Well, I guess it had to end someday….I have decided, after my last injury, to hang up my rugby boots…and it hurts…in more ways than one.
See I love rugby, have loved it ever since I got pulled out of a gym when I was approached by this guy in short shorts while I was under a squat rack with over 500 pounds on it. He asked me if I wanted to play rugby and that they were short players. After a short explanation of the game, “you get to run around and hit other men” I followed him out to the pitch in the middle of the quadrangle at Ft. Davis, Panama. They looked at me and said “you’re a prop” I said “whats that” they said “stick your head between these two guys. I had about 15 minutes of practice and the game started. I was a mess, I remember running around tackling anyone with the ball, I was so excited I think I may have tacked my own guys. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing (some say I still don’t!) and then we drank…a lot. Then as a tight head prop, I couldn’t lift my head for 2 or 3 days due to the pain. It was a blast and I was hooked.
But it’s time.
Two months ago, I played in a tournament with my brothers against a group of 50s teams (we are mostly 60 or over) and I suffered two concussions in two games. As a prop, I’m pretty used to them and there are many photos of me with bloody eyes over the years but the second one was different and scared me.
After a pretty hard hit from another player, I had placed the ball so the guys could ruck over me, and I was walking away when this wave of pressure literally exploded into my skull and nearly dropped me to my knees. Another player asked me if I got hit in the head and I responded yes, but I continued to play…and then, like a dumb ass, I played another game.
I didn’t notice much till the middle of November when I was at dinner, and someone handed me a phone. I got extremely dizzy looking at it and I thought back to earlier in the day when I was walking back from the conference in Boston and the light was just glaring…. hurting my eyes like never before. A few days later I am with my wife and started getting dizzy again and started looking back at that second hit.
Talking with friends and some docs, it appears the blast of pressure I felt and these symptoms are associated with second impact syndrome, a sometimes fatal condition that arises from two concussive hits that are relatively close together that can lead to possible serious injuries, I don’t know why I wasn’t dropped that day, maybe the second hit wasn’t all that bad, maybe I didn’t have any broken vessels in my head (usually this condition has significant internal bleeding), who knows. When you look into it, it’s kind of scary. Not really afraid to die, my son is waiting me, but still…..
Then, this month, I spent the whole month around my youngest family members, my nephews and their kids and my daughters and my new grandson and will spend time with my to be other grandson (Andi!!!) when I realized that I better start living for them and not risk my health.
What kind of grandpa will I be, drooling from a wheelchair?
So, I decided then, as my first grandson was born, and I was watching from afar…to hang up them old boots.
Time to live for others.
Like all athletes, this also hurts in another way. I am 60 and have been playing on the field since that day in the gym when I was 30 years old. That’s 30 years of playing with some of the finest men I have ever met. Men I have bled with, fought with, drank with, chased girls with (when I was younger honey!) and have created stories and (and myths!) of renown. These men are my brothers, they have served their country with me, done business with me, raised money for charities together and have blessed me with their humor, humility, loyalty, their integrity and their honor. They were the ones that came across the country when my son Mac left us behind to hug me, comfort me and remember him. They knew him, they mentored him at tournaments, taught him how to pour keg beer, told him stories that only he can tell. Only rugby players can make a dad smile in a time of such suffering and loss, and it was their presence and love that, quite possibly, kept me alive afterwards.
I love these men.
This is also the reason that my son Mac is not here. Almost as much as his family, Mac loved his teammates and his coaches.
He loved spending time with them, going on wrestling and football trips, staying in hotels, just he and the guys. There were his friends, they came over to our house and he went to theirs.
He loved them so much, he could not let them down, just couldn’t. So, he continued to play and suffer, and in those last years, when it hurt the most, like a great athlete, he put his head down and kept playing. Till he could not play anymore.
What a guy.
But it is time to move to another team, the social one. I have two torn rotator cuffs that I will NOT fix, osteoarthritis in every joint of my body, neck and back pain, a ruptured hamstring that has not healed in 3 or 4 years, and according to the VA, probably some brain damage from 30 years of play. (They asked me if had any scars, I said look at my eyebrows). Not complaining, I still can run, lift and ruck with the pain, and will, but I can’t jeopardize my health anymore nor the time I want to spend with these kids. In the absence of Mac, they are my world…and I must live for them till I see Mac again. It’s also a good reason to buy a bigger boat!
I also must keep serving Mac and all the kids like him who have been hurt through years of subconcussive exposure and trauma.
Through his loss, he and the Lord have led me on a path of understanding that has led to a foundation, a book, a documentary (in development) and will lead to continued presence on parents, government, schools and sports organization to effect change.
Mac and others like him should be here, and we need to inform and educate society so that other parents do not share our pain.
So, to my mates, I’m sorry.
Like any military brother or athlete, I feel I’m letting you down. It will suck watching you continue to play knowing I want, with all my heart to be out there, but I won’t. I’ll bring you beers, I’ll play the bagpipes, I’ll even massage your tired legs, back and shoulders (and that’s all!) but I won’t be out there for the first time in 30 years, and I will miss that more than anything. Even as a Sergeant Major I had to realize that I couldn’t have all the fun, but I can damn sure support it and take care of you all and I’ll still have my boots on!