By Special Guest Writer
Ashley Valenzuela, MA
Disclaimer: I am terrible at math, but numbers have always played an essential role in my life.
As a former college athlete, numbers were everything to me. From the number on the scoreboard determining a win or loss to the numbers of points made, or maybe more relative, missed. The list goes on and on: turnovers, assists, attempts, rebounds, and fouls. We can't forget my jersey number; that was a little piece of me, picked for a special reason that I fought to keep over the many years and different teams—something personal for me to hold onto within my own team identity.
I loved being a part of a team and working with people who had the same goals and aspirations as myself, and being in a position to help people reach those goals. It was a magical part of my life that I am forever thankful that I experienced. Now, as athletes came, I was decent at best. I never believed that I was going pro. I played with some fantastic athletes and I knew there was a gap between our abilities. But there was no gap in our work ethic, and that is what I knew would give me a shot at the 7%.
The 7% refers to the number of players that move from high school athletics to compete at the college level. Only 2% move on from high school to play D1 collegiate sports to paint an even more frightening reality. And that is why the numbers were essential.
Now, as a former collegiate athlete, numbers still matter. Three numbers, specifically, 9-1-1. I am approaching my five-year mark as a dispatcher. I am beginning to see many similarities between my athletic career and my career as a 9-1-1 professional.
In 2020, I founded The Raspy Dispatcher, LLC, which focuses on helping people apply for a career as a 9-1-1 dispatcher. But I do want to take a moment to talk about the transition out of dispatching. Similar to sports, hanging up your headset is not like flipping a switch on and off. It is a process, a change, an identity shift.
There are many reasons an athlete, or a dispatcher, will choose to leave the game, but generally, these reasons fall into two categories: voluntary and involuntary.
Voluntary is a choice; the dispatcher is retiring, has accepted a new position, or is moving to the private sector. The dispatcher chooses to leave but can continue to dispatch and do the job if they desire.
Involuntary is forced to leave. From an ACL tear to a call you can't recover from, even though you love the game, you no longer can play, so you are forced to move on.
Both paths lead away from a unique world you have been a part of for x-amount of years of service and will take some time to get used to not being around.
So how can we support one another through the transition of leaving the dispatch world? Similar to the way we support an athlete who is no longer going to participate in teams sports at a competitive level.
First, ask them how they want to be supported. Sometimes all it takes is someone willing to connect.
Hold space for them to be vulnerable and discuss their transition, the good and the bad.
Help them remain future-focused. We don't want to erase the past, but we also want to focus on what's next and how their incredible career has prepared them for the next phase of life.
Don't be afraid to seek professional services. Sometimes, we need a little extra help.
I have built every aspect of my life around one rule: leave it all to the court. Cliché, I know. But, no matter how the numbers played out, I know I gave my all.
Know that your presence in that chair, behind all those screens, and wearing that headset mattered. Leaving voluntarily or involuntarily is irrelevant because you have given this role, this calling, your all. As you transition out of dispatch, understand that you are not alone, and dispatch will forever be a part of your world and have an incredible impact on your next adventure.
About the Author:
Ashley Valenzuela, MA, is the Founder of The Raspy Dispatcher, LLC. She has served as a police dispatcher since 2018. After completing A LOT of training and reflecting on her college journey, she realized 9-1-1 dispatchers are under-represented. In 2020, Ashley decided to use her raspy voice and passion for teaching and learning to spread awareness about the life-saving impact 9-1-1 dispatchers have daily. From there, The Raspy Dispatcher, LLC was born with the vision of becoming the premier and affordable resource for both aspiring, and current, 9-1-1 dispatchers.