A Helping Hand-Rachel Loia

   My first taste of speech and debate, referred to as forensics at the time, was during a school assembly my freshman year of high school. I sat in the audience and watched in amazement as a senior brought to life the most beautiful prose I have seen to date. At the time, I was clueless as to what she was doing, and really just watched because it was captivating in ways I couldn’t even begin to explain. While I really loved what I had seen, that year I was consumed with crippling anxiety so bad that by the end of the day I had forgotten all about the girl in the suit, telling a story using just a black binder and her voice.

Quite honestly, I hadn’t remembered that first encounter with the activity up until I started brainstorming ideas for this exact piece. Now you’re probably wondering how I did eventually end up getting into speech and debate. I’d like to say that I went to that first meeting on my own accord, but alas, that is not the case. My best friends at the time, Kara and Emily, begged me to go in attempts to up the membership in the club. After dazzling me with glorious descriptions, I decided to attend a meeting. It’s odd to claim that that one day changed the entire course of my life, but it did.

I had three amazing years on the team.

You know, you only get a limited number of years doing speech and debate. You don’t fully realize the weight of this looming fact until you’re on the bus heading home from the last tournament with the people you’ve come to consider family. It's this gut wrenching moment when you feel like you didn't get enough time...almost like you've been robbed of something. And then all of a sudden you hear the laughter from previous bus rides, you see images in your head of your favorite pieces and all of your friends, you relive the memories that will one day be hard to remember.

         Now, I fondly look back on those memories. They remind me that I did the impossible. At one time, I was failing out of school, had no friends, and lacked any promise for a future that was worth living. I was so afraid to live my life. But then, I got up to the front of the classroom for my first round, felt my body shake with nerves, took a deep breath, and began talking. I put my entire being into my words: my emotions, my stress, my confidence, my happiness. And things changed.

That round was the first time I used my voice. Standing up there showed me that my strength exceeded my own knowledge and I slowly became the person I had always wanted to be. From that one exhilarating moment, I had a reason to keep fighting. I wanted to be apart of this activity.

The form of myself that I had lost in the midst of anxiety and depression was now loud and being pulled from within the pit of my stomach. I was finally free.

         When I qualified for CFL Nationals my senior year of high school, I was scared. It was on the other side of the country, all the way in Sacramento, California. From New Jersey, it was far, and I had a hard time travelling. When the time came, I really considered my options. I could have stayed home in the comfort of my home, or I could push myself and participate in something I had worked for. I made a scary choice. In late May, I got on a plane, and I went.

         The trip was amazing, and really made me feel alive, but the most special part happened when we had landed back home. I remember standing outside the airport with my coach and four teammates, clutching my phone to my chest as my headphones blared “Unsteady” by X Ambassadors. It was nighttime, and the airport had this weird yellow glow to it. I was tired from the flight and a little shaky on my feet, but I had never felt stronger. Tears started to roll down my cheeks at that point. I had gone from not leaving my bedroom freshman year of high school, to flying across the United States of America so I could get up in front of people and speak. In that moment, I wholeheartedly believed in myself.

         Now I’m in college, and while my anxiety and depression aren’t gone, I still believe in who I have become. I know that while I’m scared, and sad, there is still a life to be lived. Speech and debate gave me that confidence, and the self awareness to know it to be true. Without it, I would not have a voice, and without a voice, who really would I be?