Every now and then an injury is really a wake up call.
You know that moment in the boxing match where the referee gazes into the fighter’s eyes looking, for signs on whether he can continue?
The official peering into the very soul of the boxer, searching for those intangible set of factors, past the will and into something deeper.
A sense of consciousness and lucidity that despite the damage done, the fighter can take more punishment without risk of major injury.
That moment where the fighter’s will, physiology and mind conspire to signal to the ref that yes he is ready for more punishment and can turn this fight around.
“I can do it,” their eyes say as they refocus on the ring, the opponent and the ref.
The fight continues.
That was me about 6-months ago, training for my first ever amateur fight.
I was sparring with a man named Binky, a giant of a human being with a nickname that betrayed the toughness and confidence of a top-grade rugby player and hard man. He had about six inches to my six-feet and probably somewhat similar weight.
Apart from his freakishly athletic frame and superior reach, Binky’s most terrifying feature is a six-inch scar that comes down the left-side of his face. Reminding his opponents of battles survived, opponents dispatched. A friendly enough fellow to grab a beer with but not someone you’d want to owe money to.
Binky had delivered a relentless series of one-two blows that had me moving backwards for most of the first round.
I threw a hellish and desparate series of jabs but couldn’t generate anything else in my defence.
I was flumoxed by his reach and while I did my Rocky-best to absorb the blows and look for counter-attack options, I was in trouble.
After what seemed like a hurricane of punches the world started shifting around me.
My eyes started spinning, almost outward. Had I been more aware I might have recounted my well-heeled joke about people with lazy eyes: “Are you looking for me or at me?”
In this moment I was both looking for my equilibrium and at the trainer who was reffing the sparring bout.
After a full four seconds he told me that the day of the fight I’d have to look at the ref dead in the eye and tell him I was ok. I did as instructed and by the time the standing-eight was over I was back throwing defensive jabs at Binky while he rained down his series of right crosses to my crown.
I’m not clear whether the concussion I had received occurred before or after the 8-count but I remember waking up the next week with what felt like a low-grade hangover.
After trying to convince myself I wasn’t injured I sought medical help and was diagnosed with a concussion.
The second concussion in 5-years left me in state of shock and despair.
Having returned to rugby the summer before I had won the second team MVP and been agonizingly close to winning a spot on the first team.
I’d spent the winter training hard and was keen as mustard to exact some revenge on the selection committee that left me out of the starting line-up for the firsts the previous autumn.
The boxing was really supposed to push me over the top. To show my new club that I was ready to lead-by-example and earn my spot on the first team. In a cruel twist of irony the very thing that I banked on showing my strength ended up exposing my weakness, both physically and emotionally.
At 34, it was clear to me that my life was a cross-roads.
I knew it was time to step away from contact sports and yet couldn’t bring myself to face this reality and announce my retirement.
Having never received a career-threatening injury before I felt alone and isolated.
I felt the shame of Paul Simon’s Boxer, only unlike him I couldn’t fight back. My health, my mind and my heart told me it was time to step away from contact sports.
So I just did what I used to do as a kid when I didn’t want to face something, I hid out.
I left my rugby team in the dark about the darkness that enveloped me.
It was at this darkest of moments when I could have spiralled into a pattern of isolation, self-medication and solitude.
Instead, I chose the path of light and community.
While it wasn’t the beginning of the journey, my concussion was a beautiful milestone where violence, transformation and a spiritual wake-up call were delivered by the heavy right glove of Binky.
And I’ve got some fences to mend with my rugby family.
Would you like to help us shatter stereotypes about men?
Receive stories from The Good Men Project, delivered to your inbox daily or weekly.
Photo: Getty Images