In my family there are athletes and singers.
Those were my choices. I would either be a singer or an athlete.
I tried singing. I was good. But I was not the best.
If you are over 1,80 metres tall, you don’t sing. You shoot hoops.
I started when I was twelve years old and I still do it. At first I was the shortest. I was a chubby and short child that wanted to belong somewhere. I chose basketball. That’s what all my friends did.
I no longer sing. My daughter Destiny does that.
This is my destiny. This is my motive. This is my strenght.
I became a mother while I was still in Michigan State University.
It was difficult to adapt. I was not used to being part of a system. During the first half of my first season I was in the starting line up. And since then I was a starter until the day I graduated. I’ve scored more than 1.000 points and grabbed more than 1.000 rebounds.
Destiny came into my life in my senior year. I don’t know how I did it, but God helped me come back and play basketball again.
I wasn’t aware of my pregnancy until the sixth month. It was a shock! I am in a good team, playing for the NCAA. And I find out I am pregnant. I felt that I let down my coach and my team.
Everybody supported me. They were by my side from the very first moment.
We made it until the second round of the play offs. I was freaking out. I was afraid. I was afraid that I could harm the baby that was inside of me. I thought I could harm me. I couldn’t play properly.
Susan Merchant, my coach, knew what it means to be a mother. She supported me. My school did the same. It was the perfect scenario.
At first it was hard. I am not going to lie about it.
I finished all my courses. I had enough time to do it. But I spend lots of nights without sleeping. My family was there. They stayed with me for two months. My mother knew better than me what it means to have kids and do sports at the same time. She had four kids. And she was still playing her favourite sport. Volleyball.
It’s different to be a mother and an athlete, than to be just an athlete.
You have to follow a schedule. Everyday I get up at six in the morning and I go to bed only if my daughter is asleep.
Plus, I have to include practices, games, travels with the team in my everyday routine.
Most people don’t get it.
I don’t complain. The feeling is great.
Destiny is in Greece. With me.
When she was born, she was living with my mother. She wanted to keep her close. To make sure everything in Greece is safe.
She has been living here for four years now. With me. She speaks Greek fluently. She is my translator in case I need some help.
When she was younger, she couldn’t understand what I was doing. She knew me, but she didn’t know.
Communicating through Skype or Facetime is not enough. A monitor is kind of impersonal.
Being here, she knows everything.
What I do for a living comes with a price.
This year, with Euroleague, I had to be absent more often. But she gets it.
That I do the thing I love.
It’s crazy. But it would drive her crazy if she couldn’t realise it.
Basketball is my life. It means the world to me. My brother passed away in the court when I started to play. It was somehting that we did together. We loved it. It became my passion, because I wanted to make him and myself proud.
For my family, basketball is everything. Our entire world. When there is a game on the television, everybody wants to watch it. Even my grandmother.
Until the sport I love became my whole life it was weird. I didn’t get it. I wasn’t paying attention to it. I did mostly all the girly stuff. Polish my fingernails and be around my mother in the kitchen.
When I started playing, it felt right. It was right. It was how I felt.I didn’t care about what my friends said.
A lot of people have asked me if I would change my story. What would happened if I didn’t have Destiny. I strongly believe things would be worst. I believe that everything happens for a reason. This is how I grew up. I didn’t know she was there. She was a blessing in disguise, as I use to say.
Her coming changed my perspective. She made me more mature at times I wouldn’t be like that.
Everything changed. Everything fitted like a glove. I wouldn’t change anything.
Destiny is my motive. She sees how hard I work. She understands. She realises what sacrificies I have made. I am teaching her now not to give up her dreams. Not to let go of what she loves. Whatever that is.
I remember coming back after giving birth, I was afraid. My body was different. I have gained weight. I was scared that I wouldn’t play the way I used to. It took me some time.
My coach let me go for six weeks. She allowed me to be with my family.
I started at a low pace. My class had already gone. And in the team there were new players. And I was the captain. A captain that couldn’t just do one thing or the other. It was tough.
Both physically and psychologically.
I was ready to give up many times. But I had some strong women behind me. My coach who is my biggest influence. My mother. My grandmother.
A new mother needs help.
A new mother cannot make it without support. As soon as I finished practice I ran like a lunatic to take my daughter from child’s care.
That was the turning point in my life. I knew that I had a lot to give to basketball. My family knew it as well. And I wanted to achieve my goal. I don’t know if I could ever thank them for their support.
Destiny. Oh my God!
She is a showstopper. It is impossible not to adore her.
I remember in my first year with Olympiacos, she was in the court. She had a scooter and she was going round and round our bench. She was driving the coach crazy. I remember her saying, “mom I want to have a good time like you”. So what can you say to her?
That was the first time she left me speechless.
I remember another time. After the match with Panathinaikos, at the gym in Leoforos. She saw the game on TV. She knew I had a great performance.
When I picked her up, she said to me: ”Mom you are awesome at basketball”. I didn’t believe that she would watch the game or that she would say something like that. I was almost in tears.
A lot of mothers that do sports reach out to me for my advice. They think of me as a mentor.
What I say to them is to have good support. To have a strong mind. And if they want to succeed, not to let anything get in their way.
If you have a strong will, you can make the impossible, possible. A child comes with responsibilities. But it worths it.
This is a mother’s mentallity. You reach to a point that it is no longer about you. But about your child. This is life.
Lykendra Johnson is a professional basketball player currently playing for Olympiacos BC.
Editor: Michael Gkioulenoglou
Photo Credits: Andreas Papakonstantinou