How hard would you play if you knew you couldn't play tomorrow?
"How hard would you play if you knew you couldn't play tomorrow?"
Think about it. Really think about having that one glorious thing in your life taken away, whether it's rugby, another sport or just another hobby. At 15, you shouldn't have to think about this. At 16, you shouldn't have people tell you it's time to give up. At 17, you shouldn't have people tell you things like 'have you not learned yet?', "you're not really going back are you?". At 18, you shouldn't have had to make this decision.
I picked up rugby quite late, I was 13 at the time but it wasn't really a big sport in my area. From the minute I started playing, I knew, I just knew this was it. This was where I could be me. On the rugby pitch, nothing else matters, nothing else needs to matter. You need a clear mind, a positive attitude and a hell of a lot of resilience. I was good. I worked hard, trained extra, did a lot of work, I wanted to be good enough. With not a lot going on in my small Scottish town, I wanted to play more, more than they had to offer me. After my first tournament I got noticed, a town 90 miles away, I was ecstatic. More games and more training, exactly what I had dreamed of. I spoke to my parents and they agreed to take me to training, which was a two hour journey, I would leave school early to accommodate this, much to my relief my school were happy to let this happen.
After a few months it was our summer break, I was invited to attend regional training. Weekly I travelled an eight hour round trip, did all my personal gym training and 2 individual rugby sessions by myself to develop my skills. It paid off and I was selected to play on our tournaments.
I went back to school and training with a completely new skill set, I felt unstoppable. Just over a month into the term things deteriorated before my very eyes. At first it was just a few weeks on crutches, a lot of physio then back on the pitch. Just a knee injury, happens to loads of people. Then again, crutches, physio, back to rugby. And a third time, crutches, scans, physio, rugby. Each time my recovery period longer, physio more strenuous. Waiting out that little bit longer, just to be sure. Each time people's comments becoming a bit more frustrating. Each time, I felt so low and so down, at 15 you should want to go to school, you should want to see your friends, I just wanted to be alone and get better. I felt embarrassed, making my way through the school with crutches, I didn't want any sympathy, I didn't want any help.
Each time I got back to rugby I had more to prove, more to put on the line. The teams were developing, both at my school and the club I was playing for when making my two hour trips. On the outside, I grew fiercer, putting more integrity and grit into each session, adding extra gym sessions, pushing myself. Through the next two years until just before I turned 17 I progressed, even with many spells on crutches, and began some training with the U19 national development squad. Sadly, the day before I turned 17, and was allowed to do full training with the team I again hurt my knee. They advised to take time out and sort out my knee, I knew I needed something done. The doctors sorted out with getting me on a waiting list for an operation. They were a big help and I cannot thank them enough.
Then, it was just a waiting game. I was heartbroken. Everything I had trained for, destroyed. Then the comments I knew all too well started coming back, "you're not going back now surely", 'maybe this time you'll see sense', "is that you packing it in now then?". Every single day. Sometimes I would get angry, other days I would want to cry, but the more I heard them, the more I ignored them. I learnt to focus on recovery, planning my next moves. By this point I was in my final year of high school, I looked at universities, colleges and jobs. It was a distraction, but then it came to applications. To write about yourself can be difficult, but when you are not yourself it's a million times harder. However I managed to land myself into a good position in a school leavers role to train as an accountant, so whether or not it was the passion I showed in my interviews, in which we mostly talked about rugby in, I made it. I made it through 3 years of triumph and distraught, I lived to tell the tale.
I had my one true passion taken from me, after a year and a half now of being on the side lines, my operation is in less than two weeks. You would think I should be scared, and I think as it closes in the fear is replaced with adrenaline. I need rugby back in my life again. Being taken away from it has caused me to lose myself. Some days I don't recognise who I am. Whether my recovery takes 3 months or 9, I know I will be thankful for it once I have a ball in my hands again and can play the sport I love.
So after my recovery, whenever that may be, when I finally lace up my boots and put in that gum shield I will find myself again. I will play with all of my might, and will remind myself how hard this has been, how hard it was even to write this, and ask myself one more time- "How hard would you play today, if you knew you couldn't play tomorrow?".