Gustafson chronicles her pro basketball journey for the AP

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IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — When I say that I have probably spent more time in the past couple of months flying in an airplane than on ground, I'm not kidding. When I also say that my life lately could be classified as a crazy roller coaster, I am telling you the truth. I have gone from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. I have experienced some of the happiest moments during my 22 years of life to one of the hardest moments in the matter of a couple of weeks. Let me give you some of my perspective so you can understand where I am coming from. But first, I highly suggest you buckle your seat belts and keep your hands and any other limbs inside the cart at all times for your own safety — hang on tight and I'll see you after the ride!

April 10th, 2019. This date can be classified as one of the most exciting days of my life. WNBA Draft Day. I was lucky enough to be one of the women selected to attend the draft in person. Each of us got our hair and makeup done beforehand and once we arrived, there was an Orange carpet with cameras and reporters everywhere — it honestly felt like we were at the Emmys! I talked about this experience more in my draft diaries, but I can honestly say that this small town girl was finally living out her dreams of becoming a professional basketball player.

Directly after getting drafted to the Dallas Wings, I flew out to Los Angeles for the John Wooden Award Show. That was incredible to be surrounded by some of the most famous names that basketball has ever heard of — Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Karl Malone, Anne Meyers, just to name a few! I then flew back to Iowa for exactly one day so I could attend our team's annual basketball banquet. It felt so good to see everyone again and celebrate a wonderful season.

I was able to spend the last two weeks of April finishing up all of my classes and training hard to get ready for training camp in Dallas. I said my last goodbyes to all of my teammates, coaches, and friends because it was finally time to spread my wings as a WNBA player. All of the hard work, all of the hours I spent in the gym, were paying off as I boarded yet another plane (I should really start applying for frequent flyers honestly) and headed to Dallas. I hit the ground running as all of us rookies had medical examinations and optional workouts before training camp started officially on May 5.

Training camp was probably as you could imagine it to be — long days spent on the court in a new gigantic state that was extremely hot even in May, with many car rides to practices spent listening to Lil Naz's new hit "Old Town Road". Training camp was about three weeks long, and each of those days were spent in various gyms throughout UT-Arlington's campus. In the arena, at the rec center, in an old practice gym. This was during time of college graduations and so many days our playing arena was unavailable. As rookies we had to be there extra early for treatments before the vets got there so we would all have enough time to prepare for pre-practice. That's right, you heard me correctly: pre-practice. This usually consisted of running through the offense and emphasizing new things that were implemented from the previous day. It was actually super helpful having this time as a rookie, because trust me, if I could describe training camp in two words I would describe it as this — information overload!

Most days our practices went through lunch and so by the time we got to eat food it was about 3:30 or 4 p.m. in the afternoon. Us rookies went everywhere together and so we would go eat and then head back to our hotel/home and take naps until dinner at like 9 p.m. Directly after dinner we were usually so exhausted that we would go directly to sleep so we could get up early the next day and repeat. This probably sounds not very fun, but honestly it was a dream for this basketball-obsessed person. Was it nerve-wracking? Sure, I had butterflies in my stomach almost every day. Was it hard adjusting? Definitely! There were good days and bad but I eventually found myself getting more and more comfortable each day. But at the end of the day, I was living out my ultimate goal of becoming a WNBA basketball player. Knowing this, was it completely devastating getting the dreaded phone call less than 24 hours before final rosters were announced? Absolutely.

The phone call came at 8:05 p.m. Yes, I even remember the exact time. I was in the mall with a couple of other rookies because we needed to find some casual clothes for the next morning when we would travel to Atlanta for the season-opener. I was in Express when I looked at my phone and saw Dallas' Director of Ops name pop up. My stomach dropped and I knew what was about to occur. A couple of weeks prior to this I was with one of the other rookies when she got cut and so I knew what the process looked like. I was told to meet with the team president and head coach in the hotel lobby at 8:30 p.m. Getting that call felt like I had just sprinted into a giant brick wall. I gave one look to the other rookies and they knew what had happened.

Not five seconds later, one of the other rookies with me received the same call. As hard as it was for both of us, I am glad I had someone else to go through this with. To be honest, during my meeting I believe I was still in shock and so I didn't have much emotion. The meeting went as well as it could have, and pretty soon afterward I found myself in my hotel calling and texting all of my people. My parents, sister, Iowa coaches, teammates, and friends. That was hard. Really hard. Later that night, my flight was booked back to my small hometown, and before I knew it I was boarding a plane yet again.

Being back where it all started was surreal, to be completely honest. I wasn't expecting to be in my hometown for months and now here I was heartbroken over the fact that I wasn't putting on a WNBA jersey anymore. I avoided social media and the only people I saw were my parents and sister for most of my time home. I wanted to give myself time to process everything, and that's exactly what I did. I couldn't even look at a basketball for two whole days.

That probably doesn't sound like a lot of time, but for me it was a bit crazy considering I couldn't even remember the last time I went that long without touching a basketball. The morning after I got back home, I went for an emotional jog on the beach. When I say emotional, I mean it. I finally let myself feel for the first time since getting that phone call. I was sad. I was angry. I was frustrated. All those emotions poured out of me as I blasted music on my earphones. Add in a windy 50 degree day and I had unintentionally successfully created a dramatic movie scene (looking back I can kind of laugh at myself, I have always been a bit on the emotional side!). I was talking to God, asking Him why this was happening and what was next. While I sat on the beach taking it all in, I got a text not two minutes later about joining the Iowa United team to play in The Basketball Tournament. In that moment, I knew that God had answered me. This was my next step. And so with a smile on my face I jogged back to my car, talked with the GM of the team on the phone, and headed back home.

Looking back, I don't think I would change a thing. As hard as it was to go through that, I believe that everything happens for a reason and my struggle is no different. Do I wish I was still playing in the WNBA? Every day. And if the opportunity presents itself again before the summer is up, I'm going to take it. But for now? I am currently back in Iowa City training as hard as I possibly can so that I am completely ready for my next step. I started writing a faith blog , something that I have wanted to do for months now, and I recently started trying new things such as boxing — which by the way is a GREAT way to release any kind of emotions pent up inside!

I will also have more flying in my near future — I will be heading to LA again for the Honda Woman of the Year Award Show at the end of June, and in the fall I will fly overseas to play my first season as a professional basketball player (also update: this girl has officially signed up for some frequent flyers)! Going through this insane roller coaster the past couple of months has made me resilient, persistent and a better person and player than I was before. I have found my footing again, my smile is back and better than ever, and I can't wait to see what the rest of this summer holds!

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