After her freshman season on the field hockey and women’s lacrosse teams, Amanda Walton established herself as one of Yale’s most talented athletes. She earned Ivy League Rookie of the Year honors in both sports and, in her sophomore year, was named First Team All-Ivy in both. The two-sport star was on her way to rewriting the Yale record books.
But on May 28, 2000, her promising career was tragically halted. Driving through Meriden, a driver fleeing a high-speed police pursuit crashed his Buick Riviera into the side of Walton’s Saab, sending her car careening 100 feet down the street. The collision left a seriously-injured Walton in a deep coma for over a month.
Since then, Walton has gone through an extensive rehabilitation process. She returned to Yale this past fall to serve as a volunteer assistant coach for the field hockey team. Asked to speak at the Senior Varsity Dinner this year, Walton delivered an inspirational address to the peers that would have made up her graduating class. Below is the text of her speech.
Thank you for inviting me to speak to you tonight — what an honor! I feel I have something important to share with you this evening, because, before that tragic day nearly two years ago, I was a die-hard athlete. I still consider myself one today.
My strong connection to Yale athletics has played a major role in my life and my attitude, as I hope it will yours. But the main reason I feel so excited to be speaking to you this evening is that you are my graduating class from the “Big Y.”
At a challenging time for me in my recovery, and a challenging time for the world, it is hard to know what the score will turn out to be for all of us in this so-called “game of life.”
However, through my experience with sports and with Yale athletics, I believe there are lessons that dictate how we should play this game. There are three lessons in particular that I would like to share with you.
First, the importance of hard work. If I could say only six words to you tonight, they would undoubtedly be “work hard, work hard, work harder!”
As you all know, there is no greater satisfaction than when you have given your all. If you don’t find yourself hustling, sweating profusely, supporting your teammates, giving them some kind words of encouragement or a little motivational high-five, I don’t think you have given all that you are capable of giving. Some of my best memories at Yale are those when I gave it my all.
In September 1998, we had our annual field hockey game against our archrival, Harvard. It was my first game ever against my twin sister, Hilary, so I got myself pretty pumped up. I went into the game with a real desire, and, with the help of my teammates, scored the winning goal in overtime.
It still remains one of my fondest memories. Working my hardest did pay off in the end. While the fruits of my efforts are less tangible now during my painfully slow recovery, I know that all the hard work will pay off, and someday I will score that winning goal again.
I hope for your sake you will never have to experience what I am experiencing, but know that all of the hard work you have practiced at Yale will help you rise to any future challenge. As John Wooden wrote in his inspirational book about life, “you always win when you make the full effort to do the best of which you are capable.”
The second crucial lesson I have learned through sports is the importance of attitude. I know this is a cliche, but attitude really is everything. It has been my savior during my rehab process.
A year ago, I wrote my teams a joint letter. In it, I explained how I dreaded returning to Spaulding Rehab Hospital each week from a cozy and relaxing Sunday in my own home. Spaulding was just a week of hell with some horrendous meals to slice up the time.
But what got me through this hell was comparing the return to a game setting, although the hospital had no lines, refs or goal cages. What the hospital did have, however, was room for goals to be made, room for hard work, for things — however small — to be achieved, and room to go beyond my limits.
It is all in the attitude guys. Live today and every day as if it were a tied game and you are going for the winner.
While hard work and positive attitude are key life lessons, nothing is more important than the value of team and the relationships I have formed while playing sports at Yale. From [Athletic Director] Tom Beckett to my field hockey coaches Ainslee [Lamb], Pam [Stuper], Pokie [Carolyn Cahill], I couldn’t ask for better support or better friends. I will also never forget my spastic [women’s lacrosse] coaching duo, Mandee [O’Leary] and Cristi Samaras.
My field hockey and lacrosse teams continue to inspire me through their visits, letters and words of encouragement. Every team at Yale — from fencing to football — has shared their spirit with me, and for this I am truly grateful. I am also grateful for all the team memories I do have from the seasons I did play — from pleading for an arm tickle on field hockey bus rides to celebrating at the final lacrosse banquet in Japan. I know each of you has similar memories to take with you. Embrace these memories, and remember to never stop being a team. By playing your part and doing your share, others will be there — as you have been for me — to help you face any life challenge.
In closing, I would like to share an anonymous quote that I have kept on the wall of my room since I was eight, and one that was directly behind my bed in Saybrook. It also hung next to me in the hospital, and I would have someone read it to me when I needed to be inspired by sports and what they have meant to me.
“This is your game. I hope you win — I hope you win for your sake, not mine. I hope you win ’cause winning is nice. It’s a good feeling, like the whole world is yours. But this feeling passes. What lasts is what you have learned. And what you have learned about is life. That’s what sports are all about.
“The whole thing is played out in a short afternoon or evening. The happiness of life, the miseries, the joys, the heartbreaks. There’s no way of telling if you’ll be gone in the first five minutes or whether you’ll stay for the long haul. There is no telling how you will do. You might be a hero, or you might be absolutely nothing. Too much depends on chance, on how the ball bounces. I’m not talking about the game; I’m talking about life!
“But it’s life that the game’s all about, because every game is like life, and life is like every game, except that life is deadly serious. But what you do with the serious one is like any game. You do your best. You take what comes and run with it. Winning is fun, sure, but winning is not the point. Wanting to win is the point. Not giving up is the point. Never being satisfied with what you have done is the point. Never letting anyone down is the point. Always play to be a champion, win or lose. Because, it’s not winning the game that counts. It’s trying to be your best that does. That’s the importance of the Game!”
As you all are about to graduate and enter a world of the unfamiliar and the unknown — a world I have unfortunately gotten to know all too early — the scoreboard in the game of life is reset to zero. It’s up to you, how you want to play the game. Thank you.