At one point in my life I found myself consumed in a deep love affair. It was that sort of story we have all heard before. Love at first sight. Fell hard and fell fast. Was in way over my head before I even knew what hit me.
It was that sort of intense relationship that effected my everything. My emotions, my love and my loyalty were so strong for this relationship they dictated my free time, my mood, who I talked to and even, if you can believe this, what I wore.
I was in so deep and wanted nothing but the life I had in that moment. I thought this love was all I ever needed and my loyalty knew no bounds. It was just as you’d expect when someone is this much in love. It was up and down, it went hot and cold at times, but it was always there. It grew so strong it kind of became my identity.
Then one day, like most tragic love stories, the heat turned lukewarm and the love just simply faded. I fell out of love and into a fog of complete
disbelief. I had no idea it was even possible. Could I even be me without this part of my life? Could I even imagine myself without being wrapped up in this incredible affair?
I am discovering that I can and that I will, but am still learning along the way.
Here I am today, defining myself differently and without this great romance of being an underdog, achieving great things together and never losing sight that it was all in the name of true love.
I am speaking, of course, about my incredible love of college sports, particularly Kansas State University sports. I started attending football and basketball games before I was even a year old and as I grew older and fully understood the intricacies of the games, my love grew stronger and more consuming. I attended games all over the country, never missed an opportunity. I knew the Xs and Os, I knew the players and I knew the competition. I knew and lived the history and I dreamed of the potential. I lamented the could have beens and accepted the reality.
At one point in my
life and for many, many years, consuming college sports filled my free time and defined my social life. Then one day I just started to lose my taste for it. A few things happened at my university that reeked of racism, coaches brought politics onto the playing field and people I admired were no longer part of my team.
It happened quickly and unexpectedly, but I just simply fell out of love. No tears were shed, no obscenities were hurled and no one’s belonging were thrown on the front lawn. The relationship was just not what I wanted anymore and I quietly accepted that it was “me, not you.”
I tried to rekindle the feelings and the excitement. I went through the motions and faked some interest, but I started to accept the reality that it will probably never be the same. I accepted that I will probably never love like that again.
On a recent trip to Pakistan, I completely and unexpectedly felt that old spark of attraction again and was reminded of what first drew me in the first place. It was almost like getting those butterflies all over
again. Maybe there was a part of me that was open to feeling love again. Maybe there was a part of me that was simply blindsided. Maybe the romantic within me just could not stay away from all those warm feelings.
I know what you are thinking. Pakistan of all places, not exactly the setting of many great love stories. Not exactly the first place I would go looking for love or even a torrid affair. I know. I agree. But maybe it was this unexpected situation that made it all the more appealing or made it all the more romantic.
I was invited to attend a two day Mas-Wrestling Championship right in the heart of the Punjab, Pakistan. I had never been to one before and had little idea of what to expect. I understood the concept of the competition, but I wasn’t sure how it would all play out in person or how I would find it. I assumed it would be like any other sporting event I had attended, simply located in Pakistan. Like most great competitions, the energy of the moment is much greater than when you simply watch on
tv or listen on the radio.
For me the two nights with these competitors and their coaches was a reminder of why we gravitate toward traditional sports in the first place. The teams consisted of participants in a range of ages, backgrounds and skill levels. The teams were made up of both young men and young women.
They came to the competition with a sense of regional and national pride that was contagious even for someone who traveled thousands of miles to be there. Before the first night ended, I found myself cheering along for Pakistani pride.
As I watched the nights unfold, I witnessed teammates exuberantly supporting each other, coaches tending to each and every competitor and competing teams coming together to celebrate victories, regions and National success.
I witnessed community members coming together to cheer on these competitors and local corporations stepping up to make sure these athletes had a venue and all the accoutrements of professional sports.
The competition was civilized, lively and rooted in true sportsmanship. And this sort of dignified grace was exemplified by the athletes. The ladies were tough,
level headed and simply the sort of badass women I admire. The gentleman wrestlers were actually that, gentlemen. They competed hard and then walked off the mat with manners and respect.
As an American, I still have not come to terms with the drastic changes happening in college sports these days as we watch teenagers and very young adults become exorbitantly paid professional athletes representing our Alma Maters. We see sports overtaken with greed, excessive marketing and a win at all cost attitude. We are expected to cheer for teams that embrace domestic violence or other crimes against civility. Frankly, whether you’re in a sports love affair or not, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth. These are not the sports we feel in love with as children. Nor are they the sports we want our children to fall in love with. It can leave you falling out of love or simply divorced from sports all together.
My time in Pakistan showed me that there are still athletes who compete for the love of the game, the thrill of competition and the pride of their nation. They compete while demonstrating their dignity, humility,
grace and pride. They don’t put in the hours in the gym just for large paychecks or sponsorships or fame. They commit themselves for the good of their teammates, the integrity of the sport and the chance of competition.
When the curtain fell on the final night of competition in Bahawalpur I felt sad that the night had to end. I wanted the music to keep playing, the athletes to keep smiling and dancing and the lights to shine just a little longer. I didn’t want to go home. I didn’t want to leave the energy. I wanted to stay with the athletes and celebrate their accomplishments. I wanted to be with the sponsors who relished what they had gifted these athletes. I was not ready to leave those feelings behind in a country so far from my home. I was not ready for a long distance relationship, as they say.
I suppose just like any time when we realize we could be falling back in love, we just want a little more time in the romantic moment.
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