The ball sailed into the upper corner of the goal and the crowd went crazy. My son’s high school soccer team had won the championship. The crowd rushed the field. I stood in the middle of it, but instead of barging into the hugs he was giving and receiving, I stopped to watch him. Within those seconds, 17 years of soccer memories flowed through me.
Soccer has been a big part of our lives. When I say “our,” I mean the entire family. But it all started with me and my son. 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 to leave. We were a team within a team.
While coaching him, we faced many obstacles together. 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.
Change in leadership, not relationship
But the time came for someone else to coach him. I had passed on everything I could, and it was time for another to teach and guide him. Thus started his life with a club team, where he and the team excelled.
Even while my son was with a different coach, I still felt as though we were a team. I drove him to games and practices, offering little tidbits of advice when I could. Since soccer was our thing for so long, it felt as though it was still our thing.
Then, the ball went into the corner of the goal his senior year of high school and our soccer life ended.
With people celebrating all around, 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 rejoin 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.
Finding new obstacles to overcome, together
While sitting around the table some day later, my son mentioned doing a Tough Mudder might be fun. I immediately thought, “That’s it!”
It would be a way for us to take something on and together 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. 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 three days a week and running. I was determined not to let my son down.
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, we talked about his future, our past, and life in general. The next morning, we jumped into our rental and drove to the race. I thought I would be nervous, but I wasn’t. I was pretty chill. So was my son.
Lifting each other
We got our armbands and proceeded to the start. There were some other parents with their teens, but it was mostly friends and teams of adults. After the emcee tried pumping up 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, tears welled up in my eyes.
I tried not to let anyone see. Being there with my son, while saying goodbye to his youth and with the Army on his horizon, it was too much for me. It hit hard.
We stood and started the race.
My son and I started at a medium trot so not to get bottlenecked with everyone else. The emotions I had felt passed as the two of us took on the first obstacles. We met each one and overcame them all. 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 after the Mudder. Turns out, I did. 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’ve started recalling all the obstacles that we faced throughout his life. There were many. Some were more painful than the barbed wire and tasers 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.