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Witmer: Play Until You Can No Longer Play

Play until you can no longer play. It’s easier said than done! This weekend I found my name on a particular part of the roster that I can’t say I can remember seeing my name since eighth grade; the list of those injured, and unable to play. IUP. It’s the worst!

In eighth grade I suffered a nasty hi-fema to my left eye. Comically enough, it was an injury resulting from a game of badminton in gym class. Jeremy Linn smashed the hell out of that shuttlecock and eighth grade Brian went down like a sack of bricks. A hi-fema, to the best of my eighth grade recollection, is when trauma to the eye brings about bleeding in the eye, and can result in blindness.

Naturally, so that my one good eye’s movements wouldn’t make the injured eye work, my good eye was also covered up. For a week that Spring, I was effectively blind. That was the week of lacrosse tryouts for Oswego Middle School. Injured and unable to play. It’s been 10 years!

The weekend that preceded this past weekend the Vermont Voyageurs were up in Ottawa to play the Axemen once again. Due to the long trek required to go play the best team in the league, our numbers were predictably low. They were very low. Playing against, not to mention trying to beat, the team that finishes in the top ranks of all senior B teams at President’s Cup with fourteen guys is a tall order.

But, that doesn’t mean you don’t try!

I tried my darndest. We all did. Didn’t do us a world of good, with the scoreboard not reflecting whatsoever that we did give everything we had on the floor. One of our guys did an ankle, and would leave the game somewhere in the second period. Down to thirteen runners. Maybe two minutes later, it was my turn. After an Ottawa goal, a faceoff, and the ball popped out right behind the Axemen draw guy. Brian went in after the ball, which had just bounced down off the floor, up off the boards, and landed in his stick. My stick. I’m Brian.

Funny thing about picking a ball up near the boards… for the immediate future, you too are near the boards.

One guy crunched me into the aforementioned boards, and it hurt, but I was still standing, and still had the ball. Then another Axemen guy joined in the fun, and of course the first guy on the scene wasn’t just going to go away. Together they once again tossed me into the boards, and I heard a wonderful little grinding noise, accompanied by a terrible little grinding feeling.

My shoulder was split at the AC joint. If I had internet access, I’d google that and list what AC stands for in an attempt to make it sound as though I know what I’m talking about. Alas, I live in a van down by the river.

And so I was to miss the games the following weekend, our home openers against Tyendinaga and the St. Regis Braves. I knew it was pretty unlikely that I would be playing the next weekend, but at the time, and for the five-hour trip back from Ottawa, I had a bigger and more imminent issue to contend with.

Breaking my solemn vow to not work a single day this summer, I had committed to working a one-week cash gig with The Mill. He had found a sweet deal on Craigslist, wherein we’d be paid handsomely to come out and work with some guys who train hunting dogs. I had nothing to do with the arrangement of this gig, therefore I can unfortunately take no credit when I say that this was arguably the easiest/most entertaining employment I’ve ever found myself doing.


So I effectively had one arm. My right arm, my dutiful, beautiful, right arm, which has given me twenty-six good years without (major) injury, was effectively useless. We showed up in The Mill’s Subaru on a bleak Monday morning, I was dressed in the regular mismatching socks, my Nike “work boots” from Park City, my “Meter-Reader” hi-vis reflective work pants from Australia, and a god awful black sling from CVS held my bent right wing to my chest as to alleviate any stress on my shoulder.

The question was posed pretty much immediately “Well, are you left-handed?” To which I would confidently reply in the manner Marc Cohn must’ve replied to that church lady in Memphis “I am today” The job was easy, if you had two arms. It was still relatively simple, with a few short seconds of discomfort and awkwardly pointing a firearm, followed by fifteen minutes of hanging out watching Labradors go bonkers looking for dead pheasants.

The task was simple enough. When signaled, point your shotgun, loaded with a blank shell, into the air and fire it. As soon as this was done, you were to chuck a dead bird to a predetermined location, getting as much arc and height into your throw as possible.

Coming from a guy who did every left-handed task righty and never once did a line drill lefty, this was actually quite difficult to throw a dead bird with any power and/or accuracy, not to mention shooting a shotgun with my crippled shoulder. I found that if I used my sling to support the shotgun, I could hold it out away from my body and still be supported without any stress on the afflicted joint.

I also found that if you swing a dead pheasant by its neck, you can really launch those suckers.

On the second day, we were tasked with going out into a pond via canoe to our stations. I had been
given the moniker of “the one-armed bandit”, which eventually got shortened to “Bandit”. I loved it. The Mill and I paddled over to a beaver hut, which I was to stand on top of and do my duty. The Mill would take the canoe further into the pond and throw his birds from the boat while docked in the midst of “an island”, which turned out to not be much of an island at all.

I dubbed myself the “Beaver Bandit”, and The Mill would be earning his own title soon. After the task was done, The Mill brought the canoe over to pick my equipment up as well as myself. The first thing I threw in was a bag containing two dead pheasants. I don’t know to which exact spot in the canoe I threw them, but they were apparently placed with lethal accuracy, because when I turned back around, the canoe was in the process of flipping, with it’s solo crew member already cussing me out.

Supplemented by an additional canoe flip by The Mill later on in the day, to which I was nowhere near, The Mill was referred to as “Scuba Sam” for the remainder of the week. I wasn’t especially fond of the dead birds. I hadn’t killed them, which I’m not sure I could’ve done, but I still didn’t like chucking dead birds. The Mill made fun of me for wearing a work glove on my left hand.

Before we had showed up that first day, I think we were both under the impression that we would be throwing fake dead birds, instead of real life dead birds. We got paid much more than we deserved to do way less than we anticipated. I sat for multiple hours in a cow pasture with my shirt off in the sun, dozing off for ten or so minutes at a time. The Mill got to sit with some good-ole boys from Louisiana and enjoy the honesty that comes with political incorrectness.

That brought us to the weekend. I was feeling good. Felt great, honestly. I made the conscious and clear-minded decision to leave my equipment, sans helmet and gloves, back at the campsite. By leaving my equipment at the Shasta, I was making it impossible for myself to act on any and all bad impulses that would lead me to suit up, and subsequently injure myself far worse than I was already.

I brought my shoes, helmet, stick and gloves for a reason though. I warmed up with the team, stretching and experimenting with my shoulder. Finding out if it worked or not was an uncomfortable process, with the tendency of holding my right arm closer to my body in textbook “T-Rex” fashion proving physically difficult to revert back to proper form.

play until

I showered up after, and watched my team play from the bleachers. It was The Mill’s birthday on
Saturday, and his father was up to watch him play, so I sat with him and watched. Watching is fun when you don’t belong on the floor/field. NLL? Fun to watch. NCAA, any level? Fun to watch. When your boys are out there and you think you could be helping? Not fun to watch.

We had a full bench for both games, and it made a huge difference, but not difference enough.

We came out so hot against Tyendinaga on Saturday night, but it seemed like we blew any and all offensive prowess in the first period Saturday, and we couldn’t really get much going in a consistent manner for the remaining five periods that weekend. There were flashes and sparks of excellent play, but they were great plays that didn’t result in goals, or goals that resulted from broken plays and awkward opportunities.

I’ll be on the floor this weekend.

That’s my favorite sentence of this whole nonsensical ramble. It’s sore, sure. It doesn’t feel GOOD to swing an ax to cut wood at our campsite, but it works. I don’t really care if it feels good or feels horrible this weekend. If it works, and isn’t in obvious danger of relapse, then it’ll just have to do.

It’s raining right now. Buckets. My toes are cold and the dog wants to go somewhere and do something. We went to the river on Monday, and hiked up to a mountain lake on Tuesday, and justly, he wants to keep having fun. I can’t blame him. Call it what you will, the symbolism is there.

He’s about to turn seven years old, and he just learned to swim this past Monday (literally the proudest moment of my life). Now all he wants to do is swim and play.

play until

I finished my NCAA career burnt out and ready to be finished with lacrosse. Then I was shown that there’s a great big world out there. Now all I want to do is play again.

This dog is going to be swimming and playing until, inevitably, he can’t swim or play anymore. It’s only right that I follow suit.