by Bisi Ibrahim, '11
Stanford Women's Rugby
“We can reconstruct your nose, break your upper jaw and widen it, and remove a portion of the back of your throat.”
He shook my head like a rag doll with each mention of a body part and jabbed a tongue depressor at the skin above the areas in question as if they were already removed, already dead. My eyebrows creased and I reclaimed my head from his hands.
“No. What other options are there?”
Bedside manner clearly forgotten, “These surgeries will permanently resolve everything. There really is no need for second guessing here.”
“Second guessing? This is my face, we’re talking about.”
“We will make sure there is little scarring and we can make aesthetic improvements.”
Aesthetic improvements?! That’s the least of my worries. You are not coming anywhere near my face…clearly out of your mind…way too scalpel-happy.
“I do not think I could handle all that pain.”
“Yes, but again we can manage that as well. This is your best option and…”
“No. I want to hear the other options. I refuse to believe that taking apart my face is your best option. In fact for me it is no longer an option. This is my face, it may not be the best face in the world, but it is my face and the majority of it works just fine.”
You would never believe that this was all a conversation about treating my sleep apnea with reconstructive surgery. How had I gone from the athletic, never needing sleep, always involved, student to sleeping 26 hours straight, missing everything from classes to friends knocking at my door, and being diagnosed with a disorder that I had always thought was associated with obesity and old age? I was young. I was still in shape from my years of playing soccer, basketball, track, softball and a myriad of other sports. I grew up jogging with my dad and sisters for fun on Saturday mornings while the sun rose; we would follow it up with a game of soccer. As a sophomore in college, I was no longer on any sports teams as I had gotten injured my senior year in high school and decided that my focus in college would be purely academic. I still ran for fun and when I was stressed – I ran to calm my nerves.
So how could I have sleep apnea? Better yet how could they so nonchalantly want to take away my defining feature, the face that had been through everything with me. The face that I greeted every morning. The face that was all my own. My world felt like it was crumbling and my doctor could only see taking my identity as a quick fix and padding for his pockets. Luckily I got a second opinion. That opinion came with the world’s most hideous sleeping device, a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure machine and some advice: try getting back into sports, maybe it will help.
How was I supposed to get back to the sports I had done in high school? There was no way I would be able to get into the shape I was in during my high school years in enough time, nor did I have the motivation to stick through becoming what would assumably be a third string player, if I even made the team at all. My “Ah-ha!” moment subsequently led to the best decision I have ever made. I decided to join a club sports team in a sport I had never tried, but I figured it would be novel enough to keep me interested and invested in my health. My junior year while running late for section, I walked up to the Stanford Women’s Rugby table during the Activities Fair and wrote my information on the sign up sheet. I’m sure the girl sitting at the table, only remembers me as a blur.
I went to the first practice and immediately fell in love with rugby. At the second practice, the head coach approached me and asked, “What’s your 400 time?”
“Ummm…now or back when I was actually fast in high school?”
We talked for another minute about my speed, and then suddenly the conversation changed and I soon began to realize that after just one practice this coach was seriously asking me to consider trying out for a national team. I vaguely remember laughing in his face while wondering in my mind what planet he had come from and whether this was some ridiculous joke.
He was serious.
By February I was in Las Vegas, playing with the best of the best after having played rugby for 4 months twice a week with some additionally requested one-on-one sessions once a week just so I would not feel as if I was out of my league. I did just fine and now I have the opportunity to join the national US Women’s Sevens Rugby team as a future Olympian.
Better yet, today I feel rejuvenated. I’m back. I feel the need to sleep less, and I have more time for everything. I look back at that year and realize the biggest shift in my health happened when I returned to sports and brought rugby into my life. I have always been a firm believer that being an athlete forces you to be the best student (you develop time management that is superb to none other as well as a knack for fast paced, critical analyses of what is in front of you) and the best citizen (you learn on the field what it means to be an active participant of something bigger than your individual work), while keeping yourself healthy. That latter bit was so personally important, as that was the motivation that kept me going when it was muddy, when tears ran down my face camouflaged by the torrential rain, and every time my legs wanted to give out. Even as I remember those moments, being an athlete has reminded how far one’s limits can be pushed and all the while, the next day you’ll be left standing and more sure of yourself than ever.
I have indeed reconstructed something – my life, not my face – and I could not have done it without rugby.