‘Life is a game of inches’, as Al Pacino once said in his famous team talk. For me, my life has been a game of injuries in the sports arena which have helped shape who I am and what I stand for.
The journey will incorporate joy, pain, agony, anger, wisdom, character and values.
Two days before Sunderland’s legendary win over Leeds United at Wembley. As captain of the Sunderland Reserve team, four of the first team squad for the final were recalled to play in this game. On the night we kicked off against Middlesbrough, within two minutes I was lying on the turf fighting for my life, not knowing the incredible life-saving journey which lay in front of me. Serious internal injuries including a severely ruptured spleen were now beginning to take their toll and, within a matter of hours, could kill me. Our physio that night, Johnny Watters, and Coach Martin Harvey saved my life. The resulting emergency operation allowed me the 12 months recovery period required to pick up the pieces of a once flourishing career.
Life lesson learned: Even when you feel that everything in your life is totally planned out and you’re ‘on your way’, events beyond your control can change your direction in a matter of seconds. I learned that life is a very precious thing.
Whilst playing in front of 23,000 people in Pretoria for Arcadia Shepherds, a badly broken right leg ended my professional playing career. Having been part of the first team to play a black player, and visit Sowetto Stadium where we were the first white team to win, I didn’t realise at the time that history was in the making regarding the apartheid in South Africa.
Life lesson learned: You live by the sword and die by the sword. Having been a very competitive player, and at times playing outside of the rules in terms of physical presence on the football pitch, it was only a matter of time before my life was challenged. This was the start of my faith journey.
Whilst playing in the over 40s squash final, I reptured my right achilles tendon. The pain from this injury was by far the most excrutiating to date. Having just started a new leadership role the week prior, I was under severe pressure to continue working and thanks to my boss at the time, who was incredibly supportive to me, I was able to continue the rehabilitation process which took seven months.
Life lesson learned: Even though squash is a one-to-one tactical game based on skill and resilience, I learned that team work from the people that really matter in your life is so important.
Having been a professional sportsman for 20 years, my left knee joint finally gave way and I had to have a complete knee replacement under an epidural anaesthetic. During the worst time of my knee injury, I was taking the maximum allowed in pain relief, gabapentin 1800mg, and this was catastrophic for me when I had to wean myself off them. It took me six months to recover from the severe side effects of the withdrawal, namely depression and mood swings.
Life lession learned: Hard work and resilience to get back to full fitness accompanied by a new realisation and understanding of mental health plus the issues it can throw at people.
Radical prostate cancer was diagnosed and immediate surgery to save my life took place.
Life lesson learned: Refer to my previous blog post here
For me my life is a constant journey of learning, receiving and sharing and is based around the famous J F Kennedy quote; “It’s not what they can do for you, but what you can do for them.”