This article was originally written for, now a part of

I have always been fond of sports analogies because of how accurate they are. In sports, as in life, everyone has their big supporter or (as my parents affectionately refer to themselves) “biggest cheerleaders.” For you, that person may come in the form of a family member or teacher; for me, it is my parents, Kent and Susan House.

As a first-generation student, my journey is not typical. Adopted from Jamaica when I was six years old, I was brought up in a Christian home where my parents taught me that as long as I gave everything my best effort, they were happy to support me in whatever I chose to do. When I began playing soccer and basketball, that principle guided me on the field and the court. There were game performances that would make me shake my head in shame and dejectedly trudge to the car afterward. But my parents never let me feel dejected for long; they made me understand that even when you try your best, life does not always go perfectly. And that’s when I learned what it truly means to be someone’s biggest cheerleader.

Your big cheerleaders are there for you even when things are not so great, like the time I brought home my report card with lower than average grades, or all the times my parents stood outside in the freezing rain and cold to watch me and my brother play soccer.

Giving my best effort was not always fun or easy. When I accepted the Realizing the Dream Award, I reunited with my fifth grade teacher, who had a positive influence on me. He said that I often asked questions about assignments even after they had been graded so that I could learn what I did wrong and improve in those areas the next time. Although I did not remember being so inquisitive at such a young age, I realized that I am still that way now. I take opportunities to talk with my professors and fellow students about material I do not understand, and I learn from these discussions.

Now, as a college athlete, I have to work even harder as a cross country and track competitor because I know that the second I stop trying my best, I am not only shortchanging myself but I am also letting down two of my biggest fans: my parents.