For many of us amateurs and enthusiasts, sports is an integral and maybe even a critical part of life. During office breaks or boring lectures, our mind invariably wanders to the court or playground, imagining how we will score a great goal in the evening’s game or cursing ourselves for messing up a simple shot. We cheer for our idols, and scream our lungs out willing our team to victory.
But today I don’t want to talk about how glorious sports is, or how it builds character, or how it is essential for health in our sedentary urban lives. All of it is true, and also obvious. What I want to talk about today is the often ignored but integral aspect of sports: injuries. Every sportsman worth his name suffers sporting injuries in his pro or amateur career. It could range anything from a twisted ankle to a busted ACL requiring multiple surgeries. The one I had is somewhere in between.
During my last year in college, while playing in the inter-hostel football championship I had a terrible fall. My boots were a bit worne out and it must have rained the last night. While running to intercept a pass, I lost traction and fell down of my own accord. No tackle, no contact. But I landed flat on my back, main impact on the hips. I got up a bit jaded, but shrugged it off and continued the game. We won the game and in the elation, I even forgot about the fall. Next morning I woke up with a jammed and badly hurting back. I could barely move, and the pain radiated to my lower limbs. What ensued was a long tale of hospitals, MRIs and physiotherapy. One of the lower discs in my spine was damaged and was compressing the spinal cord.
I consulted the top orthopedics and neurosurgeons. They initally suggested rest, banned sports, and prescribed painkillers to manage pain. It worked to an extent and the pain was on the decline after couple of months. I can’t exactly recollect how, but one day the pain came back with renewed vigour. Even lyind down was unbearably painful. This time I consulted Bombay’s most famous neurosurgeon. After a few rounds of examination and tests, he recommended surgically removing the problematic disk. A family friend was incidently studying neurosurgery in the same hospital with a different doctor. He did not agree and had me checked by his professor. They both decided that spinal surgery was a very risky option, especially for a 23 year old. They told me to bear the pain and gradually build muscle strength. Surgery could be done when all other options had be exhausted. Slowly, my pain did become managable but it took my almost two more years before I could even contemplate playing any sports again.
Through all the sleepless nights, lying on the bed, I would question myself if I hated football for putting me through this hell. Somehow the answer would always be a resounding NO. No matter how much the pain or how difficult and lonely the ordeal, I just could not get myself to hate the game. Some days I would wonder if football was worth this. And the heart would always say Yes, it was! It made me realize sports was not just about the passion or the joy of victory or gloom of defeat. Sports is much more than that. During the moments of intense, single minded pursuit, you become one with yourself. Nothing else matters other than the game itself. The past has no meaning, the future doesn’t worry. What matters is just this moment, putting in your best, and competing beyond what you thought were your limits. You are in the zone. You achieve the state of flow. It is something which cannot be described fully. You just have to experience it. And once you have, you know that it is the greatest feeling. As pure as possible.
Coming back to my endeavours with football, I tried playing once I felt fit enough. But every game would leave me with a mild pain in the lower back, sometimes up to a week. I kept trying with breaks, but it always hurt. Doctors say it could be because of physical contact with other players. I had a tough time convincing myself that my days playing football were truly over. But my body just didn’t permit it and spinal surgery is still very risky.
My tryst with sports doesn’t end on this sad note, though. Once you start identifying yourself as a sportsman, you cannot see yourself as not being one. I had picked squash in college. I was skeptical if my back would be able to sustain the demanding nature of the sport. It has been four years since I started playing regularly, but somehow I’ve never had any serious pain. It has become an integral part of my weekly routine. I feel lousy and restless if a week goes by without playing. I am an average player but improving my game has almost become an obsession. My current work demand does not allow regular coaching so I look up videos and tutorials online. They are helpful but no substitute for a good teacher. Sometime soon, hopefully. Maybe I’ll get good enough to compete in the local tournament circuit. That would be a dear childhood dream fulfilled.