My Darling Daughter’s journey at the U.S. Air Force Academy was abruptly interrupted last week by a mishap during practice for the Cadet physical fitness evaluation. It was one of those random, freaky injuries that can lead a person to wonder about the state of justice in the universe, one of those things that so easily might not have happened had there been an incremental shift in her balance or the direction of her momentum. Something tore in her knee, and she spent the next several days on crutches, going back and forth to the hospital for examinations, x-rays, and MRIs.
It’s a difficult, painful thing to have built up a head of steam in a very challenging program, bonded with your comrades, and gained a certainty that this is not only a good place to spend your college years, but perhaps the best of all possible choices for you, only to find yourself on the bench, watching everyone else move forward while you contemplate an uncertain future.
What amazed me was the way she coped with such a heartbreaking setback. Many other young people in her position would have simply called it quits right then and returned home for good. Some of her classmates had already decided the Academy wasn’t for them, and self-eliminated. She was frustrated, and angry, but my daughter never lost hope, and she never stopped fighting. She stayed with her unit and did everything her injury would allow, right up to the time it became clear that her knee wasn’t going to mend itself, at least not in time for her to finish basic training. She tried to keep focusing on the positive and learn as much as she could for as long as she could. I think that determination earned her a lot of respect from her cadre and her classmates.
Thankfully, her injury was deemed sufficient to grant her “medical turnback” status, which reserves a place for her in next year’s class without the need to run the admissions gauntlet again. She won’t have to fight a new cohort of applicants for a handful of openings, weaving through the endless maze of forms, interviews, and letters to congressmen, trying to prove herself worthy all over again. That would have been the unkindest cut of all.
She’s coming home tomorrow, and she’ll have a year to rehab the injury and build up her physical conditioning. She’ll take a few college classes to keep her study habits and academic skills fresh. A year’s a long time to wait, but she’s determined, and she’s relentless when she’s decided on a course of action. I have no doubt she’ll come back stronger and harder and more confident than ever. She’s seen what the program requires, and she knows it’s within her capabilities.
My daughter “fell in love” with the Academy in those first few weeks, something I probably couldn’t have said myself at the same point in my own training, and her injury did nothing to change that. In her mind, and in her heart, there was never any doubt she would return, even though it meant starting all over again.
This isn’t the end of the journey—it’s just a speed bump.