May 23, 2016
For about the past six months, I’ve had the same recurring dream at least two dozen times: I wake up back in my freshman dorm room, roll over and check the calendar pinned against the wall and realize that it’s the first day of classes. I get that now all-too-familiar rush of excitement and warmth from getting to start everything over afresh before waking up for real and coming to the equally all-too-familiar realization that I’m still a senior with two weeks left and I have 10 minutes to get to my 9 a.m. class.
For most of this year, I’ve longed for that magical power to go back in time and do it all over again. Not so much because I’m scared to leave and yearn for the ability to freeze this period of time, but because I wish I could go back and fix all the missteps I made along the way. Even now, as I near the finish line, I can’t shake the thought that I was lucky enough to receive a golden ticket in being able to attend Stanford but went the way of Augustus Gloop and plummeted into the chocolate river.
Truth be told, I probably shouldn’t have started college when I did. I was not in the best of mental health states in my last couple of years of high school and probably would have been well-served by stepping off the treadmill for a bit. In college, I struggled socially, my grades tanked for a stretch that could only make Sam Hinkie proud and, above all, I was just plain lost about what I wanted to do. I effectively squandered a significant portion of the last four years and failed to take advantage of so many opportunities.
I had always loved playing and watching sports growing up, but in my first couple of years at Stanford, I found myself following games not really for the purpose of entertainment but more as a retreat from reality. Life was way too confusing, but sports managed to minimize the chaos; there are a fixed set of rules and a natural progression of events. I might struggle with even the tamest of life decisions, but I could sure as hell pull my hair out when David Shaw chose to punt from the opponent’s 29. Sports just made sense when nothing else did.
What I’ve come to realize, though, is that sports don’t just exist in a vacuum detached from the rest of the world. They’re more than just a hole in the sand for an ostrich to hide its head in. I probably would have just accepted this latter conclusion, however, if not for just pure luck my sophomore year, when I expressed a peep of interest in joining The Daily (being too shy to make more of an effort) and Sam, Joey and George brought me on board with open arms. To this day, writing still intimidates me, and these columns, in particular, are always a massive struggle.
But I wouldn’t trade any of that away, because being a part of The Daily allowed me to connect with people when I needed that most, from getting to know Stanford athletes and the human element of high-level sports to being a part of a community at the office that’s been both outrageously fun and inspiring in being able to watch a collection of hyper-talented individuals — who could literally do anything on this campus — devote so much of their time to putting together a paper every day.
Working for The Daily has shown me that my love of sports isn’t really even a love of sports at all, but instead of family: from the Daily family, of course, who turned Stanford athletics from a casual pastime into a full-on obsession for me, to my actual family, who are the real reason I came to love sports in the first place. I can still always talk college football with my mom. My dad, who’s now well over 50 but can still kick my butt in tennis and probably beat me in a sprint at this very moment, taught me a lot about how to compete. My brother, in our countless best-of-seven series of one-on-one driveway basketball, helped me discover a love of just going out and enjoying the game.
Sports, in short, are as much if not more about family and friends as they are about bats, balls and hoops. Even when you’re enjoying a game by yourself, there have probably been a number of people in your life who made that pleasure materialize. I hope I can keep this message about family and the joy of sports in my life going forward, even as I’m done spewing these 700+ words of hot air every week. It’s been this love that has kept me afloat in my darkest times, and I hope I can keep it alive.
As one of my all-time favorite authors, J.R.R. Tolkien, writes at the end of “The Return of the King,” as Frodo and Sam prepare to part ways:
Still round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate,
And though I oft have passed them by,
A day will come at last when I
Shall take the hidden paths that run
West of the Moon, East of the Sun.
Sports have been a huge portion of my life for basically my entire existence, but though I’ve walked down that road many times, I never noticed how much company I had along the way.
As for those dreams, I know there’s no hope of turning back the clock, but as a man much smarter than me once wrote, “The road goes ever, ever on.” I’m sure that Stanford, in some capacity, will appear on my own road a few more times, and if it does, I hope I can keep my eyes open and find those other paths in the way that sports have shown me. I may wish that I did some things differently, but the road goes on and there are more games to be played. And thanks to my friends, my family, The Daily and Stanford, I’m more equipped than I’ve ever been to step up to the plate and swing with everything I’ve got.
As the end of the year nears and “Lord of the Rings” quotations get more numerous, contact Vihan Lakshman at vihan ‘at’ stanford.edu if you feel like a more diverse canon of motivational quotes is needed. Suggestions currently include the movies “Rudy” and “The Princess Diaries” (we didn’t agree with that second one either, but apparently Winston Shi feels quite strongly…).