The soccer ball sailed into the upper 90-degree corner of the goal and the crowd went crazy. My son’s high school soccer team had won the championship. It was an exciting game that went into overtime and the final score was 1-0. Immediately after the winning goal, the crowd rushed the field. I was in the middle as I searched for my son. Instead of barging into the hugs he was giving and receiving from teammates, friends, coaches, and teachers; I stopped to watch him. Within those seconds, 17 years of soccer memories flowed through me.
Soccer is a big part of our lives. When I say “our,” I mean the entire family. And it started with us. When I say “us,” I mean my son and I. Yes, my wife and other kids’ lives revolved around his soccer schedule as well, but I looked at my son’s soccer life as being as much his as mine. From the time he could crawl, I started playing soccer with him. And when he learned to walk, I started coaching him. For many years, we were the first two people on the field and the last two people to leave. We were a team within a team.
While coaching him, we won championships and suffered humbling defeats. There were tears of joy and sadness. Bruises and chipped teeth were frequent, along with an occasional broken bone. And side by side, we took it all on. Until it was time for someone else to coach him. I had passed on to him everything I could, and it was time for another coach to take the reins. Thus started his life with another club team, where he and the team excelled.
Even while my son was under the leadership of a different coach, I still felt as though we were a team. I drove him to games and practices and gave little tidbits of advice when I could. Since soccer was our thing for so long, it felt as though it was still our thing. Even as he joined the high school team and was the only freshman starter (Yes, I’m bragging); we were teammates. Then, the ball went into the corner of the goal his senior year and our soccer life ended.
With the people celebrating all around me, I met my son and hugged him hard. I told him I was proud of him and I loved him. We talked briefly, and I let him join his teammates in enjoying the moment. I was overjoyed, but the realization that our soccer journey was probably over brought about sadness. I wasn’t just letting go of soccer, but I was letting go of my teammate. No longer would we have soccer to bond us. No need to lecture me about this. I realize we have 17 years of bonding, but with soccer, it was different.
While sitting around the table one day, my son brought up doing a Tough Mudder would be fun. I immediately thought, “that’s it!” It would be a way for us to take something on together and overcome an obstacle, both literally and figuratively. We could be teammates again and it could be a way for me to say goodbye to his youth with one last bonding moment before he started the next chapter of his life.
I searched through Tough Mudder’s website and the only event that fit into his schedule was one in Central Florida. I purchased tickets and immediately began searching for workouts I should do to prepare for the event. My son, who has been working out like a madman for months to prepare for a potential life in the Army, was already in tip-top shape. I had been running for over a year but had done little strength training. So, I began working out 3 days a week and running. I was determined not to let my son down during the Mudder.
We flew from NYC to Florida and settled into our hotel. We went out to eat, watched TV, and swam in the pool. All the while, talking about his future, our past, and life in general. The next morning, we jumped into our rental and drove to the Tough Mudder. I thought I would be nervous, but I wasn’t. I was pretty chill. So was my son.
We got our armbands and proceeded to the start, where an MC was pumping up the contestants. There were some parents with their teens, but it was mostly friends and teams of adults. As the MC was inspiring everyone before the start, he asked everyone to take a knee and remember those that have given their lives for our freedom. As my old knees descended to the grown, I became emotional. Tears welled up in my eyes and I tried not to let anyone see. Being there with my son, while saying goodbye to his youth with the Army on the horizon, was too much for me to let pass over my head. It hit hard.
We stood up and started the race. We went at a medium trot so not to get bottlenecked with everyone else. The emotions that I was feeling passed as the two of us took on the obstacles. We met each one and overcame it. Nothing was too hard because we were there for each other and working together. There were times I lifted him and times he lifted me.
We spent the following day lounging around the hotel and the pool. I had booked an extra day in Florida because I thought I would need an additional rest day after the Mudder. Turns out, I needed it. I also needed the day to spend with him. Of course, he didn’t realize it. Much like all those countless hours of coaching him and watching him play, the most important thing was that we were together. As our time under one roof ends, I am recalling all the obstacles that we faced throughout his life. There were many of them. And some of them are more painful than the barbed wire and tazers at the Tough Mudder. But we overcame all of them. I’m proud of the man he is and thankful for the journey that got us here.
Now to witness his life through phone calls and stalking his social media accounts.