About five years ago, before the last training session of the hockey season, I wrote I might die tonight on a little scrap of paper. I've been adding to it ever since every time I've been afraid I'm going to my last training session or game, or get injured, or whatever. Maybe you think this is tastelessly melodramatic, but it was just for me, and encapsulates something real. I made the first note when I was due to have a big spinal operation a few weeks later, and I didn't know if I would play proper hockey again.*
By proper hockey I mean the kind where I absolutely commit my training nights and my Saturdays to hockey for the season to the end of playing for the best team I can play for. Weddings are an exception, and a couple of work things over the years, but, not counting injury, and I've been pretty lucky on that front, I hadn't missed ten training sessions in the decade before my operation.
Playing sport to the best of my ability is a massive part of who I am. Also, team sport is better than individual sport on a moral level, since it forces you to do something in a group and at inconvenient times that you can't change, which therefore teaches a small degree of humility and submission. When I stop, then something will have changed about something that has made me me since I was ten. That's fine. I know it will happen. The fire doesn't burn quite like it did ten years ago, but it definitely still burns.
This year, actually, I might have died quietly, with a trio of very annoying medium-term injuries that meant I missed preseason, then November to January, then February to now. I hope not but we'll see next year.
I'm writing all this because I wanted to link to a couple of things. I love - I absolutely love - sportsmen who don't go quietly into the night. The differences between me and Steve Nash could hardly be more radical, but he doesn't care that fans think he should have gone out at the top. He wants to play till he can't contribute. He's not what he was. He knows that. He still thinks he can help. Go Steve Nash. Play till you're dropped, if that's what you want.**
Also, go Helen Richardson-Walsh, who is a GB hockey player who's just undergone her second big back op and is determined to get back into the team, and who is writing about the process here. It's quite new, but I am going to follow it like a hawk. I don't expect you to and think less of you for it.
* The back was fine when I was active; it couldn't be still so I couldn't sleep or work; now it's much crankier for sport but I can do the others; of course, given that I am not a professional hockey player, the others are more important; I miss the sport-adapted back massively, though.
** Do understand this is a problem with Sachin, etc., when it is basically impossible to drop a player for extra-sporting reasons. But this is rare and not the present subject.