Monday, March 02, 2009

Time to Hang 'Em Up?

This Thursday will start my tenth year of playing rugby. I've had a good run; I was Captain of my team for a few years and held several different positions on the team's executive board but managed to avoid being President. In retrospect that was probably a mistake because I was Match Secretary for three years running.

The Match Secretary sets the team's schedule, is generally responsible for the majority of the day-to-day logistics (getting directions to the team for away games or getting your opponent directions to your home field, making sure you have a lit field to practice on, a field where you can play games, getting the fields lined, etc.) of running a rugby team. Because our union is run by miserable shitheels, each team has to fend for itself with regard to fields, so it's a never ending struggle to say the least.

According to WifeRat, every year for the last 3 or 4 years I start talking about hanging up my boots. Not Timberland boots, rugby boots. Almost all of the rugby slang and terminology used in the States is British in origin because there is no distinctive American rugby culture. So your cleats are "boots", your rugby gear is your "kit", and you talk about your 'mates; not because we're trying to sound snobby and British but simply because there are no American words for those things and rough American translations always sound kind of goofy.

Anyway, I guess before I made some sort of half-hearted offer to retire from being a full-time, active player just to make sure it's still cool with the wife that I kept playing rugby. At this point I think we all know that I'll never stop playing all together until I am physically unable to roll my old bones onto the field. But there's a big difference between turning up for a couple of B-sides each season and the Old Boy/Young Boy game and actually being a fully committed player.

The difference this year is that I'm really not sure I want to keep playing. A lot has changed in the time since the Spring 2008 season ended; I coached my first team, my Dad died, and my wife is pregnant with our second child. All of these things bring a new perspective and new challenges.

Coaching for the first time really opened my eyes to the fact that after my playing days are over I still have something to give this game that I have come to love so much. I always knew that I would be a good coach, for many years I worked as a technical trainer; breaking down subjects and making them understandable, creating documentation, and commanding rooms full of people who all thought they were the smartest person in the room. Still, just like I was shocked at how eagerly my teammates made me their leader and followed me without question as Captain. I was just as surprised to find that my young charges at MSUM Rugby wanted me to ride their asses, to correct them, and to push them harder than they could push themselves as their coach.

It was exhilarating to say the least. I heard myself starting to sound like my high school football coaches reflexively telling my players, "Hurry back, hurry back!" at the end of each repetition of a drill. I loved standing on the sled, lining up my players, and seeing them explode like a fist each time I yelled, "ENGAGE!" I finally came to understand the weird, sadistic glee that my coaches always seemed to take in running us until we barfed. I dunno, maybe it was just all the yelling I really enjoyed.

Without a rugby team to keep me anchored I don't know what I would have done out in Fargo in the wake of my Father's death, so I owe those boys out there a debt that I can never repay. Being back in DC has brought the old man's passing into sharp focus for me, just like I knew it would. I have all kinds of shit related to Dad's passing to deal with, not the least of which is a now empty 3 family house in Newark that needs to be sold. Can someone explain to me how a man who kept every single bit of documentation, for every toy he ever bought his Granddaughter in a neatly labeled folder dies WITHOUT HAVING A FUCKING WILL?!?!?!?!?

In the immediate aftermath of my Father's death, when my Mom felt like I wasn't doing enough she told my sister that I don't take care of her I take care of my wife. To which my response is, "No shit Sherlock." Apparently my Mom has forgotten that she and my Grandmother had similar pissing matches over whether or not my family came to visit her often enough and a whole host of other issues including who should sit in the front seat when my Mom, Dad, and Grandmother were in the car together.

Women in the audience who have sons, please do not engage in this kind of "Woe is me," horse shit when your son gets married it will cause him great pain. Married women, please be patient with your husband when your Mother-in-law goes for the psychological Cobra Clutch Backbreaker and reduces him to whimpering pile of neurosis.

Another soul will be joining our family this Summer. Naturally this means that the few moments I get for myself each week, will be reduced to approximately no moments for about six months after the new kid gets here. I knew this ahead of time, but I have to wonder if the last few months before my home is invaded by a screaming shit machine should be spent playing grab ass with my friends or doing home improvement projects that won't get done for several years if they don't happen now. There's also the fact that BabyRat is starting to show some interest in playing sports herself and if she has a game at the same time I have a game, I know I'm shit outta luck.

The last few years as I've adjusted to being a family man, I've felt like if I didn't keep playing rugby the little part of myself and my life that I keep just for me would wither and die. Now I know that piece of me will never go away; it might become infinitesimally small, it may never see the light of day, but it will always still be there. This is the life I chose for myself, I have no regrets and the joy that my family brings me makes up for the sacrifices I know I must make to do right by them a million times over.

If I choose to keep playing I know WifeRat will support me, but the question I continue to ask myself is: do I have anything left? I finished the Spring '08 season strong; I led the team to a tournament win playing tighthead prop for four games and scored four tries that day. Of course, the next week I got folded, spindled, and mutilated by a PAC team that was out for blood.

I'm not sure which of those guys was the real me. Was it the guy who limped off the field after getting destroyed by a Super League front row or was it the guy who showed the next generation of young bucks how you win a tournament? I guess I'll find out on Thursday night when I go to practice.


Knockout Ed said...

great post, you'll find equilibrium. i'm a big believer in just trusting yourself & listening to those who you you best.

Hill Rat said...

Thanks man. Like I said, I don't know that I'll ever quit completely but at the same time I know that I'll never be 100% committed (as a player) again.

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