On Easter Sunday I was hanging out with my dad watching what I thought was March Madness but what turned out to be one of those disgusting Faces of Death videos that I sometimes stumble on when I find myself getting lost in the weird part of the internet again.
I don’t know anything about televised athletics, but I was watching this game because A) I like hanging out with my dad, B) I know enough to know that Duke is the Regina George of college basketball, and C) I picked Louisville to go all the way in my bracket because in 2009 I went to the Kentucky Derby and now I feel like I owe everything to the city that gave me unlimited mint juleps and a reason to wear a floppy hat for a day.
So there I was just, just enjoying some Easter chocolates, when Kevin Ware leapt up to block a shot or do a pirouette or something (like I said, I don’t know anything) and landed on his leg the wrong way. His shin folded under him like a toothpick snapping, and I am not exaggerating when I say it was the most grotesque spectacle of human fragility that I have ever witnessed.
The only thing that was harder to watch than the injury itself was the reaction of his teammates. All of the sudden a bunch of 7-foot tall college athletes were hugging each other, doubling over on the court and crying. And suddenly I realized that I was crying too. Not just because I’m a big weenie and I cry at dog food commercials, but because I understand – maybe not totally, but at least one iota of one percent of one percent – how Kevin Ware feels.
Warning: extremely graphic.
In December, I was actually using the world “athlete” to describe myself – something I hadn’t done since I played AYSO soccer in middle school. I was training for a marathon, cruising through a 7-minute mile and logging three-hour long runs with only minor difficulty (okay, massive difficulty, but I was gettin’ that shit done, son). In January, I got a little bit of cancer and I spent a week in a hospital bed after massive chest surgery with four tubes coming out of my sides, unable to so much as pee unassisted, let alone go for a jog. It was eight weeks before I was allowed to lift my arms above my head, and three months before I was allowed to do anything that might strain my heart. And truth be told, I didn’t really care, because I was so pissed off at the unfairness of it all that I was more inclined to passive-aggressively hate on nature by littering out my car window than go out and enjoy a trail run. But finally, when things started to calm down in my brain and in my body, I decided I was ready to get back out there. To start training again. To be an athlete, like I used to be!
That first day back, I ran 2.3 miles. It took me 30 minutes.
I don’t want to compare myself to Ware (even though I just did). Ware’s a real athlete; his livelihood is basketball, and he probably has dreams of going pro. Running was just a hobby for me, something I picked up because I noticed my pants were kinda tight one day and I don’t like hot yoga. But it sucks and it’s humbling and it’s unfair when you work really hard to become great at something – or at least great to yourself, since it’s not like anyone was scouting me for any kind of professional running career – and suddenly you get sidelined and it’s back to square one.
I feel for Kevin Ware. I know how unbearably frustrating it is to retrace steps you took four or five months ago and suddenly find that what was a breeze to you then is now the most arduous and difficult task ever. The other day I walked – walked – up a hill I used to do sprints on, and I honestly thought I was going to collapse and die at the end of it. I literally felt like I was climbing Mount Everest. I wanted a Sherpa. I wanted an oxygen tank.
I know how much it sucks to watch an event you’d worked forever to prep for – a championship game, a marathon – slip by without your participation because you’re too busy in physical therapy trying to relearn how to scratch your own ear or walk properly.
Not to Debbie Downer you guys, but most of us live our lives blissfully unaware that all it takes is one second of unexpected impact to put an end to our dreams forever. I remember reading about an injury that frequently occurs after high-speed accidents – I’m not a doctor, but it’s something like a piece of your aorta can come loose, and you feel fine and walk away from the wreck, only to drop dead of an unstoppable, undetectable internal hemorrhage moments later. When you consider that all we are is a series of interconnected bits and pieces that can be severed by something as innocuous as a car door slamming shut on a thumb, it’s hard to believe that anyone, especially anyone as clumsy and dumb as I am, could make it to 25. Or 30. Or 75.
But then again, we are capable of healing. We are capable of bettering ourselves. I remember being a kid and reading books where witches and wizards would cast a spell to magically heal a cut, and how cool it was when later in my life (embarrassingly later, like in my twenties), I realized that we actually do that, we actually heal ourselves. Sure, it takes more effort than an ancient incantation, but our cells speed to the places where we hurt and patch up little holes and tears and rebuild bones and muscles and soothe achy tummies and sore throats. My body recovered from surgery enough to let me sleep on my stomach again and go for a run without pain, no matter how slow it was. With the help of some titanium and a team of doctors, Kevin Ware’s body will, I hope, do the same.
And hopefully he’ll come back to Louisville, and they’ll keep winning, so that I can keep picking them in the NCAA Championship just because of that one time I drank a hundred mint juleps in a sundress.