Authentic Eagles: Nicole Schuster On Privilege

As Boston College students, it can be tempting to hide our struggles in the constant quest to appear perfect. Embracing our truths can help us to understand ourselves and experience the world around us as genuinely as possible. Authentic Eagles is a series that gives a voice to the people who have experienced firsthand the trials and tribulations of being one’s authentic self at BC.

Nicole Schuster, LSOE ’14

Whenever I watch the movie Cheaper By the Dozen, I am easily reminded of my family dynamics. Growing up as the youngest of five children, there has never been a dull moment in our house, making a life without chaos seem strange to me. Someone always had a lacrosse game, fought over “hand me down” clothes, or dared one another to do something that definitely pushed my mother’s buttons beyond her liking. Yet no matter what was going on, my parents always found a way to calm the storm.

While my family has been thriving in the business, medical, legal, and educational fields, I have been known as the athletic one. I was the classic tom-boy who solely sported my brothers’ clothes and bruises on my knees from beating the neighborhood boys in street hockey and basketball. I even used to rebel by ripping holes in every pair of stockings I owned so that I didn’t have to dress girly (sorry mom!). But it wasn’t until I watched my sister Katie play in her high school field hockey game that I found my niche.

If you asked me four years ago what I valued more, field hockey or family, my answer hands down would have been field hockey. My commitment to the national field hockey program was so dominant that I missed every major holiday, summers, family events, and the births of my nieces and nephew. I spent my teenage birthdays in Italy, Amsterdam, and Argentina. My lifelong dream was to play at the Olympics and my family was more than supportive of my dream, but my lack of presence in their lives eventually allowed a gap to develop between us.

Over the past four years, I have come to dread the sound of my cell phone ringing. The storm of phone calls started in the spring of my senior year of high school when I was on tour with my USA U-19 team in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I will never forget the panic in my mom’s voice from over 5,000 miles away as she told me that my oldest sister, Amy, was in early labor with my niece and they were both hemorrhaging so badly that they might die. I could feel the anxiety rush through my body as my mom begged me to come home from the shore because my other sister, Katie, had a stroke at the age of 25. I can vividly recall my discussion with my parents about my hopes for a better second-semester freshman year being interrupted by my brother-in-law’s phone call to report that Katie was in labor four months early with my nephew, Eddie. I get the chills, even on a balmy summer day, when I walk past the benches between Lynch and Merkert as I imagine the snowflakes falling around me as my mom cried out on the phone, “He has cancer! Eddie, a baby, cancer!” And I can still feel the warm hugs from my friends as they soothed my uncontrollable sobs at 11:30 p.m. on a Thursday night this past October after my mom called to say my brother, Danny, had a massive heart attack at the age of 34.

They say when it rains it pours and for my family, it has been a torrential downpour on our lives for the past four years. Just when it seems like a beam of light will break through the storm clouds that appear to be magnetically following us, God decides to throw yet another lightning bolt down on our family. My response to these lightning bolts has been to organize fundraisers and allow my goofy personality to shine as a source of relief for my family. Having gone through such trying moments made me think that I was invincible, but little did I know that my spark would fade away when I was faced with my hardest challenge yet.

Over the past four years, field hockey has always been the one stable outlet for me at BC that has allowed me to breathe and momentarily escape from the chaos at home. But within the blink of an eye, my safe haven that allowed me to ignite my inner most passions with just the flick of my wrists was robbed from me. Last year, I had three severe concussions in a span of seven months.

I so badly wanted to slap on my shin guards, lace up my cleats, and hit around with my teammates on the pitch, but this privilege was now impossible. Every day I would wake up and wish it were all a nightmare, but my ignorance would quickly be awoken by the stirring of a deep headache, cloudy vision, and nausea so bad that I felt like the room was spinning any time I lifted my head from my pillow.

Not only did my concussions take away my passion, but they also deprived me of any type of normalcy in my life outside of Conte. I was physically unable to go to class, watch practice, listen to music, watch TV, text, use my computer, and the list goes on. My busy schedule as a student-athlete was essentially limited to the bleak confinements of my single room on 249B Foster Street and Mass General Hospital.

My family understood my struggle to accept God’s plan for my athletic career, but they refused to allow my spark fade away with my jersey. My parents and siblings helped me come to terms with my new identity beyond that of a field hockey pitch by constantly reminding me to be grateful because there are worse situations in life than my career ending injury or our family’s health problems.

While I wish my nephew could be a normal toddler running outside and not tied up to bags of chemotherapy and my brother didn’t need to rely on a defibrillator in his thirties, these experiences have allowed my family to grow closer and stronger than I thought was ever possible. More importantly, I have come to cherish my privileges of being born healthy, having no allergies, being cancer-free, having vision in both of my eyes, and having a healthy heart—something that I took for granted every day of my life just four years ago.

Despite each adversity my family has overcome or continues to fight on a daily basis, I can now say that I am truly thankful for these struggles because without them I wouldn’t be half the daughter, sister, aunt, or friend that I am today.