**This is a personal piece written by Mackenzie Meaney and was edited by the Editorial Manager**
Growing up, I always knew that sports would be a part of my life, one way or another.
While I was never a competitive swimmer, my first swimming experience happened in my backyard, where I swam before I could even walk. I loved being in the water. Hopping on our front pool steps, sliding down the slide, diving for toys.
Kicking around the soccer ball, running around trying to score goals, kicking the ball as far as I could. Even playing catch with my Dad, sports have been running through me for a very long time.
My sports career definitely starts with my Mom and Dad, and my siblings. I am the youngest of four, so I think I had the most areas of influence in my life. Everyone in my family was an athlete, so it only made sense that I followed suit. My first love was soccer.
My first memories on the field were with my older sister, Morgan. Morgan and I played youth soccer in our town, and I remember that she said we both had to have the same number. Being a little sister who is absolutely obsessed with her older sister, and wants to be just like her, I obviously agreed, and we were both number four that year. I loved to score, and she loved to prove that she could shut me down. She naturally settled into being a defender, so it made for good sibling competitions growing up.
I eventually made the shift from a local town team, to the travel team. At 11, that seemed like the big leagues. Everyone had better skills, better speed, and better connections, as they had all been playing together for the last few years. My coach at the time was a man named Pierre Soubrier, who was in his pre-married-to-Crystal-Dunn era. He would spend time with me and made sure that I was never frustrated or upset about my difference in skill compared to everyone else.
In addition to playing soccer growing up, I tried out softball. My dad was my coach, which was really fun, but I had more fun playing in the infield dirt than paying attention to the game unfolding. I did have one spectacular play at third base though.
So since softball was out, my dad urged me to try lacrosse. I initially didn’t really want to play it, but my town was trying to grow a youth program. I started to play lacrosse at age 12 but then quit that same season. It just wasn’t what I wanted to do.
The following year I started middle school, and our school system combined the middle school with the town over. As I met so many new people, I learned that they all played lacrosse on the team I quit a year prior. So, I decided to give it another shot.
I did not think I would fall in love with it, but I fell HARD in love with lacrosse.
I met some of my greatest friends through the sport and had the opportunity to play on my college’s club team. I was even able to coach with the James Vick Foundation, a non-profit club that allows kids and teens to have the ability to play a club sport, without all of the price tags.
In high school, I decided to do something really crazy, and try out for my high school’s ice hockey team. I had never played before, but I was a pretty good skater, and my dad played, so it seemed like something I could pick up. I showed up to that first tryout and realized I was completely out of my league, but I was having so much fun.
Four years later, and after a lot of hard work, I became the captain of my high school team, and my club hockey team won our division’s state championship. Post high school, I found a team local to where I went to college and got to play with some incredible women. While it was still competitive, they showed me just how fun hockey really is, when you get together with people from all over and work hard on the ice.
All throughout the first 16 years of my life, sports had always been constant. A non-negotiable, non-moving thing that structured my life and my schedule. As I started to play hockey, I met some incredible people who identified under the LGBTQ+ umbrella. To be so young and to be so comfortable was something I admired in the locker room.
I had these two teammates that were in a relationship with one another. I will never forget how they looked at each other, how they loved each other in a way that I had never even seen before. I was almost jealous of it because I was in a relationship and I knew my boyfriend and mine’s love didn’t look anything like that. And sure, everybody loves differently, but I felt like that was the love I had desired and had been looking for, and finally found it in that moment.
I wish it was something magical of an experience like the clouds rolled away and the sun shined down, or that I started to see rainbows in everything around me.
It was hard. Coming out and coming to terms with who I was, was really, really hard. Especially with a boyfriend. We ultimately parted ways as he was going to college out of state, but now here I am, 16 years old, trying to look myself in the eyes in the mirror and say that phrase out loud, but not too loud so no one else can hear it.
I remember the first person I came out to was a teammate I had on my high school lacrosse team named Mia. I was on the phone with them, sitting in my garage, crying my eyes out. Now we weren’t particularly close, other than that we were teammates, but for whatever reason, I called her, she answered, and I told her.
I think that was really the “clouds rolling away and the sun shining down” moment. I have never felt relief like that before in my whole life. To come out and say that I am gay to someone for the first time, and their response being positive was a rollercoaster of emotions that I can’t even put into words.
After I came out to her, I started to come out to my best friends and my inner circle, and they were all super supportive. I started dating a person in my grade and things were going great.
But, when you go to a small catholic high school, everyone knows everything, and pretty soon everyone knew I was gay and who I was dating. I won’t call it being outed, even if that’s what it felt like, but word travels fast in high school hallways, and all of a sudden the control I had over my identity was no longer mine.
Part of me still gets a bit upset when I think about it, but another part of me is happy it happened. It forced me to own it, and own who I am, which is something I never would have done at 17 if I didn’t have to.
As my junior and senior years went on, I had encounters with some people who were homophobic, but I also made some changes. I fought to take my girlfriend at the time to prom, and connected with so many other queer kids in my high school, and as college went on I met so many other incredible queer people who made college one of the best and most safe feeling places on the planet.
I got my undergraduate degree from Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York. I had no clue what I wanted to study, but I had a teacher in high school tell me I should be a writer, so I gave journalism a shot and I fell in love with it.
In Marist’s school of communication’s building is this little room at the end of a hallway. It has three large glass windows, a TV that usually has ESPN on (if it's even working that day), and a round table with some chairs around it. Freshman year, I always saw people in there, having a good time, and I wanted to be in there too, but I didn’t know how. It wasn’t until I declared a second concentration, sports communication, that I was invited to the special room and learned it was the home base of Center Field, Marist’s sports publication.
I later learned that the room is called the fishbowl. There are meetings there every Wednesday and is almost entirely student-run by incredible writers, and even more incredible people. If you had told me after my first meeting sophomore year that I would be one of those leaders, I don’t think I’d believe you.
Throughout my time at Marist, I covered the women’s lacrosse team, wrote features about tons of athletes and coaches, and helped break news about domestic violence claims and sexual assault allegations. Not only was I covering sports, but I learned that good publications cover more than just sports. Good publications tell the stories that need to be told, even if they get in trouble. The truth is important and people who live on that campus deserved to know it. So, we delivered it.
When the pandemic hit in 2020, there obviously were no sports going on at campus or around the world. Everything was shut down. The stories for CF were dwindling as we just had to wait and see what was going to happen. While exploring other outlets to potentially write for to keep my skills sharp, I stumbled upon a little website called GoodSport, which was hiring interns.
I think you know how the rest of this goes, but, here’s a spark notes version of my career here thus far:
I started in July 2020 and was pumping out content like never before. I did three stories a week, all picked from a budget we had plus whatever ideas were floating around in my head, or news on social media. Eventually, GoodSport shifted to do more human interest pieces — feature writing. I landed a few incredible interviews with some incredible athletes, but there was one athlete in particular who really changed my career.
Her name is Noelle Lambert, a U.S. Paralympian who played college lacrosse. She lost her leg in college in an accident, and then came back and played her senior season. It is an incredible story, as many Paralympic stories are, but her’s means a bit more to me because it literally changed my life.
On April 7, 2021, I was sitting outside doing homework at Marist, on a date with a girl that I was interested in. As the sun started to set, we packed up our things and decided we would do a quick walk around campus. I checked my email on my phone, and received one from my boss that said something along the lines of, “Hey Mackenzie, we just launched a new partnership with Sports Illustrated, and your feature on Noelle was the first to go up in the new deal.”
The only thing I could say after reading it was “oh my god.”
Since then, I have had the incredible opportunity to speak to so many Paralympians and incredible athletes, some of which have also made their way to SI. I’ve done over 50 pieces for GoodSport, and have earned the title of “longest-tenured intern”.
I have learned so much about myself over the last four years of college and two years at GoodSport. Not just in the writing space but personally as well. I am more comfortable with who I am than I ever thought I would be, I have made great connections with both the people I went to school with and the people I work with, and I’m going to start graduate school.
I like to think that I have made a name for myself in some way, but I'm still a nobody in the journalism world. I could be a nobody forever, but as long as I get to tell stories like this for the rest of my life, I'll take nobody over notoriety any day of the week.
Photo credits: Mackenzie Meaney