Archive for Thursday, April 27, 2006

Opinion: Just playing is a victory

April 27, 2006

A lot of people think it's odd when I tell them I'm celebrating the two-year anniversary of my hospitalization this week.

Well, it's not like I'm celebrating the fact that two years ago Friday I was in critical condition with meningitis, spending the first of more than 130 straight days in the hospital.

I'm more celebrating the fact that I'm still alive, that I survived that awful day.

I've also tried to use this week to reflect back on that time in the hospital and what I learned from it. Those lessons have a lot more to do with sports than you might think.

First of all, I have a new perspective on sports since my brush with death. It's not that I think sports are trivial or meaningless, on the contrary I think they're very important. It's winning and losing that doesn't seem quite so key anymore.

I used to be incredibly competitive, to the point where sports hardly seemed worth playing unless I was playing to win. I used to sneer at the "participation" ribbons that coaches would hand out in youth leagues. I took participation for granted, anyone could participate.

Now I know that's not quite true; participation isn't promised to anyone. Plenty of people are unable to participate in sports for a variety of reasons, everything from physical to financial. Today, because of the toxins that ravaged my blood vessels, I'm one of them.

But all of us will get to that point someday. Whether we admit it or not, we're fragile human beings and all of us who love sports will reach a day where we can't participate in them the way we'd like to, whether because of injuries, illness or just the natural aging process.

I can say from experience that when we're no longer able to play it's not the feeling of victory that we'll miss, it's the simple joy of participating that will leave an ache of nostalgia.

Remembering what it was like to fly down the basketball court at full speed, the ball in your hand, a teammate to one side of you and only one defender to beat. All eyes on you and even you aren't sure what you're going to do.

Those moments when your mind is completely focused on the here and now and your body feels free. That's what I miss about sports the most.

If I was told that I could have my hands and feet restored in order to play sports, but that I would never win a single game again, I would still make that deal in a heartbeat.

Winning is always fun, but the lessons I took from sports rarely came from the successful games and seasons. It was what I learned from the tough times that helped me during my darkest days.

Playing sports taught me to persevere, to move forward and overcome adversity. Bad things happen to all of us, things we could never have planned for, or even imagined. The true test of success is how we respond to these hardships.

Like a hitter who strikes out with the bases loaded, or a team whose star player gets injured right before the playoffs, I learned that I had to try and get over crushing disappointment and make the most of the future.

It's a major reason that I'm out and about today, still actively putting the pieces of my life back together after they were utterly shattered two years ago.

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