If you hadn’t noticed, I took a couple of weeks off at the end of the year, beginning of this year.
After putting it off for more than two years, I finally scheduled my total knee replacement. Trying to find a six-week period in my lifestyle where I could shut down and work on nothing but my own physical rehabilitation proved to be difficult.
If I wasn’t coaching my high school team, I was coaching futsal with the last of my Wolves team. When that was over it was on to club season and with an exceptional spring season and tournament play, our season didn’t end until mid-June. I was the senior class co-advisor so I couldn’t miss graduation and other senior events.
We do a family vacation in early July, so I couldn’t take the 6-hour drive and the stairs and distance to get to and from the beach after a replacement surgery. When we got back from the beach, it was only a few weeks before the high school soccer season began and the cycle continued.
So, I found a time where I could take the shortest time off from work and utilize my own holiday time off to get to where I’m semi-functional again and could get back to work. When I first got home from the hospital, I was convinced I could bang out a column, until the post-op meds convinced me otherwise.
It might have been a more interesting read, but I decided it best if I just took some time off.
This was my third joint replacement surgery in the last 6-7 years. This one, a total knee replacement, is the culmination of all of those years of abuse and overuse on an overweight body trying to keep themselves young.
One of the worst parts of this rehabilitation process is trying to keep your brain sharp. Because of the significance of the surgery, almost my whole day is devoted to increasing the strength and flexibility of my new joint or finding some way to keep myself comfortable while at rest.
When resting, I’ve spent countless hours watching mindless television, news programs, old movies, and countless reruns of “NFL Live” or “Good Morning Football.”
One day during the stretch I came across a string of ESPN “30 For 30” programs that drew my attention for most of the afternoon — particularly the story of the 1985 Chicago Bears, a show I highly recommend to anyone who loves football.
The story was not only about the incredible season where they dominated the entire league (except for the Dolphins on “Monday Night Football”) all the way through the Super Bowl, the larger-than-life personalities of their coaches Mike Ditka and Buddy Ryan, quarterback Jim McMahon, defensive leaders William “The Refrigerator” Perry and Mike Singletary, and the greatness of Walter Payton — “Sweetness,” arguably the greatest running back of all time.
What captured my attention was the reporting of what has happened to many of the players from that year’s roster after their careers were over. There was McMahon, who has been diagnosed with early onset dementia, (he’s 60) spending much of his day putting together massive, intricate puzzles to keep his brain sharp.
Ryan, the architect of the great 4-6 defensive scheme that changed the game and who led the “Monsters of Midway” to be arguably the greatest defensive team in NFL history (although us Ravens fans know better), is shown being pushed around in a wheelchair by Singletary after having suffered a few strokes that have limited his mobility and ability to communicate.
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There are the heartbreaking stories of Payton’s death of a rare liver disease and safety Dave Duerson’s suicide, afraid to face what was surely in his future with the onset of symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy from his years in football. Duerson texted his family prior to taking his life asking to have his brain donated to science to study its effects.
Even Super Bowl MVP Richard Dent showed concern on what lay ahead for his teammates and him.
There are so many benefits to a lifetime in sports and few drawbacks, but sports can take its physical toll on those that chose to enter the arena.
As I lay on the table at physical therapy and try to push myself through some uncomfortable exercises to strengthen the muscles around my new knee, it’s all of those years of practice, all those preseason workout sessions, and the understanding that your hard work will pay off in the long run that keeps me focused and working hard at my rehabilitation.
At the end of the “30 For 30” special, they asked everyone of the Bears players if they would do things differently and not one, not one of them would give up anything for the experience that they had with that one season.
When I look back at my time in sports with no regrets, I remember the words of the great Evel Knievel when he said, “I decided to fly through the air and live in the sunlight and enjoy life as much as I could.”
I may be crazy, but I wouldn’t trade one lousy summer practice in the God-awful southern heat with gnats surrounding my head — even in the year that I was redshirted and couldn’t play in games — for one less day of physical therapy.