The little things never leave you. The smell of the fresh cut grass, the blinding lights as you walk towards the field, the butterflies in your stomach. The crash and boom of launching yourself through another human being as hard as you can. The camaraderie you feel with your brothers (or sisters) and the unbreakable bonds you form.
The mountain top highs of a hard-fought victory and the lowest valleys of a crushing defeat. These are the lessons and memories you will carry long beyond the final whistle. The sacrifices you will make and the losses you will take in pursuit of these goals will be a reminder of the price of admission to your dreams.
When the final whistle blows on your career it won’t be the big moments you hold most dear, a lot of them will end up a blur in the lifetime of your career. I remember pushing through the mental wall and digging deeper for that final sprint of that 5am off-season workout. I remember the way the way that crisp morning air burned my lungs as I tried to catch my breath to get ready for the next sprint. ” I can’t let them down; I can’t come up short for the person next to me” was all that ran through my mind when I felt I had nothing left to give. So, you find a way to dig deeper. Crunch time rolls around and the adrenaline is coursing through your veins, your body is tired, but you lay it all on the line for your teammates.
A step, a pop, and pain. Your whole season flashes before your eyes as you try to walk it off. You can’t stand and they cart you off the field for X-rays. Your foot is broken, and you need surgery. You meet with the doctors hopeful to recapture a part of your season. Week after week of rehab rolls by and you are told that your foot isn’t progressing. What should have been a 6-week rehab takes 12 and your season is behind you.
Back into offseason workouts hungry for a chance to compete you give it all you have. You get bigger, faster and stronger and catch the attention of your coaches. Then you feel another pop, you push it to the back of your mind and go back to the weight room. Week after week rolls by and it becomes harder to stand. You finally go back to the training room for x-rays and they tell you the foot is broken…again.
You feel like the walls come crashing down around you, but you put on a good face, laugh it off and head back to meetings. The next few weeks are a blur before and after the surgery and you mentally prep for the next season in the hopes you will be ready. Months roll by and you are finally cleared to get back to workouts, you have a decent camp and put yourself in a position to take a spot on the field.
Halfway through the season during a workout the pain starts in your back, and your brush it off. By day 2 you can barely run but you push through the pain. By day 3 you can barely walk and by day 4 the pain is unbearable as you can barely stand up. The doctors pull you aside to tell you that you have fractures in your spine and should never take another snap or risk permanent damage.
You now find yourself at the crossroads many of us face. The sport you dedicated your life to is gone. However, the beauty is what comes next. I thought of my injury as the end of my world, but it was just the beginning of my life. In the time I found away from football I discovered passions and hobbies I never knew I had.
I grappled with the mental anguish that losing my sport came with but the self-realization that I was and would become so much more than just an athlete. I learned how to network and leverage the connections made for new and exciting opportunities. Most importantly I learned the little things never leave, but they do provide the foundation for you to soar to the next adventure and the newest endeavor.