. You don’t have to see me toss the ball, and you don’t have to adjust to it. Just trust in me. Trust that I will deliver the ball to you.” Andrea learnt a valuable lesson that day: the importance of trust in teamwork. Ever since then, the view from the other side of the net would open up for her. And as if there was a bright spotlight, she was able to locate a loophole in the other team’s formation, allowing her to aim for a point.

“JULIA!” Andrea heard her voice scream. She had not originally intended to call for the last toss, but deep within herself, she begged for it, and the name of her teammate left her lips before she could stop herself. Her vision blurred slightly, and she noticed that tears had welled up in her eyes; a few had already escaped and proceeded to trickle down her cheeks. It was then that Andrea knew which road she would take—the one less travelled by. She would take the road most would leave behind for a steadier career, income and life. I want to be on the court, she thought. I want to stay here with my team, fight with my team. I want to feel the adrenalin rush before a game. I want to feel exhausted, feel sweaty and out of breath. I want to play volleyball.

Julia had never heard more determination in Andrea’s voice. It was a relief to know that their spiker was still fighting, unwilling to back down, and she would have smiled if she was not concentrating so hard. There was no question now on what her next move would be. Without a second thought, she positioned her hand very precisely—just as she had always practiced during training—to direct the ball as it rebounded off her fingertips. Andrea did not even spare a glance at the ball, she trusted that Julia had tossed it perfectly. She swung her arm with all the strength she could muster, and her hand slammed against the ball.

She had spiked.

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