So it’s a Wednesday evening and I’ve just got back from rugby training and I’m tucking into a snack, exactly as I have done for nearing on hundreds of Wednesdays over the last 6 years. But it hasn’t always felt like this.
It’s now been 658 days since I last played a game of rugby. That’s 20 months, two weeks and one day. When people ask me if I play rugby, I say yes, but do I really? Am I even a rugby player anymore? I haven’t played in almost two years so how can I be? I’ve never played with some of my best mates in my team, and recently I’ve been starting to question whether I ever will.
Where it all started
The thought of playing again has been a huge motivation for me since my ankle ligament reconstruction last year, and it still does excite me. But over the last year in particular that excitement has been massively overruled by fear, which is something I’ve never experienced before in rugby, or life in general come to think of it.
When I first started playing as a Fresher at Uni I wasn’t afraid to get stuck in right from the start. Heck ever since I started playing it quickly became “my thing” – something which I’d never really had before. I always gave it my absolute all – I don’t have enough hands to count the number of times I sacrificed something for rugby, whether it be a uni assignment, a social event or literally anything! Rugby always came first, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I couldn’t have imagined I’d ever willingly skip rugby training, let alone fear it. But that’s where I’m at right now.
I can’t pinpoint the exact time I started to fear rugby, but It’s got to the stage where I find it so hard to stand there and watch my teammates play – I constantly think someone is going to get injured. It’s not as if my injuries were majorly traumatic – I played on a fractured leg for six weeks+, finished a match having ruptured two ligaments in my ankle within the first 5 minutes, only to carry on with life as usual until I decided 9 months later something wasn’t right, and who knows when I did my shoulder! So although they played a big part in my life, I wouldn’t say I’m hugely scarred by them.
When I was playing, I was always fine seeing/hearing other people get injured – don’t get me wrong it took a hot minute to un-hear the first snap of someone’s bone, but slightly worryingly you do get immune to it! So why am I now suddenly terrified of watching, let alone the thought of playing?!
Having attended pretty much every single match and training session over the last year and a half even while injured, I’ve recently found myself not wanting to go. I had a few weeks of getting back into the swing of things about 2 months post shoulder op, and I absolutely loved being able to run around with my pals again. But after a three-month hiatus, Tracy Baker (the Baker’s Cyst on the back of my left knee) made her unwelcome return.
So I immediately stopped doing the high impact exercises I’d gradually introduced again, which meant no more joining in with the non-contact training. This was definitely really really frustrating, and I think is a big reason why I’ve lost a lot of my passion for rugby at the mo. I kind of started to question will it ever be better? The MRI didn’t show any underlying problems so is this just the way it’s gonna be forever? Then I started to question whether the noodle would ever be all right to play, which is pretty stupid really because at the mo there isn’t really any reason why it shouldn’t be. But what about my ankle? It’s been 20 months since reconstruction so should be all good, but I haven’t actually played with it yet so what if it’s not, how do I know if it’s fine?
I’ve probably bailed on actually joining in with training for about 75% of the sessions in the last 2 months. It all started because it would make my knee feel a bit shit, my calves would get even more tight and then I randomly started to get shin splints despite only doing the teeniest amount of running every now and then. It went from wincing a little bit while watching my mates get tackled but still really looking forward to being able to get to it myself, to then dreading training in case it aggravated any niggles or I picked up new ones. The combination of the two made me not want to go to training at all. In the early days I found it hard to watch my team play just because I knew I couldn’t join them, but then I accepted it, and still really looked forward to watching them get out there and smash it. But now I find it hard to even go to training sometimes just because it makes me super anxious.
I keep making out that my injuries are so frustrating and I can’t wait to play, and that is 100% true – they really are and I do look forward to playing again. But that doesn’t stop me from making unnecessary excuses to not train or watch. And I’ve been doing that a lot recently. We train on the lovely AGP on Wednesday but on grass on Sundays, and I kept justifying to myself that the uneven ground might be a bit much for me knee so I won’t join in, but then equally justifying that the AGP may be a bit too unforgiving for the new shin splints that have manifested themselves. With the whole change in career thing going on I have been super busy, and it was quite a lot to deal with, but rugby used always be my outlet, but I was still making excuses – blaming it on the change in career or my niggles.
Stepping up a notch
When I think about it, not getting involved probably makes me more anxious. Having lived and breathed rugby for the last 6 years, just knowingly having a thought of not wanting to go makes it ten times worse. But today it was definitely the worst it’s ever been. I was close to not going altogether – my PT client was running late so we pushed her session back, meaning it would end just as training started. 2018-me would’ve hated this, and I would’ve done everything I could to make sure I didn’t miss any rugby training even if I was only watching. But after deciding not to train on Sunday but to watch instead (classic me), I’d told my team mates I’d join in today.
I started to feel pretty nervous and anxious just on the drive to the club this evening – jheez I was nervous just at the thought of running around – another new feeling for me which again made it seem so much worse. I knew I’d be turning up late, but still sat in my car in the car park for a good five minutes before getting out. I psyched myself up and told myself I’d take myself off for a good warm up and join in when I was ready. I did this and did feel ready to have a bit of a run around and was looking forward to it.
It unfortunately just so happened that we were doing full contact tonight, something that the noodle isn’t quite up to yet so I had to go back to watching. This was definitely the most anxious I’ve ever felt watching training. I think because I had psyched myself up that I was going to join in and enjoy it, then that suddenly wasn’t the case and I just wasn’t expecting it. I stood there watching on my own for a short while, then tried to distract myself by chatting to one of pals for a bit. Eventually (I say eventually, it was probs only five minutes lol) I decided to take myself off for a kick around. It probably looked like I was just practising my kicking or trying to keep warm, which I was definitely was (lol I legit get so cold these days, is this what aging is?!), but really it was just an excuse to step away from the difficulty of watching.
I think its probably also partly down to not having to be accountable. At the start of last year, I was captain of my team. Even when I wasn’t playing right after my ankle op, I still had a role and would turn up each week and fulfil that role – motivating people, having a few words if things weren’t going well, being chief water girl and generally just being present. But when it became apparent that I wouldn’t be playing for a while, my (extremely capable) VC took over duties.
I was captain of my uni team, then a coach at my new team before going onto captain it, so I guess I’d probably been one of the most dedicated players for 3 years in order to fulfil my duties. So not having a role meant that there wasn’t anything really keeping me accountable – I was the player that didn’t play, so why was I still at every single training session? Thinking about, this was probably the reason I initially would miss the odd training session. At that point I was missing sessions simply because it felt progressively harder to miss out on playing. Maybe stepping back and not being so involved made me focus too much on the injuries occurring, and forget how it feels to actually play and be involved? I don’t know, but I reckon this is what it feels like for parents who watch!
What does it all mean?
So I’m not really sure what this all means tbh, or in fact what the point of this overly wordy blog is. But it did feel good writing it down. I’ve never really thought about it much before, I knew I was feeling these things but hadn’t really addressed them, just knew I definitely felt different.
Although I may be struggling a bit with rugby at the moment, there are however some hugely positives to have come out of my lengthy list of injuries. I mean, I’ve literally just changed my whole career to something I honestly never would’ve imagined would ever happen, and it definitely wouldn’t have happened without my injuries. They made me love learning and understanding more about the body. I’ve genuinely enjoyed the post-op rehab process I’ve gone through. I’ve loved seeing and understanding how and why they work and I’m definitely physically stronger than before the injuries.
You do learn a lot about yourself when you’re working through injuries. Not only do I feel strong physically, but mentally too. Although I’m going through a bit of a funk when it comes to rugby, and at the mo I’m honestly not too sure how to get over it. But at least I’m trying to address it, right? Before my injuries I don’t think I would’ve even acknowledged it. Perhaps that’s why I went so long without addressing my injuries? And as airy fairy as it sounds, I definitely feel more in touch with my ol’ body, even if it is a bit battered. I’ve become much more aware of my own emotions, and in doing so, those around me too. I feel genuinely passionate about wanting to positively help my clients, but also my friends and family too.
Let’s wrap it up
So I guess to conclude, I’d love to know if anyone has any hints on tips on overcoming this little rugby rut of mine. I do wholeheartedly still want to get back to playing because I remember how much I used to love it. I may not be there right now, and maybe I need a short time away from it to regain that love, I honestly don’t really know at the moment. But hopefully this is the first step in figuring that out. And most importantly, I want to let anyone else feeling similar things know that they aren’t the only ones. Let’ talk about it. Let’s look at the positives we’ve taken from our injuries and use them to keep pushing on.
So, bring on 2020 – there’s a big comeback on the horizon. Bring on the journey that’l get met there, however long it takes.