Story was written by CMU Blazers alumni Thomas Friesen, originally posted on his blog.
Every athlete knows that sport isn’t forever, even though it may feel like it at the time.
The dream, the hustle, the process, it consumes every waking minute of an athlete with a goal.
For some, the end comes when they decide their body can no longer take it. For others, it’s senior year of high school or university sports. When that year starts, that line you hear all too often, ‘there’s always next year,’ is no more. This is your last chance to work toward and hopefully reach your goal.
As someone who had years to prepare for that seemingly fateful day, I tell you it’s not so bad. I swore I would break down right there on the court. Not because I lost my last game – I said I’d do the same if we won – but because the journey meant so much, and I didn’t know what to replace it with.
What made it easier to handle was recognizing it ahead of time, and cherishing every ‘last’ before the final one. You’ll have your last home opener, last team road trip, last practice, and many more. Take those moments in, and reflect on everything you did to get there.
Think about everything the game has given you, and realize who you’ve become as a result. What you’re going to find is that you are so much more than the game.
I had the chance to sit down with Milt Stegall, my childhood hero a few months after my last university game. I asked him how he dealt with life after 15 years in the CFL.
His response? “Don’t marry your sport, because it will divorce you. Maybe not now, maybe not for a while, but it will leave you.”
“For me, football was not who I was, it was just a thing I did for half the year.”
This is the guy that filled the stats sheet and stadium seats, scoring more CFL touchdowns than anyone ever. There’s a street named after him in Winnipeg, because of that thing he did half the year. Now, he makes his living talking about the game on TV.
The point is, this is one person who could define himself by the sport he played and most would say his life was a success completely based on that. Yet, if you saw Milt on the street and struck up a conversation knowing nothing about him, he’d tell you he’s a man of God, a husband, and a father.
You wouldn’t know the guy left thousands of Winnipeggers at a loss for words as he slipped between two Edmonton defenders for a 100-yard, last-second, game-winning touchdown.
But football isn’t who Milt Stegall is. It’s a thing he did for half the year, before heading back to Atlanta and watching his children play soccer.
This is not to say don’t put everything you can into the game you love. In fact, I’m saying you should. The more you put into it, the more you get in return.
Whoever said ‘sport doesn’t build character, it reveals it,’ missed the point. The athletes in my life are the most selfless, hardest-working, positive people I know. That was built on the court.
So if it’s your turn to go through all the ‘lasts,’ take extra delight in every one of them. Reflect on everything you gave the game, and what it gave you. The people who help you, and the lives you touched.
One day it’ll just be a thing that you did, a few months out of the year.
But, you’ll know that when you walk off for the last time, you are more than the game.
On my senior night, CMU athletic director Russell Willms played a Green Day song as he and my coach, Don Dulder, gave speeches. In response to the song, yes, I had the time of my life.