A never-ending journey?
"Don't slouch", my parents always used to say to me, just like many parents to their growing kids as they hit the teenage years. Quite probably as a result of this along with years of doing sport and looking after my physique, I have a good posture. When I sit at my desk at work and type at my keyboard I sit very straight, I am the same at home with my laptop whether at the table or on the sofa, I am not comfortable writing like this otherwise.
However right now I am slouched, layed back and propped on a comfy pillow on my hotel bed in Denmark. My laptop is propped on my stomach and isn't the best position I've ever typed in.. It's actually resulted in me almost two index finger typing. Behind my own contradiction is the reason that I am elevating my tired legs. I am in Denmark playing in another European Club Cup Challenge. Another year has gone by and each year it gets harder. As I come to the twighlight years of my competitive hockey playing career, after playing my third match in three days and a training session before those, the posture can go and do one I'm afraid. I'm a little stiff. My muscles are starting to ache. My hamstrings are tightening and my knees have earned a long summer rest after this week. Actually they will command a rest, even if not earned, tuff titty. I have reached that stage in life.
But as my team mate totters about the room and is attached to his smart phone, I am actually liking the stiffness. I welcome it. No pain, no gain. Well, I have pained a lot over the last twenty odd years or so of playing competitively, but more importantly I have gained so much.
I have gained a way of life, a way to be. A sense of belonging to a collective. I have given my all and done something for a bigger good, I have contributed my part. I could never play an individual sport like tennis or golf. I am for the team, I need to feel I belong to something in this life. But hey, don't we all. Limping and bleeding and grinning at each other because of it is a very warming and captivating feeling. Camaraderie counts to infinity. I have permanent callouses at the bottom of three fingers on my palm of my left hand and one on the right. Even in two years that I stopped playing because of work and study commitments, they didn't go away. They are like tattoos of my passion. I have had a hockey stick in my hand all this week, yet as I pause to think about what I'm writing I still pick up my stick and move it in my hands. Like a faithful dog it is propped by my bed. I look at where it needs taping up after I finish writing here. At home I always have a ball out with it. My neighbours must hate the tip-tap on the tiled floor in these moments between writing blocks and paragraphs, but it helps me focus.
So when this tournament finishes, so does yet another season and I wonder how many more I will have. How long will this journey last for? It almost scares me when I think that I might not have long left. I feel a little bitter about missing a few years of play in total and almost feel like I am making up lost time. My foot is on the gas like so many younger years. How long will the legs hold out for? I can feel this year that some of my speed has deserted me. It didn't let my head know and I struggle for it to get around it. My younger team mates look faster this year than ever before.
Not so long a go I saw a photo of me as a fresh-faced 17-year old player in a winning indoor league line up; I look at myself and if I am honest, I don't feel that much older. But then I look at some of my team mates in that line up who play no more, their sticks well and truly hung up in a garage. And I am immensely proud. Proud to be in that line up with some great players but right now, proud to be still going. More than anything, more than the pride, comes the passion. It is that which drives me on. One of my brothers lives in Denmark with his family and they came along to watch, along with my mother who had flown over from England. She has never seen me ever play a hockey match in over 25 years of playing. My nephew and niece wanted to hold my stick and play when I came off the field. Yes, it was another injection of pride and a 6-year old and a 4-year old's energy injection which transform in to passion. Or does the passion give me energy.
Maybe those two years away from playing before I came to Spain were a blessing in disguise, even though I missed it like a lover you cannot get enough of, who you can't take your hands or eyes off. The one that lingers there for you. I would love for this journey to be never ending, like I want to make love until I'm a hundred. Yet as the season comes to and end I am not far behind on the same road as Jonny Wilkinson and Ryan Giggs; two phenomena and commanding figures of their respective sports who have hung up their playing boots.
Or am I?
As I play here this week the Hockey World Cup Finals are being played in Holland. My team mate's father is umpiring there. My other friend is playing in the Masters Over-40 tournament there too. There is an Over-55 and I think an Over-75. The legs may eventually give up but I don't think I will ever be able to let go of the grip on a hockey stick. Callouses to the day I die. It's strangely comforting.
I know though, that I will be almost foaming at the mouth rabie-like again to play when September comes around. I hope my legs agree with me. The Italians say 'barcollo ma non mollo' - I wobble but I won't give up, I will keep on going. I maybe owe it back to the sporting life it has given me. Just a shame it didn't bring me a few more pennies like a professional so I could do it all day every day.
I will sleep well tonight. After all these days of music blaring down our team's hotel corridor between rooms, walk down it and you will understand why I do this. This has been my life, and I am still alive and kicking.
I know where I belong, in one of my earliest posts here over 5 years ago I knew it #15 . We are a team. We belong. I will be rabie-like, wide-eyed and ready for tomorrow's match like I have always been. Then I will be tanked up and pretty pissed up with 20 other brothers-in-arms after the close of play. I gotta be honest, it's part of why I do this ;-)