In July of 2002, I stepped into a squat rack for my final strength test before my senior football season at WMU. When I got to the bottom of the squat and began coming back up, I felt a pinch in the middle of my back. Nearly 14 years later, three back specialists, multiple MRIs and x-rays, two chiropractors, and two physical therapists, the pain still exists. Does that suck? Absolutely. Is that part of the deal with athletics? Unfortunately for some, including me, it is. Does it give me an excuse for why I’m terrible at golf? Definitely. 🙂
Prior to that injury, I’d spent thousands of hours in the weight room. I worked hard to keep good form most of the time and when I got hurt that day, I figured it was temporary, like so many other injuries I sustained in my athletic career. I was fortunate enough to never have an injury knock me out of the game for good and the back injury was no different. I was able to play my entire senior season, even though I was only playing in games (not practicing much) by the end of that year.
Injuries are part of the games we play. When I connect with former athletes, it’s a rarity not to get into a conversation about an injury they sustained while playing. Many of them didn’t have issues until they got older. Nevertheless, the injuries linger and seem to catch us all eventually.
I was fortunate to earn an athletic scholarship to college, but I often joke with people that didn’t play in college, when they finish paying their student loans, athletes start paying for our education with our bodies.
People regularly ask me a couple questions:
- Was it worth it?
- Will I let my son play football?
For the first question, the answer is simple. It was absolutely worth it. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without football. It amplified my sense of discipline, teamwork and work ethic driving me today. When “regular” students were opening a beer at 1:30 in the afternoon or finishing their final class of the day around 2 P.M. I was leaving for practice every day or waking up at 5:00 A.M. for morning workouts in the dead of winter. There was no calling in sick. There was no sleeping in. There were no days off.
Did I have some privileges afforded to me that non-athletes didn’t have? For sure. Being on the football team had its benefits, many of which I’ll write about on my blog. But it was a lot of work; and while I still endure the back pain I sustained while playing, I benefit from the experience and lessons football taught me.
The second question isn’t so simple. My son is a different person than me. He’ll see the world through his own eyes. What was right for me may not be right for him. If he’s the type of person that lives to compete and play, it’s worth the conversation, but there’s no definitive answer at this point. He’s only a year old.
One of the many things I’m fond of about my parents is they didn’t force me to play sports. They did force me to be involved and sports happened to be what I loved to do. As my son gets older, we’ll see what he has an affinity for. One thing I do know, just as my parents pushed me to be the best I could be, I’ll push him as well. No sitting around for that young man.
Back pain is something I will continue to work on and hopefully be able to keep in check. A couple weeks ago I couldn’t get out of bed Monday or Tuesday morning, but like all those cold winter mornings when I was waking up at 5:00 am to go run myself into the ground, I had to figure it out and find a way to get up. There really is no other choice.