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By Mason Parks

“You’re irrelevant,” I discerned as I battled for air on the ground of Rincon Field.  The further the words sunk in, the more difficult it became for me to arise. The pain of getting the wind knocked out of me was bearable, but the state of desolation I loitered in forced me to feel like the most miniscule, insignificant use of matter in the history of the universe.

Let me give you some background.

My name is Mason Parks. I’m in my second semester at the University of Arizona and have been working out at Jackson Strength for approximately two years.

In high school, I dabbled in football, rugby and track.  I was by no means an out-of-this-world, inspiring athlete, but I prided myself on possessing a tenacious, indefatigable work ethic, establishing myself as a co-captain for both rugby and track in my senior year at La Costa Canyon.  I never considered myself disregarded or received any insolence; I always felt like I was beneficial and productive to whatever team I was fortunate enough to be a part of.  I had an incredible group of friends, an irreplaceable family, supportive mentors and lived in Encinitas, which is basically Heaven on Earth.  For almost 19 years at home, I genuinely believed that I couldn’t ask for anything more.

When I first started getting recruited, it became apparent that I was bound to be a Division II, maybe low Division I athlete.  While all of my friends began to select their colleges, I was lodged in a plight; my gut commanded me to steer away from track in college, but my brain (and mom) thought that it would be deplorable to settle for rugby anywhere subpar due to my excessively long list of broken bones, tears, and, most notably, concussions.

The night following Easter, I took a call from a random number in Tucson, Arizona thinking that I had made a prodigious mistake by unwittingly answering a telemarketer.  That was not the case.

Within five minutes I transformed from perplexed high school senior to University of Arizona rugby commit.

At the first practice in mid-August, I was exuberant to be laced up on the same field as a nation-leading eight All-Americans, let alone around 100 superb players.  I wasn’t as much frightened as I was enthusiastic; I figured I was a satisfactory player in high school and should expect sufficient playing time right off the bat.  Sure, playing with kids from around the world and up to nine years older than me was dissimilar, but it’s possible to adjust to anything..  right?

The months following were the most excruciating, damaging months of my life.  I was knocked down, embarrassed and demoralized innumerable times.  My normally optimistic attitude transformed into a hopeless, pessimistic demeanor.  I understood that my problems were extremely negligible compared to the substantial difficulties a large portion of the world endured daily, but I still found myself having a burdensome time acquiring the strength to swing my legs out of bed every morning.  Usually I’m indifferent to other people’s opinions of me, but I began to feel so unwelcomed and unworthy that I shot myself into a crippling shyness. Every time a close friend or family member would ask me how rugby was going, I would avoid the question because I didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for me or hear about my first-world problems.   I dreaded communicating with any of my high school coaches because I felt like I let them all down.

My usually high motor needed an oil change; I couldn’t get myself to put forth the effort necessary to play my best, resulting in little to no positive progress.

By November, I felt more forgotten than ever.  I was sat out of drills and did not have an official position, something that I didn’t even know was possible.  The ditch I dug myself into eventually expanded into a cave.

By December, I was no longer a member of the team.

Initially, I refused to tell anyone specific details about what happened.  When asked about rugby, I would just say, “I’m not playing anymore” or “I don’t know what happened.”  It took my best friend of ten years a couple of hours to pry the truth out of me.  When I finally told him my extensive, cry-for-me-please story about how worthless I felt, he reciprocated with five simple words that changed the way I thought about everything.

“Nobody’s irrelevant to a team.”

It wasn’t until the journey home from his house that I pondered the simple words he said to me in his garage.  I came to the realization that I actually agreed with him.  Thinking of every team I had ever been on, it became apparent that the kids that took the team to the next level were the kids who had little to no playing time but still showed up to practice every day with the clear objective of making the team better.  Of course they wanted the chance to step on the field, and obviously they wanted to be stellar athletes, but if their team was winning and they knew they gave it their all, they were content rooting from the sidelines.  The star quarterback is no more valuable than the enthusiastic water boy.  The coaches are of no higher ranking than the trainers.  Sure, some players hit significantly more home runs or score more points than others, but that is the result of a whole team of people dedicating themselves to their role.  It takes a village to raise a champion.

Lying in bed that night, I applied the concept to many situations not related to sports in my head.  Bill Gates is thought of in high regard, but Microsoft would be nothing without the lower-paid, dogged accountants that dedicate themselves to their job today.  Henry Ford made some appreciable automobiles, but how well-known would Ford be if he didn’t have his blue-collar mechanics helping him out?   Leonardo DiCaprio is an unbelievable actor, but it was the make up artists, acting coaches and set dressers that laid the backbone for his career (The Revenant is a must-see, by the way).  There are hundreds and hundreds of examples that I can’t even begin to tap the surface of.

Point is, whether you’re the best player in the country or fifth string on your intramural basketball team, you matter.  Don’t just do your role, kill it.  Don’t buy into the misconception that the success of your team banks on the efforts of only a few players.  If you ever feel unappreciated, remember that your team would be completely different without you.  Show up to work every day with a smile on your face, knowing that the better you do at your job, the better off your counterparts will be.  You matter too much for you to feel unimportant.