Like father, like daughter

How my dad inspired my love for sports

Sophia Chen

Dear Dad,

You were my superhero in a lot of ways, but one thing that always amazed me was the sheer amount of sports you played. Even in your 40s, your weekends and lunch breaks were filled with basketball games and tennis matches. You would always drag me and my sister to some gym or park for whatever sports game, running around soaking your shirt in sweat with other middle-aged men.

Of course, I was a lot more interested in playing games on the iPad in the bleachers than actually watching your boring baseball games that seemed to drag on forever (I’m sorry). I would barely glance at the old TV when you had an NBA game on — but I do remember you had always loved Jeremy Lin and always watched whatever team he was playing on.

But these moments that didn’t mean anything to me as a kid became like all the other memories of you over the years after you died — blurred to a point beyond recognition and just out of reach. Yet, as I delved into sports beyond the swim classes at the YMCA that you and Mom signed me up for since kindergarten, those mundane moments started becoming … a lot more mundane.

It’s not just missing memories of watching you enjoy something you were so passionate about; throughout the seven years I’ve played basketball, I’ve sometimes imagined what kind of basketball player I would have been if you were still here — what you could have taught me, what we could have practiced in the off-season, what we could have talked about as people who understood the game. I’ve wondered what it would have been like to have someone who I could share this passion.

Beyond every second of every basketball game I played, there are so many other moments that I wished I could have shared with you: fumbling my way through my first middle school volleyball game, running my first cross country meet sub-7:00 pace, nearly tripping over my first-ever hurdle at my first track meet. I feel like the highs and lows people experience while playing sports are universal — I’m sure there’s so much we could have talked about.

Even without you, I’ve still had my moments. There are little moments of triumph — like when I scored 17 points on your birthday — and pressure — like when I knew your former basketball buddy was going to be at the game.

But the moment that has stuck with me most was the small, innocuous comment Mom made after a game when she peeked through the door for the last couple of minutes. 

She said that I reminded her of you when I was on the floor scrambling for the ball.

Every loose ball I dive for, every single shirt I’ve soaked in sweat from exertion, every time I push myself to my limit show that you’re a part of who I am as an athlete. Your drive, your dedication and your ability to just enjoy the moment has shaped me into who I am as an athlete, and in turn, have made me a better person.

For all the sports I’ve done before, for every single sport I’ve added to my repertoire, I did them in part because of you, Dad. And even without you, I believe that I got everything out of sports you would have wanted me to.

While I regret rarely looking up from my iPad to watch you play basketball, tennis or baseball, and while I wished you could have seen who I became beyond fifth grade, I know that sports will still be a huge part of my life as I navigate the world of college and beyond even that.

And maybe I’ll still be playing sports in my 40s like you did. Maybe I’ll wake up and run four miles before work, fill my weekends and lunch breaks doing something that I love. That you loved. And I thank you for still being a part of my life.

With so much love,

Sophia Chen