Editor’s note: Brien is a well-traveled Houstonian and Army Combat Veteran with an extremely wide range of talents and interests including the NFL (Packers), Irish History, and writing. Follow him on twitter @ODonalsVanguard
By BRIEN O’DONAL
Not that long ago I used to hear Fred Faour and A.J. Hoffman doing a commercial for one of their sponsors by stating something to the effect “Maybe you’re an old man and you got hurt playing a young man’s game.” I always thought it was a funny line because I considered myself an in-shape athlete and I wouldn’t suffer any serious injury. Well, I was wrong. I was an old man playing a young man’s game and I did suffer a serious injury. It was a career ender. And while I’m still recovering I now have a newfound appreciation for how difficult it is to perform at a high level when the body should be past its prime.
Here’s what happened to me. Over the summer a recreational sports facility near my house which hosts adult leagues finally decided they would have flag football. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Seriously? You got hurt playing flag football?” Yes, I did. My normal workouts consisted of weight training and long distance running. Leading up to the start of the season I began lifting lighter weights and running sprints trying to build the cardio I figured I would need. I deluded myself into thinking that at age 35 I would still be fine playing flag football like I did when I was in college at age 28 and only two years removed from the Army.
When I got to the field that night I was staring at an opposing team of twenty-somethings that were all very much in shape and as well organized as a flag football team could be. My team that I met for the first time that night consisted of a few skinny soccer players, some of their friends, and another guy who never played but was a big Auburn fan. Right from the start I realized we were extremely over-matched and it played out that way. When we got down by about five touchdowns I pleaded with the referee to end the game on the mercy rule but since the game was technically a scrimmage we were playing for time. It only got worse from there and as the ref signaled the final play, I took off from the line on a shallow crossing route and heard that ominous loud pop as I collapsed on the field. I suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon.
As soon as the diagnosis was confirmed I knew I would never be participating in organized sports again. After surgery and months of recovery I have started really thinking about how difficult it must be for athletes both amateur and professional to maintain the fitness level needed to play at a high level. I always joked with people who did sprints or pick-up games that my body is trained to run miles not yards. My month and a half of doing sprints was not nearly enough because of my advanced age. Recovery has been even more daunting. When I see athletes on TV playing much harder than I could ever know I am in awe of how their bodies perform without serious injury. When those players that do suffer a major injury to come back to still compete at that level it’s even more amazing. Think of Adrian Peterson a few years ago and Jordy Nelson this year.
Injuries are a part of life but any time you get a major one there has to be some sort of thought regarding the future; especially during the surgery and recovery. I know the pros get paid a lot of money and have access to the best doctors and physical therapists but the human body is still the human body. I’m an average joe and I don’t have to regain supreme fitness but I’ve been told it will take a year to get back to where I was before my injury. They usually have to do it in less time than someone like me. I couldn’t imagine having to do that.
I fully admire all athletes who put their bodies through hell for their sports. It’s a shame when some realize they can’t do it anymore and even worse when that decision is thrust upon them like it was for me. My life will go on and over the coming years I will regain a level of fitness that keeps me happy. My career in organized sports may be over but that wasn’t how I earned a living anyways so it’s not that big of a deal. As much as I love playing sports I don’t think I will miss it too much. I can only sit back and hope that I don’t have to cringe every time I see an athlete suffer the same fate I did.