Thursday, May 26, 2022
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A Battle on and off the Court

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Hearing the words “D1 Athlete” sparks instant interest. It’s every athlete’s dream to play the sport they love at the highest level, but it isn’t always so simple.

Brian Garcia, a D1 Men’s Volleyball player at UC Irvine and fellow New University sports staff writer, shared the struggles he faced during his athletic career.

The fourth year history major played for Madera High, but his talent was noticed when he played club volleyball in Sacramento, Calif., three hours away from his hometown, Madera, Calif. Garcia caught the eye of UC Irvine Men’s Volleyball Head Coach David Kniffin at a tournament in nearby Anaheim. After conversations between the two, Garcia was eventually invited for an unofficial visit later that weekend. Deciding between other offers on the table, Brian ultimately chose the Anteater route.

Garcia’s decision to join UC Irvine fulfilled his dream of playing collegiate volleyball. Coming from a small, rural town where volleyball wasn’t relevant, his commitment was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

However, his life changed forever once he arrived at UC Irvine.

During Garcia’s freshman season, he was an active part of the team, getting the chance to contribute and even start in a couple matches. He felt that his college career was off to a great start. However, as the year progressed, Garcia noticed something wrong with his health. Random spurts of fatigue and aches plagued him. He immediately knew it was an emergency.

Garcia decided to see a doctor in February 2019. A month later, on March 27, 2019, he was diagnosed with cancer.

“When [the doctor] told me, I didn’t really believe him. It didn’t hit me, but he called my mom to explain to her. She was distraught and I was kind of confused, but when I heard her voice I knew she was sad. When I knew she was sad, I knew the severity of it,” Garcia said.

Garcia had surgery to remove the tumor a couple days later on April 1, 2019, ending his freshman campaign. Following that, he continued to see his oncologist for mandatory checkups. Eventually, a month after his surgery, Garcia’s oncologist ordered a regimen of chemotherapy.

“It took me two and a half months to finish chemo. Every round was three weeks essentially. Each round, I would do five days straight of chemotherapy. I was prescribed two bags of chemo each day, taking about four to six hours to finish.”

As a result of his treatment, Garcia began to feel the horrific side effects of chemotherapy. He lost his hair, felt constantly fatigued, frequently vomited and was scarred from the chemo, which burned his veins. Most of all, Garcia lost the ability to play volleyball.

“I felt extremely bereft and sad that I could not play,” Garcia said. “Volleyball was all I had at that moment and it wasn’t there. I felt that I completely lost everything.”

As an athlete, Garcia was upset at being taken away from volleyball, but he prioritized his health. It took roughly around six to seven months for him to regain the strength he once had in his body and to recover from his treatment.

Years after recovery, Garcia reflected on his illness and recognized the lessons he had learned from his cancer diagnosis, focusing on the people that helped him through his disease. While his mother and head coach cared for him through most of his struggles, Garcia recognized his best friend and teammate Jonny Bowles as standing out to him the most.

“Jonny would visit me when he had the chance,” Garcia said. “When I received treatment, we watched the NBA Finals. He helped me feel like I didn’t have cancer anymore.”

The student athlete title blinds many to think they have it all figured out. On top of pursuing an education, athletes are expected to perform and to be great. However, they struggle just as much as anyone else.

“People overlook athletes. In a way, we are kind of stigmatized. We do get it easy sometimes, but people don’t always appreciate what we do. It’s hard being an athlete,” Garcia said.

Juggling academics, athletics and a social life can be exhausting, and college athletes’ mental health is often overlooked. Recognizing the struggles and pains of all students should be a priority in helping and guiding them on the path to success.

“I believe now that everybody should focus on their health before anything else,” Garcia said. “Especially with mental health, we all need to be well before we can progressively move forward.”

Garcia hopes that his story helps all students to prioritize their well-being and pursue their maximum potential.

Jazlyn Flores is a Sports Intern for the 2022 winter quarter. She can be reached at jazlynpf@uci.edu.