Cartographer’s Story #14, by Josie Sajbel
September 14th, 2016, was just another day. The clear, fall air was crisp, and the changing leaves were beginning to coat the streets of campus. I went to class, I read my textbooks, and I made myself dinner, all in pure oblivion that that day might be different.
For nine years I had played competitive volleyball, consumed by the sport as many high school athletes are. Sore muscles and 5-AM-Saturday-morning alarms were normal to me. In those nine years, I had been to three statewide and three nationwide tournaments, played in over 500 matches, and attended approximately 2,000 practices. By these standards, I had probably jumped hundreds of thousands of times. Unfortunately, one single jump made all the difference. It was the same as all of the others, until it wasn’t. That Wednesday, I went to practice, I jumped, I landed, and I suffered a complete tear of my left ACL in a horrific concoction of unnatural bends and twists, and not much has been the same since.
Post-surgery, it’s fair to assume that those who witnessed the unmistakable clicking of my bulky crutches briefly mourned the extensive physical pain that I had endured, but I often wondered if anyone thought of the accompanying emotional and traumatic pain. I was completely absent in both social and academic realms for quite some time.
What do you do when something that once relieved your stress and brought you happiness is not only impossible to do, but is now associated with a grotesque memory?
Not many people visited me while I sat on the couch with my leg propped up for weeks on end, icy water constantly pumping through my leg-length cast. My mom took care of me, cooking what food I could stomach, tolerating alarms every three hours for a dose of painkillers, and eventually driving me to physical therapy. Long after the most painful parts of the process, I still don’t have the privilege of forgetting the incident, the souvenirs surfacing themselves on my very being in the form of soreness, aches, stiffness, and scars: reminders that I am not who I used to be in many ways.
What do you do when something that once relieved your stress and brought you happiness is not only impossible to do, but is now associated with a grotesque memory and subsequent months of suffering? Enter: Sun & Sets. The map pictured here was made in my very first cartography class, and I undoubtedly spent more time on it than was necessary given my lack of experience with Adobe software at the time. Even though I was still able to play volleyball when I created it, I think it was made during a time of transition, one of shifting passion.
Something that was once my entire life is now gone, and, through cartography, I have realized that that’s okay.
In the UW–Madison Department of Geography, I have found myself in a supportive community of acceptance, recognition, and belonging, one in which there is no winning or losing and we happily share talent with each other rather than competing for it. I designed this map during a time when volleyball was immediately what came to mind when people told me “map what you’re passionate about,” but I’m fairly sure that isn’t the case anymore. I have been incredibly lucky to be able to travel and to learn from some of the nation’s best geographers and cartographers, both of which have heightened my spatial awareness. I have discovered, simply, that there is so much more to experience in the world beyond athletics.
In high school, I had dreamed of playing volleyball for a university’s varsity team, and I nearly chose my school because of it. Entering UW–Madison labeled as “undecided” was one of the best decisions of my life, as it led me to realize my bigger purpose off the court. Something that was once my entire life is now gone, and, through an education in geography and cartography, I have realized that that’s okay. When things went unexpectedly wrong, maps gave me a leg to stand on.