A number of years ago, former NHL hockey player Laurie Boschman spoke to the Grade 8 class I was teaching. He had just retired from hockey, and he told my students how challenging it had been to be a Christian in the world of professional sports. Afterward I asked him how he felt about being retired. Boschman was a young dad, only 33 at the time.
He said, “I feel beat up. I can swing a stick, but I’ve had so much surgery over the years I can’t throw a ball overhand to my boys.”
There have been lots of sports injuries in the news recently. Houston Rockets’ center Yao Ming was forced into early retirement by a recurring ankle injury. The Todd Bertuzzi sucker punch that ended Steve Moore’s career is still before the courts. Every professional sport has seen young athletes forced to abandon their game at the top of their form.
But for every athlete injured in a dramatic way—like Joe Theismann, who broke his leg on live television in 1985—there are many more players like Boschman, whose accumulated smaller injuries leave them aching and sore long after retirement.
Amateur athletes too know their share of chronic injuries. Each year in the U.S., more than 3.5 million children 14 years old and under receive medical treatment for sports injuries. Of those, 62 percent of injuries happen in practice. Basketball leads the way with almost 700,000 injuries a year.
For Christians, balancing the desire to compete against the need to take care of the “temple of the Lord” can be a tricky thing. After all, many of us play sports to keep in shape as we age. That’s why my church hockey team’s mantra was “play hard tonight, but make it to work in the morning.” Often that advice was forgotten once we hit the ice. In 2001, I sliced my right Achilles tendon in a game, and it still causes problems when I run.
For Laurie Boschman, Christ was always at the center of his career. That meant, for him, listening to his body, hanging up his skates, and spending more time with his family when the time came to leave professional sports. For us amateurs, finding that balance is no less necessary.