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"I Can Do It" by Penielle M'Bikata


During the spring of 2003, there was a moment in my existence that I still remember as if it were yesterday. I was six-years-old and unaware of the difficulty that would lie ahead, I asked my dad to take my training wheels off of my bike after overhearing students in my class brag about the fact that they could ride without theirs. I recall losing balance multiple times while my older sister succeeded right away which made me angry and left me wanting to give up. After failing continuously, I began to cry and yelled out loud, “I can’t do it”. In my household, that is equivalent to cursing at church. My father looked at me and told me that I was never allowed to say those words, he continued by explaining that I can accomplish anything in this life, however, there is no quitting, only losers quit. Now I don’t know if it was the tone of my father’s voice or the way he looked at me, but later that evening I decided to continue practicing at a track that was in front of my house.


The first attempt: fail. 

The second attempt: fail.


Lord knows how bad I wanted to accept by the third attempt that maybe riding on a two-wheeler just wasn’t for me. As I sat on my bike with tears rolling down my face, my father’s words crept into my consciousness. 


“You can accomplish anything in this life, however, there is no quitting, only losers quit.”


It gave me courage. I wiped the tears off my face and decided to try one more time. Unlike the first two attempts, I began chanting: “I can do it, I can do it, I can do it”, out loud as I pedaled. Next thing you know, I, Penielle M'Bikata, was riding my bike without training wheels all by myself.


Now you may be wondering to yourself what this story has to do with basketball. Stay with me, it will all make sense. Let’s fast forward to the fall of 2014, I’m heading into my senior year of high school. At this point in time, many big-time athletes my age have either already committed or at least have gained interest from different schools. In simpler terms, their futures were looking pretty bright. As for myself? The scenario I just explained was black and my reality was white; absolutely no schools wanted me except for one NCAA Division III school that I honestly can’t even remember the name of. Now I’m not knocking down Division III schools, getting the opportunity to play at any level is a true blessing, however, I wanted more. Since the age of seven, I knew that I wanted to play at the highest level. There were no ifs, and, or buts - I had to. 

As I’m sure you are aware, being a Division I athlete is no joke. If you weren’t aware, I’ll be the first to tell you that if it were easy, everybody would make it. Having said that, it takes years of sacrifice and hard work. I’d be lying if I told you that growing up I had some fancy trainer or that I spent hours upon hours in the gym. Conversely, I had coaches throughout my career who didn’t necessarily focus on intense skill work. And in all honesty, for the most part I only picked up a basketball whenever I had team practice or I was playing in an actual game. Not to mention, I was completely blindsided by the fact that despite being one of the top players in British Columbia, I was relying on my great athleticism to get by. 


It wasn’t till I played for Frank Konig (yes, Aislinn “Ace” Konig’s dad) on a team called BC’s Finest where we competed all throughout the United States, that I realized that there is a whole other world out there. In other words, being a top player in BC was not enough to play at the highest collegiate level.


After competing with their team through the summer of 2014 and not gaining much interest from schools, I decided to have a meeting with Coach Frank. I still remember it so vividly. It was at a Tim Hortons and I sat beside my mom with Coach Frank and Coach T across from me. It was there where I explained to them that I wanted to play Division I basketball and that I was willing to do whatever it took, despite them explaining how hard it would be and that Division II would probably be a better fit for me. My takeaways from that meeting? Well, person A could’ve taken it and surrendered their dreams, while person B could’ve taken it as get ready for boot camp because this is about to be the hardest thing you’ve ever worked for in your whole entire life.


My response: You best believe I was person B. 


It’s almost like I walked into Tim Hortons one person and walked out another. Everything changed. I went from eating unhealthy snacks all day every day, to not touching a bag of chips until a whole year later. I went from barely lifting weights in my mandatory strength and conditioning class, to shedding weight and gaining muscle. I went from hating, and when I say hate I mean absolutely and positively hating running, to running a mile every day whether I had practice or not, rain or shine. Last but not least, I went from only touching a basketball when it was mandatory, to doing defensive slides and practicing my ball-handling skills when it was over 30 degrees celsius outside, or moving to the basement when it was too cold outside where my mom yelled at me every time the ball would smash into the laundry machine. 


Fast forward to the summer of 2015, after all those hours of grueling work and sacrifice. I received a phone call from Coach Frank. Just thinking about it right now makes me get teary-eyed. I remember exactly what I was doing moments before the phone call. I remember every moment between that Tim Hortons meeting and the end of July 2015 when I had sent over 300 emails worth of film to coaches in the United States. 


I remember talking to a Division I coach on the phone, attending an open tryout during that time, and not making the cut. I remember the numerous hours of work and the countless amount of tears I cried of sadness, fear of the unknown, and even joy when I was finally able to do certain ball-handling skills that I had been practicing for months. Most importantly, I remember the exact first words on the phone call from Coach Frank that forever changed my life:


“Penny, are you ready? First Division I offer, Fairleigh Dickinson University.”


If there was a rewind button for life, I would definitely want to go back to that moment. After exchanging a few words on the phone I remember dropping to my knees in my room, eyes full of tears, thanking God for being so good to me. Before that moment, it seemed as if everytime I would take one step forward, it was followed by two steps back. But now, it all made sense. I realized all the pain and heartache I had gone through was needed for me to grow. I could have easily been mad and given up when my coaches said that I should play Division II basketball, however the truth of the matter was, they were right! Physically and mentally I just wasn’t there yet. Now I was.


The life lesson my dad taught me back in the spring of 2003, to never give up, is what has gotten me to this point. It has changed my life forever. 


So, let me share with you my message: All it takes is for one person to believe in you and that person is YOU.


If it weren’t for the heart to heart I had with my father back in 2003, I would not have had the strong-minded mentality to not give up on my dreams of playing Division I basketball. I could have easily opted to play for Division II or schools in Canada that I was receiving interest from down the line rather than continuing to fight for my dreams. Many people would call me insane, seeing that it was crunch time as most people my age had already headed to their schools for summer workouts. But when you want something so bad that you are willing to do literally whatever it takes, any other option—let me rephrase that, there is no other option.


Everyone in their lifetime will come across at least one type of world-shaking obstacle where they will have to choose if they are willing to overcome it or not. Now I can’t say that it will be easy. You just witnessed all the hard work I had to put in to obtain my goal. What I can say though is that the reward has surpassed my wildest dreams. It pains me to think about how different my life would be if I had chosen to quit. I wouldn’t have experienced another part of the world, I wouldn’t have built so many amazing, lifelong relationships, and most importantly, I wouldn’t have grown into the woman who is speaking to you right now.


So please, promise that you will never quit no matter what obstacle is in front of you. I need you to understand that with the right mindset and work ethic, you can do or be anything you want to be. You just can’t quit, no matter how hard it gets. Quitting is the only time you fail and all the tools you need to succeed are hidden within you. 

There is a champion inside of you. You just have to find the courage to believe.

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