Finding out our Olympic fate

Rachel Dawson played in the High Performance National Championship as part of the U.S. Olympic team selection process. Yuchen Nite/USA Field Hockey

Back slumped against the wall, legs extended, exhausted yet relieved, I sat on the training room table.

Katie, the team physio, looked at me quizzically. "What happened to you? You were supposed to be back from your run at 12:15."

It was 1:24.

"Went for an adventure," I said, laughing, although it was the truth. "Got lost in the woods -- don't ask me how -- and saw a snake, a raccoon and two deer. Nearly got attacked. I'm lucky to be alive."

She smirked. "You are losing it, Rach. Let's do stim and ice."


It was Wednesday -- hump day -- a midtournament "day off." The U.S. national field hockey team had been at the University of Maryland for a week, split up among eight regional teams and alongside countless young players, competing against one another in USA Field Hockey's Annual High Performance National Championship.

But in the middle of it all, my national teammates and I had one major thing hanging over us: Olympic selection. We'd know our fate on Friday -- Olympics or not. It was miserable. And I'm pretty sure my lost-in-the-woods episode was due to this Olympic preoccupation.

Lauren Crandall sat on a training table beside me. "Has Lee emailed the times for our individual meetings on Friday yet?"

Lee Bodimeade, our head coach, was setting up appointments with each of us to tell us whether we'd made the team.

"I think I just got it." Paige Selenski piped up from the back of the room.

She read the list. Twenty-five athletes waited anxiously. Only 16 would make the team.

5:15 – 5:20: Rachel Dawson

A shiver of helplessness quivered in my stomach. Laughter rose to the back of my throat. Five minutes, I thought. It wouldn't take nearly that long.

It takes years to build your Olympic case, and a moment to destroy it. Olympic selection sucks. It's harsh. It's honest. It's absolute.

We give the journey so much. We give it our days that somehow become years. We give it our minds, bodies and souls. We care about our sport when no one else cares -- in those years between the Olympics -- and we fight when no one thinks we stand a chance. Even when we are reluctant to give, we do, because we know that we must give our entire selves in order to win and to play for Team USA.

And it is very scary to give yourself to something that is so uncertain. Something that in recompense gives you five minutes. Five minutes you don't even want because you know five minutes is too long. A simple yes or a dreaded no -- an absolute that will shape the course of your next few days, months, or even years.

At 5:11 on Friday, I had been at the field since 8:30 a.m. I felt the heft of sunburn and exhaustion on my shoulders. I stepped inside the Comcast Center, and walked down the corridor toward the Maryland women's basketball offices. I saw the name plaque on the wall as I entered the door: Brenda Frese.

Memories rushed back to me. In the middle of a Virginia summer nearly 10 years ago, it was hot as heck outside and even hotter inside as I played basketball in a little box of a gym. Brenda Frese sat midway up the stands. The new Maryland coach wasn't there for me -- she was there watching the stud I was guarding. I dreamed of playing basketball in college and thought that if I played my heart out, defended well enough, maybe I'd impress her. Maybe, just maybe, I could hang up my stick and pursue the sport I first loved.

But that wasn't in the cards for me. Fate said no back then, and I wasn't recruited onto a top college basketball team. Now, years later, it was Brenda Frese's office that my field hockey coaches were using for Olympic selection meetings. What weird irony. I walked in and sat down. Lee's lips moved as his words filled the air. My eyes watered and tears fell.

I stood up, and my feet feebly searched for solid ground. I walked out of the Comcast building, sat on the concrete wall and sighed. I'm going to the Olympics, I thought. I had known my chances were good, but you never know for sure, and I never like to make assumptions one way or the other.

A few moments later, Katelyn Falgowski walked out toward me, as one of my new Olympic teammates. She hugged me, and said, "Congrats, Rach."

"Congrats, Fraggle," I said, smiling.

In silence, proud yet humble, we stood waiting for others.

Then the doors to the Comcast Center opened again. With head held high and shoulders back, a smile graced the face of Jesse Gey, one of my absolute favorite people in the world, and an old college teammate. She took a deep breath and shook her head. No.

My heart sunk. But in that moment, I saw true courage in the face of a great teammate and friend, determined to support Team USA whether she made the team or not. And I remembered that it is the journey, with all of its heartbreak and joy combined, that makes our dreams so special.

But Olympic selection still completely sucks.