Really? A Toe?!

January 22, 2009
By Tabari Byrd Williams, Hiram, GA

A split second can change a person’s life. I have experienced this truth first hand. On August 4, 2008, I learned how a tiny foot placement can change the course of an entire football season.
Football: tough, dirty, a man’s sport. Breaking bones and tearing muscles and suffering concussions, all “men” injuries. But what puts my season in jeopardy? A measly toe injury. Demoralizer, anyone? Although my “girly” injury was more an annoyance than anything else, it revealed my true passion for football.
During the first practice of football season while running through routine blocking drills, I partially dislocated my big toe by hyper-extending it. The hyper-extension also caused turf toe. When it first happened, I did not think much of it. I continued practicing with difficulty, pushing off my right foot. I talked to the Culver Academies’ trainers and found I'd have to play through the pain. I did finish the next three days of camp—I have to keep moving, I have to keep running. But the pain rushed from my toe throughout my foot. I knew something was wrong, but I kept running.
At the end of three days, however, my foot hadn't gotten better. I noted how inflamed it had become. The training staff gave me a five-day break from any strenuous activity. Seemingly, the small rest period allowed me to recover from the inflammation. I was ecstatic that I wouldn't miss out on my senior season. I had never been injured before. I practiced three days before our first scrimmage. The scrimmage went well with no signs of pain from my foot. I bolted for a 64-yard touchdown, but got tackled at the 10-yard line. Eventually, a few plays later, I scored from ten yards out.
The next game didn't go as well. I had problems running full speed because I had practiced so hard the previous week. It wasn’t smart for me to practice that week. After that game, I visited a local orthopedist. He told me to rest my foot for a minimum of three weeks, or I might develop arthritis because the inflammation was not going away. But three weeks was just too long. The coaches constantly whimpered that much of the offense had been planned with me in mind, so they were not thrilled.
Throughout those three weeks, I thought of how much I took football for granted. I had not realized how much the sport meant to me, to the people around me. I had become one of the millions of athletes who hated practices until I got hurt—then practices seemed like heaven. While injured, I took the job of keeping my teammates hydrated; I became the water boy. It was hard to stay positive when it felt like everything was going wrong.
When I returned to playing, I hadn’t missed a step. I knew my plays, and I was confident going through the motions. The coaches were impressed that I’d kept up and could “hit the ground running.” I learned that staying positive and working towards success is indeed the best way to succeed. As I look toward the future, I will never wear cleats that do not fit; they can ruin your feet. And I will remember how important it is to enjoy what you do in life, whatever it is, because when it’s gone, it might not come back.

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