Throwback: Who Do You Play For? One Athlete's Story of Inspiration During Trying Circumstances.

 Editor's Note: Erin Burger, a Sacramento Native, played volleyball at the University of Idaho from 2002-2006 and was one of the first people I met before attending Idaho. Athletically, while at Idaho she accumulated numerous athletic honors, including 1st-Team All-Western Athletic Conference, in her position as a Middle Blocker. 

Who Do You Play For?

By Erin Burger
Twitter: ErinBurger4
Instagram: ErinBurger

     Every second I played volleyball for the University of Idaho, I was there for my family. But my senior year was different. Whether I was in the weight room, the gym or playing in a match, I was there for my mother. Let me rewind a little bit.

     The summer before my senior season at the University of Idaho I came home from my last night out in Sacramento to my two younger sisters cuddled together crying. I quickly learned that my father had taken my mother to the Emergency Room for a severe headache that caused her to be delusional. The next morning we found out she had stage four non smoker’s lung cancer. It was too late. The cancer was now in her brain. Sitting on her hospital bed crying, I told her I’d quit volleyball and school and stay home with her. She told me I was being silly and that I needed to return to Moscow to finish strong. I returned to The ‘Scow a week later to train with my team for the summer.

     That last season was athletically my best season ever. I received numerous pre-season All-Tournament awards, led the team statistically in some areas, was named to the All-Conference 1st team by the WAC coaches and was even honored with two post-season awards by my teammates. My mother couldn't have been happier for me. She loved waiting for my phone call and the press release to be posted online after every match. But getting to those achievements was bittersweet. If I wasn't on the road with my team I was back home in Sacramento, even if it was for less than 24 hours. I just wanted to spend as much time with my mother as possible.  While across the country, I'd get updates from my dad or sister that my mom had had another seizure or wasn’t doing well. I specifically remember being in Bend, Indiana at the Notre Dame Tournament and getting a call that my mother was in the hospital again due to a seizure. I ended up getting All-Tournament that weekend. Her illness drove me to play harder. In the fall of 2006, I was at my emotional worst.

     My mother was lucky enough to not be too sick to travel from California to Idaho to see my senior match in Memorial Gym. Emotions were high that night for many reasons. It was not only my last home match, but my mother was in attendance and saw us win, which secured our 3rd place finish in Conference.

     Finishing strong for my mother was my only goal. Knowing that that season was the last time she’d ever get to see me play volleyball or brag about how well I did in the match the night before, made every second I was at Idaho worth it. I wanted to make sure that every time I called her after a match it was about how well I played. I wanted her to feel happiness and joy during the worst time of her life. 

     After season and graduation I moved home and spent every single day with her. I spent three more months with her before she passed away in her sleep, surrounded by her family, on March 12, 2007.

     I couldn’t have gotten through the 2006 season without the love and support from everyone around me at the University of Idaho. We truly are a “Tried & True” Vandal family.