Play Where your Feet are
I’m Cameron Dobbs -- Student. Athlete. Mental Health Advocate. And Human. This is me, uncut.
For my entire life, I have been the try-hard, the overachiever, the girl who had it all together with high goals and a working plan to reach them. My Miami teammates would introduce me to recruits saying, “If you want someone who has done everything with every possible organization and done it well - all at the same time, talk to Cam.”
I was a starter on the Canes volleyball team, co-President of Fellowship of Christian Athletes, launched and led Operation Christmas Child at UM, served on the executive board of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee at Miami and at the ACC conference level, hosted and reported with UMTV, was at the top of my academic class, and served at Metro Life Church. Living the dream, life was good.
I accomplished a lot -- and it was earned with sacrifice, an unyielding work ethic, long days, short nights, motivation, confidence, a refusal to quit, and lots of stress.
In the fall of 2019, I entered my junior season on the court and began my senior year in the classroom. Graduation was planned for the following May, earning my undergraduate degree in just three years. Following, an internship with the ACC Network or ESPN, and a Masters in Journalism during my final and senior season of volleyball. Playing professionally overseas completed the checking of all the boxes. I had a plan. A fabulous plan.
That plan changed on September 7, 2019, in the first tournament, first match, first set, and first point of my junior season. USF set their right side, I made a pretty good move to block - but as good as it was, my hands were wide, and the high-velocity ball nailed me in the middle of my forehead, bouncing off of my head hitting the ceiling of the back of the gym. Yes -- the ceiling. Coming down from the block, I immediately knew something was off. I was off. I was out of it.
This wasn’t the first time I had felt that way. Flashback to my sophomore season. Playing defense during practice, a ball ricocheted off the ceiling. I sprinted to recover the ball, not knowing my teammate was doing the same. We collided full-speed with my head into her collar bone. Concussion number one.
In the following spring, 2019, as I am blocking in practice, my teammate elbows me in the head. Concussion number two.
This brings us back to the first tournament, first match, first set, and first point of my junior season. Concussion number three - all three concussions within one year.
Following the third concussion -- the next four months looked painfully like this: filling out symptom sheets with my trainer seven days a week, countless doctors’ appointments, multiple medications, vestibular therapy, cognitive therapy, and straight-up psychological therapy to keep me sane. The day’s routine included being asked how I was feeling and the constant let down of my response, “No improvement. I feel terrible.” I hoped the next day or week would be better. But it wasn’t. Each week we wished I would be well enough to travel with the team, but instead the busses pulled away leaving me at home alone in the dark, huddled in bed. I was isolated, irrelevant, and felt forgotten. My physical symptoms were constant and included headaches, nausea, vertigo, pressure in my head, dizziness, and hypersensitivity to light and sound. Oh, and all those organizations I was organizing? Completely gone. I lost it all. I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t attend practices. I couldn’t go to class. I couldn’t read and stay caught up with assignments. I couldn’t look at PowerPoints. I could barely even look at a screen long enough to email my professors and explain the situation. I was falling way behind in school. I had limited screen time - no social media or Netflix! My exercise routine went from practicing, lifting, and running for four hours a day to walking a maximum of 1 mph on the treadmill for 10 minutes a day -- if and only if my brain and heart rate could stand it. In order to remotely survive, I wore sunglasses, earplugs, and headphones to the limited places I went. Things that were so simple before, were now so complicated. And for four months, I battled anxiety and depression.
Every single day I thought -- How will I come back from this? How will I be able to catch up on schoolwork, film, edit, produce news packages, study lectures, take tests, make all As, practice, travel, play, watch film, lead and serve in my organizations, and make it to church Monday nights?!
I can’t afford to be behind in school. What happens if I can’t finish this semester? Do I withdraw? How will I overcome incompletes? Do I have to push back next semester and not graduate in three years? I won’t start my masters on time. Will I miss the opportunity of having my masters paid for all together? Will my scholarship be affected? Will I just take dumb classes to finish my senior season?
What about my future career? I have to look at a screen for my career. What if my headaches never go away from looking at bright studio lights? Is my ESPN dream over?
And my biggest questions - Will I get better? Will I play again? Do I have to squash my dreams of playing professionally, too?
Months later. Those questions were answered. Indeed, the beginning of my junior season, September 7, 2019, was the ending. It was the last day I would ever put on a Hurricanes jersey and step on the court to play. This, after an entire decade playing the sport that defined me to many, the sport I loved -- and still love.
Even with my head healing, the months following medically retiring were not all rainbows and butterflies. The mental health struggles had just begun.
For months, I looked at myself in the mirror and scoffed. I was pathetic. Wearing headphones, earplugs, sunglasses, and hats for four months? Not so attractive. Explaining my situation to every athlete, coach, friend, and family member? Complicated. Having the athletic ability of an avocado? Embarrassing.
Sidelining those dreams of ACC awards, playing professionally, and other athletic accomplishments took a toll on me. In fact, they still do. I had not worked so hard for more than a decade and a half training, preparing, and improving my athletic ability only to be forced to give it all up when I was 20 years old and at my prime. By medically retiring, I will never be able to prove myself. I will never be able to test my skill to see if I am good enough. I will never even be able to try. I will never even be able to fail! Because of this, I disappointed myself.
Many times -- I even questioned: Couldn’t I have just pushed through and taken the risks and finished my college career? I was playing a game of what-ifs and losing terribly.
I have always been taught to love others as you love yourself. That’s really hard when you don’t love yourself.
I look down on myself, disappointed. Refusing to give grace. Refusing to accept me as the injured athlete who had to quit because of a few too many bumps to her head.
I constantly compare post injured Cam to pre injured Cam. I used to jump so high, run so fast, lift 70 lb dumbbells. Now? A couple of eight pounders exhaust me.
Insanity has been defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Nothing was changing. Not my methods, not my mindset, not my feelings, not my attitude, not my results. It was insane.
In the Canes Volleyball program, we clearly define our three core values. One core value is Change. Change defined as, overcoming productive discomfort.
My life changed when I decided to do just that.
I started seeing a sports psychologist in September.
Being a three on the enneagram, I care way too much about achievements and what people think of me. So I kept all of my feelings and emotions inside until I got to the appointment then I would finally be able to just let it ALLLLL out. But after the appointment, the door would close, and so would I. I wouldn’t really talk about the appointments, I NEVER posted anything on social media, and I didn’t say much to anyone about how I was dealing with some hard things! Now, over a year later, I still don’t know much about mental health. I haven’t studied psychology, and I have a lot to learn. BUT I am pushing myself to be more vocal about and educated on mental health -- My mental health, and the mental health of the athletes surrounding me.
In the Canes Volleyball program, we value change because it assists our objective, our purpose -- to become the best learners in the world.
Through my own struggles, I learned a LOT.
I learned that it’s okay to say no and treat yourself with rest.
I learned it’s okay -- to not be okay.
I learned that my identity is not rooted in my performance on the court or in the classroom. My identity is rooted in Jesus Christ.
I learned to value change, more than ever. Just like on the court with the Canes -- It was my mission to overcome productive discomfort.
I did just that, by learning to play where my feet are.
By playing where my feet are, I am able to give myself grace.
Looking back when I was injured -- my arena was no longer an Olympic weight room, outdoor track, and three courts to practice on. The playing field I was participating in -- included three doctors’ offices. My focus was on my brain and doing whatever I needed to do to heal, to see progress. Some days it was hoping I could walk two miles per hour on the treadmill. Some days it was hoping I could sit in class for more than 20 minutes. Other times, it was simply hoping I could get out of bed that day, walk to my kitchen and back without becoming light-headed. I understood that my goal was not to accumulate ACC accolades anymore. It was simply to heal.
Today, I still play where my feet are. Even when I’m not playing at all. As a coach on the sidelines, I’m playing where my feet are. I’m doing my best to be the best where I am. Not to be better than others, but to be my best for me so I can be the best for them -- my teammates, my coaches, the program, the University of Miami.
I play where my feet are as a medically retired student-athlete who has struggled with anxiety and depression. How? By doing things like this. Sharing my story and hoping to hear yours too.
The struggles of mental health that came with concussions and medically retiring were unprecedented and overwhelmingly eye-opening.
With the inspiration for a platform to showcase the passions, personalities, and perseverance of Hurricane athletes, I have founded UNCUT Miami Inc.
All with the aim to humanize athletes by sharing their passions and personalities beyond just their play on the court. To refuse to shy away from our struggles. To share our battle scars, those seen and those unseen. To encourage all that “alone” is not in our vocabulary. And to tell you -- it’s okay to not be okay. Break the cycle of insanity. Overcome productive change -- make new moves to avoid old mistakes.
Don’t stay where your feet are, do your best, be your best, and play where your feet are -- no matter what, no matter where.
I’m Cameron Dobbs. And I’m an UNCUT athlete.