Powerlifter N.C. Harrison recounts his many injuries, some of which are a legacy of the “face and hands” era of American football.
Ke$ha wakes up in the morning feeling like P.Diddy. I, on the other hand, wake up in the morning, turn my head and hear a series of gunshots. It’s a sleepy moment before I realize that I have not fallen into a war zone and that this noise is actually my spinal column. This is a legacy, almost certainly, of having come up in the “face and hands” era of American football. “Face and hands!” my offensive line coach would shout. “Hit em with your face and hands!” This was, in theory, to both protect our necks and to act as the best battering rams that we possibly could. In practice, it lead to my vertebrae crashing into each other at great speed literally thousands of times. I would resent that kids are being taught differently now, that they won’t feel this way, if I wasn’t just so glad that they won’t. I wonder too if any of the chronic anxiety and depression I feel are the results of my frequent head contact.
My hands also suffered from this regimen and from leaning on my fingers, day after day, year after year, in the three point stance. I can barely flex the fingers in my right hand on occasion and am unable to hold a pen or pencil for more than ten or fifteen minutes without needles in dancing across my fingertips. This has made certain things, like drawing comics or chopping vegetables, more aggravating than they should be. I don’t mind; sometimes the universe just has to tell you to take your time, and perhaps this is how it reminds me.
My knees and ankles crackle when I place my feet on the floor, lean my weight into it. The ankles are a legacy of falling under two senior defensive tackles during my freshman year, and probably of squatting way too much weight for way too long. The knees began to deteriorate during confrontations with a future high school and college All American defensive end, as a sophomore. I knocked him down, kept him tied up and irritated all night, and we scored two touchdowns over his supine body. I remember that when I happen to see him on TV playing in the NFL and make sure to laughingly tell anyone who happens to be there with me that he doesn’t look nearly as big lying on his back, reaching for the sky. I’ve had scar tissue scraped out of the left knee and probably need this surgery in the right, too. Seeing my former opponent playing at his current high level is a much more pleasant reminder of that night.
My shoulders scream when I stretch, and I cannot manage to quite get either of them completely above my head. The left dates back to my sophomore wrestling season and trying to suplex a man who weighed seventy pounds more than I did on that day. We went back, into the arch, and I did not quite manage to clear him. We landed in a heap and he pinned me–one of the only pins I ever took. My rotator cuff and a variety of other ligaments were absolutely destroyed; that wrestling season was over pending a six hour reconstructive surgery. It wasn’t all bad, however. The injury gave me a few months to spend with my first serious girlfriend and actually be a teenager for a while. The shoulder gave up again during a football game, the next year, when I took a block in the back and could not feel my arm for two days. This was it for me and competitive contact athletics save one wrestling match, at the city championship tournament, that I undertook as a favor to a friend in need during my senior year.
My right shoulder is a slightly less glamorous injury. I received it in college while loading boxes as a deli clerk at BiLo. I loved that job. It was tough, hot work and putting up with customers wasn’t always the most pleasant thing, but my co-workers were great and I learned more about the practicalities of cooking soul food there than I could from any Paula Deen show or book. The left shoulder misbehaved when I picked up a fifty pound box of flour for French bread, however, and I felt the right shoulder crunch with the weight coming down on it. I usually tell people that it too is an old wrestling injury. This is technically true as I was, in fact, wrestling with the flour. The last time I aggravated them was three years ago, the last time I bench pressed a truly heavy weight. 455 pounds went up without too much fuss but 475 came back with all of gravity’s vengeance, a scary moment.
I pick up the two pood kettlebell and start my morning cardio workout, one hundred swings with each hand. It loosens the stiff, tight muscles in my back and I begin to feel the blood moving through my body, no longer leaving me feeling like a victim of bovine excision. All of these past injuries hurt me, it’s true, but I don’t think that I’d trade any of them; they are my history, inked into my body as indelibly as any tattoo. Well, maybe I’d trade the right shoulder I messed up working in the deli. I know that I’d at least hurt it doing something slightly more exciting.