When you think of creative individuals, I guarantee your mind will jump to artists, musicians, or authors. But what if I told you that this category very much includes athletes as well? As a student-athlete, I could use many words to describe myself, but the most prevalent one will always be ‘Creative’, because I find this attribute shines in all aspects of my life.
Ever since I was young, I have had two main passions: Sports and Art. If I wasn’t outside kicking a ball, I was sitting for hours on end with a sketchbook and music blasting out of one of those old school iPod Nanos. People were and still are very surprised at my artistic talents, mainly because they assume art and sport could never be synonymous with one another.
"I want to disprove this opinion and offer a new theory: like art, athletic endeavor is one of the most raw and vulnerable forms of creativity."
According to its definition, creativity is defined as “the tendency to generate or recognize ideas, alternatives, or possibilities that may be useful in solving problems, communicating with others, and entertaining ourselves and others,” which, if I’m not mistaken, is the premise of most sports! Athletes use their bodies to express themselves and our efforts are the result of our raw talent and hours of practice that culminates in physical performance. Have you ever seen an athlete that just seems to flow? They so effortlessly create opportunities or results, and through their movements you see their true passion… Well, they are creating.
"This brings me to my next theory: that creative endeavor is inherently vulnerable; it is a way for us to be seen, a window into our soul…"
When I paint, I am not only displaying my artistic capabilities, but pouring in emotion and care. In the same way, on the field I am expressing my athletic capabilities wrapped in my passion for the game. Sport and art give me purpose, they define my identity, and if you pay close enough attention to it, you can see who I truly am through how I hit a ball or how I place a brushstroke.
Recently, I realized I am somewhat addicted to this creativity. So, when I am unable to create in one way, I tend to overcompensate in another. Over the last seven years, I have had a string of crushing injuries, from torn hamstrings, to snapped ankles and most recently, shoulder surgery. Any athlete facing injury will know the loss of identity you feel when you can’t play the sport you love. Not only do I miss the endorphins attached to exercise, but I miss the freedom and expression of moving my body.
"When injured, I have always turned to art to distract myself from hardships in life. However, it wasn’t until 2019 when I realized that I could not only use art to cope, but to heal."
After a horrific ankle injury right before a major tournament with England Hockey, my mental health was at its lowest. Some of the first people to notice this were my art teachers, who posed the question of expressing my physical and mental pain through art. At first, I hated this idea; I thought it was superficial and predictable, but as I dove into the project, I realized how invaluable it was in understanding how physical trauma links to emotional pain.
These pieces visually expressed physical trauma through color and texture, but also conveyed a type of emotion that I struggled to articulate in words. These are the most literal examples of the way art is a window into my soul: they are created with the intention of sharing my experience with the viewer. However, my art doesn’t always directly relate to me. It also serves as a creative outlet that I use to find purpose outside of sports.
"The energy I couldn’t spend on sport was poured into this piece, and through the process of creating I found the purpose I felt I lacked."
A key example of finding my purpose through art would be my most recent large-scale painting that I completed in the spring of 2022. The opportunity to create this piece was truly a godsend, mostly because it came just after my second surgery in eight months. After sitting out during the Fall season due to ankle surgery in June, I was itching to get back to Field Hockey, but unfortunately, I needed to undergo shoulder surgery in January. At this point, I was set for almost 15 months out of sport, a reality I was struggling to come to terms with. Three weeks after surgery I was approached by my friend Mac Pluck, who asked if I would want to produce a piece of art in honor of Duke Basketball March Madness. For the next two months, this piece became my savior. After my first year at Duke, I couldn’t be known and seen as an athlete, but I became known as an artist. This piece was eventually bought by the Duke Director of Athletics, Nina King, and was the first of a string of opportunities I have received to combine my love of art and sport.
Although my last few years at Duke have helped me truly understand the driving force behind my creativity, it has always been somewhere within me, much like it is within all of us. I want to challenge people to explore their creativity in whatever way they feel called to, even if it's just the simple recognition that "in whatever way I move myself today, I am creating". Trust me, it will allow you to see yourself and the world around you in ways you never expected. And while I am giving you advice, I will share a sentiment I have tattooed on my arm: "look up". For me, this encourages me to look up at the beauty around me, the architecture and intricacies of nature; but metaphorically, it is a reminder that regardless of the hardships we often face, things will get better.
- Issy Carey
Photo Credits: Duke Athletics and Issy Carey