Dear Athletics,

Throughout my 18 years, you have always been a part of my life. Growing up, I developed pride in being a Newton Cardinal as well as a love for competition. I am the youngest of three female athletes and have always been competitive, from family board games to one-on-one basketball. When I was young, I spent the majority of my time watching you in my sisters’ tournaments and games; but I also wanted to get in the game myself. I started you as soon as I was able with playing YMCA soccer as a 5 year old — where the post-game snacks and social times were the main event. Whether supporting my sisters or joining myself, Sports, you have been shaping who I am.

Growing up, not only was I raised with a competitive nature but also a mindset of doing everything to the best of my ability. Therefore, no matter how big, small, or silly a task seemed, I would execute it to the best of my ability and strived for improvement. Over my years, I learned the importance of using criticism from my sisters, parents, and coaches to my advantage. Every game or race was an opportunity to grow and learn from others who had been in my position. Through my sisters’ leadership, I had two great examples of hard work, integrity and grace. I learned to wholeheartedly pursue my passions and found purpose in using my God given abilities and potential.  Sports, thank you for allowing me to use my gifts. I have fallen in love with your journeys and the hard work you require.

As my high school athletic career ends, I reflect on your influence in my life. You teach valuable lessons and build character to carry in my future. One quote reads, “Character isn’t inherited. One builds it daily by the way one thinks and acts, thought by thought, and action by action.” Play by play, practice by practice, and game by game, you shaped my thoughts, refined my motivation, and cultivated character. You gave me confidence to believe in myself. You taught me value in goal setting, with satisfaction in success and fulfillment in the process of pursuing it. You caused pain and numerous injuries, but strengthened my perseverance. You taught me punctuality, accountability, and teamwork. You allowed me to build friendships with my teammates and other schools’ competitors. And with relationships, I acquired relational skills such as communication, leadership, respect, and empathy.  My teammates and I learned perseverance in adversity, as well as humility in success. Yet, these lessons are just a snapshot of the traits you developed in me.

Sports, you hold some of my greatest memories. I have been blessed with opportunities to compete in the State Tournament for three different sports with very fond memories of each experience. But, perhaps, one of the most impactful periods of my high school career was my sophomore year when I tore my ACL and meniscus in basketball. The injury required surgery and eight months of recovery. At the time, the news was the most painful part knowing for eight months I would watch others compete in the sports I love. But remembering that I am more than physical ability, I remained an encourager on my basketball, soccer and track teams that year. During my time on the sidelines, I rediscovered what was important to me as a person rather than just an athlete— things like hard work, health, and the importance of relationships. It is easy to find identity in you, Sports. But, someday your competitions will end—whether it is after high school, after college, or after professional levels. Therefore, looking back, if I had the option to reverse what happened, I wouldn’t because I grew from my experiences.

Perhaps the biggest testament when faced with adversity is the response when the results and rewards seem out of reach. While I was an encourager on my teams, I was also disciplined to my therapy. I had a goal to be back on the cross country course that fall. I spent countless hours on a stationary bike—one legged at first—and in the pool in order to ensure a strong return. I cannot say I always enjoyed the therapy, but I loved the thought of competing again—so I did it. I had hope through the process and knew the injury happened for good reason. I competed again that fall and dropped my times from the previous season to eventually set the school record for a 5k. In addition to cross country, I chased other goals. On May 18th, 2017, I was released to jog 20 meters post-surgery; on May 18th, 2018, I competed in the 800 meter race at the IGHSAU State Track Meet—a goal achieved with perseverance, optimism, dedication, unattainable without the incredible support I received from teammates, coaches and family. Sports, your injuries taught me incredible perseverance which will be essential in my future relationships, academia, and career.

In addition to life lessons, one important aspect of being part of you, was learning the value in being a good teammate. I learned through injuries and leadership roles to appreciate each person for their unique strengths and how to use those strengths to be successful. Some teammates know they may never play in a varsity competition; yet, they show up every day with a positive attitude, ready to work hard and contribute in their own way. As a captain on all five of my teams, I wanted everyone to know their significance to our success. Whether they start varsity or practice scout team, every person is important. Good leaders realize the importance of team unity. Sports have taught me how to lead, how to create unity, and how to be a good team player. Albert Einstein once said that “a life lived for others is a life well lived.” By being a good teammate and servant leader, athletes have the opportunity to live outside of themselves to impact others.

Athletics, you have allowed me to be part of something greater than myself.  When I wore the words “NEWTON” across my chest and entered into competition, I not only represented myself, but my family, school and community. For years I was taught that people are always watching. Living in a small town, there were younger kids who looked up to me. In their little world, high school competitors are a big deal. And while I certainly did not feel like anything special, I knew I had the responsibility to carry the name of a Newton Cardinal well, on and off the field.  I did this by volunteering in my community and giving back to my school. I did and do strive to make a difference in the world and people around me. One particularly special volunteer experience was this past fall when a fourth grader, Emersyn, asked me to be her running buddy for the YMCA’s Girls on the Run 5k. Emersyn explained her mom could be her partner but she wanted a “real runner like Rachel Rhoads.” I was honored to be selected. I had a blast running the 5k and realized that if I can inspire one girl, like Emersyn, to follow her dreams, then that is what is important to me as an athlete. The community and younger generations look up to athletes and see what decisions they are making. Thank you, Sports, for allowing me to be a role model in my community through giving back and being a positive influence. Athletics, I cannot wait to see how you shape the future generations.

This year, having you gave me the honor to receive the IGHSAU E. Wayne Cooley Scholarship. I was recognized as the epitome of the Iowa Girl. While I felt undeserving, I realize that to embody the Iowa Girl, personally, was to pursue my passions while striving to make a difference along the way. I did what I felt called to while living with integrity to my values and beliefs. I worked hard and I played for Him who gave me the ability to compete. I played with a passion that began with a young girl who fell in love with competition. I took advantage of opportunities given to me and created the Iowa Girl in me in a way that was uniquely, me.

Athletics, as you shape the next generation of Iowa Girls I hope they remember to enjoy the moments. Celebrating successes you bring and learning from your failures. Help them build meaningful relationships, unified teams and lasting memories. Help them acquire humility, so they may learn from leaders ahead of them. Help Iowa Girls build integrity, perseverance, and leadership. Teach the Iowa Girls to embrace and grow through failure, rather than fearing it. And most importantly, remind Iowa Girls to love what they do and pursue it wholeheartedly, while having fun along the way. The Iowa Girl is in all the hearts of girls and young leaders of this state. She is found all around us and within each young athlete. She will lead the way for change in our world and our futures. So as I pass the baton to the next generation, I say thank you, Athletics, for everything you have done—especially for creating Iowa Girls.

Until Next Time,

Rachel Rhoads, 2019 Iowa Girl