What Football Did to Me
I’m here again. My chest is on fire; my feet scrape the pebbles out of the concrete. My thighs act as motors to the wide body vehicle I feel I’ve become. I’m here, at the moment, when I feel like I could run through Brock Lessner if I had to score a touchdown. 97% of the men on this planet couldn’t stop me from trucking them. The wind is rushing across my face like frail children scared to get run over.
Then it happens, like a pebble stuck in the bicycle chain. A nuisance taps the brain, whispering, “Slow down. Slow down. Slow down.” But I want to keep peddling. I want to finish strong! I finish my sprint, and there it is. A pain shoots up from my knees to my brain. It’s back. That rest did absolutely nothing for me. It never will. My knees will hurt for the rest of my life.
I’ve heard the sayings. “You’re getting old.” “You have old man knees.” It’s fun to joke about, but really, if I can be honest, I’m mad at myself every time that pain comes rushing back. I’ve be dealing with it for 14 years now. All because I chose to squat 400+lbs and take a knee on track turf for an extended period of time. You would never think that the sharp pain from your knee would become permanent, but it did.
Youth tends to make you believe you can muscle through anything. Though my knees hurt after kneeling for so long, I just knew they would heal. However, days turned into weeks, and weeks into months. Now, here I am, suffering every time I squat, drive a car, run, jump, or play any sport of any kind.
The doctor called it tendonitis, and told me it isn’t cured but rather relieved for the rest of my life. The knees are too commonly used in the day-to-day functions. The only way I could cure it was to get surgery, which was costly and could lead to more issues. I had hoped he was wrong, but it didn’t take long to see that he wasn’t.
Having tendonitis changed my life. I haven’t squatted more than 300lbs in years. I hardly ever do sprints. I spend a lot of time with my legs completely extended or elevated. I can’t do wall sits for more than a minute, nor can I squat down to talk to little kids for very long either. Don’t ask me to do housework without knee pads. I can’t sit in the lotus position (meditation). I hate driving for hours, or even during rush hour. I don’t run more than two miles. I do my best to avoid straining my knees and bringing that pain back in full force.
Tendonitis took one of the greatest loves in life from me. I loved working out. I loved seeing what it did for me physically, and I still like seeing women’s eyes linger on my muscles (I know. I know). Nowadays, it takes a lot to motivate me to workout consistently because I know at the end of that workout I’ll be rubbing my knees throughout the days to my next workout.
This past March, my homeboys decided to start a workout group to help us stay disciplined with our weight and health. I was more than happy to join them, but I knew what that meant for me, and I really didn’t want to go through it again. It takes months of resting to make the pain go away completely. I didn’t want it back, but I can’t say I’ve been disciplined with my diet either. It’s either workout, or eat food I don’t like. You know which one I picked.
I lost close to ten pounds and bam, back came the throbbing. I hadn’t even started using weights. Additionally, fearing the pain mentally affected my workouts. I didn’t push as hard, or workout as long. I hated knowing that the pain was going to return. It affected my weight loss and motivation. It even made me depressed. It didn’t matter what exercise I picked. If I had to bend my knees or shift my weight aggressively in the slightest, it was going to hurt at some point. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a thorn I’m willing to bear. Because if I could do it all over, I wouldn’t change a thing.
If I could relive my high school career, I would sign up for football again. I’d squat 400+lbs again. I’d probably avoid kneeling on track turf again, but I’d still go back through that season and risk having tendonitis again. Football boosted my confidence and competitive spirit in all aspects of my life, and it gave me friends I will never forget.
When I first entered football, my coach affectionately called me, “P.E. [physical education] boy.” I ran a 6.2-second 40-yard dash. My first week of offseason football practice left me sore for four days. They were trying to weed out the mentally and physically weak. This was where I discovered my determination rivaled some of the best. I wasn’t going to be defeated.
In two years, I went from not knowing how to properly squat to squatting more than most of my teammates. I went from a 6.2 40-yard dash to a 5-second 40-yard dash. I went from benching 135lbs to benching 300lbs. More than anything, I learned about who men were, and who I was amongst men.
The relationships I established in those days still drive me today. I remember all of my teammates, and can name most of them by name. I see how they’ve lived and moved on from high school, and they have all made me proud in some way or another. We’ve all grown up.
To forsake those relationships just to spare me of a knee problem just doesn’t justify. Some of those men are brothers to me. Even though we haven’t seen each other in years, they are my brothers. I’ve spoken to God on many of their behalves, and I’ve watched God work through them whether they’ve recognized it or not. I wouldn’t trade that for healthy knees.
Yes, it sucks to have my knee lock up on me after a jumper and everyone comes to check on me like I’m an old man (25). Yes, it sucks when I’m in pain because I squatted for more than ten seconds. Yes, it sucks that I have to find ways to keep my legs stretched, even in cramped situations like on a flight. Yes, it sucks that right after this workout I’m doing, I’ll have to put on a brace to give my knee some rest for the remainder of the day. Having knee problems sucks.
Yet, I’d gladly reclaim those knee problems every time if it meant I got to watch my boy straight clobber a running back out of bounds. I’d do it again to watch my boy chase down a receiver from 70 yards out at the perfect pursuit angle. I’d boldly return to see my quarterback chunk a ball 50 yards to a covered receiver, who jumped up 3 feet to snag it out of the air. I’d relive each of those precious feats with those men. I’d endure it to see us all progress in the weight room, on the field, and in life. I’d do it again, because although football gave me lingering pain, it also gave me lingering friendships. I have more friends than I even know what to do with. That is worth more than the pain I’ve endured in my entire life.
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