Sunday, June 02, 2013

A game like no other...


Dear member of the 1st XV,

No doubt today is a big day. I am sure you will recount the memories you are about to create, with longing and nostalgia, for the rest of your lives. But you will only get one chance to make your mark on this day and to be touched by it. How well others remember this day and your place in it will depend not only on how exceptionally you perform on the field, but also on factors that are beyond your control. So chasten your expectations and understand that there will be twists of fate and fortuities that will play their part too. This moment you have been waiting for years; will pass much sooner than you will ever be able to grasp it – even though it may seem like an eternity to you now. Perhaps others too may remember this day and its events for years to come, and be inspired by them. I am sure the wisdom of your decisions as well as the skill and courage of your actions will give you much reason to be proud. It is not impossible – though unlikely - that this day will be remembered in ignominy if the spirit of the Bradby Shield is transgressed. Remain dignified in defeat; and be humble and gracious in victory. The quill of history is in your hands – write your story well!

This moment and this day belong to you, and it is yours to share. No other day in your life will be made more memorable for such an absurd a pursuit as chasing, driving and kicking an odd-shaped ball; nor are you likely to be cheered on by so many seen and unseen thousands for throwing yourself across a fading line and soiling your clothes. But these actions cease to be trivial when you have trained for it all of your lives, and when you do so with such astonishing skill and with selfless motivations. Every sport is made entertaining by the skill of those who play them, and made meaningful by men and women who understand their greater significance. Sport has the ability to unify a diverse group of individuals with unique skills for a common purpose. They inspire us despite our flaws to strive for perfection, test leaders and challenge their followers. Sport, when played with intensity and fairness, have the ability to galvanise and inspire anonymous crowds because they bestow glory on only the most persistent, most enduring, most determined and wise - regardless of whether you emerge victorious or not. The game you indulge in today is an apt metaphor for the ideals you must strive for and treasure in life. Immerse yourselves in the lessons this day is about to teach you; persist, when it tests your courage or your will to endure and you will emerge from it a greater man than you were when you woke up this morning.

When you put that jersey on today, regardless of whether it has blue and gold stripes or solitary bands of red and gold on your chest, think back to your childhood, right back to the moment when you first started dreaming of this day and this moment that you have finally made come true. Acknowledge and honour all those who have guided and sustained you through the years, without whom you would not be standing here. Then look around you. Many thousands who could not dare to dream of standing where you are now and hundreds more whose dreams never came true, have all come to cheer you on and to catch a glimpse of their forgotten dreams coming true in you. Among them will be a handful, who have donned those same jerseys before you; who already know, that which you are about to find out. A great crowd has gathered, but you have been chosen to occupy this moment and place in history on their behalf. You have been chosen because you have proved yourself worthy. The perseverance that has brought you here will also guide you in every step you take towards victory. You will be tested by equally worthy opponents whose determination will inspire you to push harder and further than you ever imagined you could. Be grateful to your opponents and give them the respect and honour they deserve. In the end, some will claim victory over others, for being the more determined, more brave, more disciplined, more wise and a bit lucky.

This game may be the culmination of your aspirations, hard work and resilience; of ruptured veins, broken bones, twisted joints and worn out sinews endured. It is time to rise above all that pain and hardship and take the time to feel the glory of this summit to which they have elevated you. Do not let the weight of history be a burden on your shoulders. Though this moment belongs to you, its glory is not yours to keep. You are its guardian and keeper for a day, as others have been before you. But today, you are also its master; not its slave; for you determine the fate of this moment in ways that it may never determine yours. Soon you will have to descend the mountain you have just conquered to make way at the peak for those that follow in your footsteps. It may yet seem like the greatest gamble you have ever taken, because every victory you have ever won in the past, will be hung in balance on a distant scoreboard. This crowd may only ever remember you by whether you won or lost the Bradby Shield. But let me reassure you; the weight of all that expectation is only an illusion. I can promise you there will be higher, more challenging mountains to climb, if you can bring yourself to descend this one and start all over again.

Even as you revel or languish in your exploits at sunset today, you need to wake up with new dreams and greater ambitions tomorrow. You were never fated to seek daily victories; but seek instead the joys of a life well lived. The battle for the Bradby Shield may be won or lost, but the war has just begun. No matter how your love-affair with the oval ball unfolds, you will soon be called to pursue more substantial ambitions that will have a tangible impact on you, on your loved ones and on the world. For everything you have achieved on the playing fields of Trinity and Royal; you will be called on to prove the worth of your brawn and brains in the pursuit of even more ambitious goals. There won’t be any cheering crowds or ‘papare bands’ when you are called to lead and inspire change; to transform ourselves in ways that will help make the world a more just and dignified place for everyone to live. Even as you take off your blood and sweat drenched jerseys after a hard fought game this evening, remember that greater battles lay ahead. You were merely being prepared and trained to face more glorious victories and bitterer defeats that await you in life.

So it is my wish for you, that on such a day many years from now, when the world throws back challenges that seem daunting and insurmountable; you will be able to look back and draw inspiration from this game you are about to play. The strength of your character and the true greatness of the institutions you represent today will be proven only then. As much as you are determined to be the best you can be on the field today, you will have to continue to grow in strength and maturity to preserve that determination through more difficult confrontations. The lessons you begin to learn today must continue to teach and guide you for a lifetime, so as much as you put your bodies and limbs on the line in pursuit of the next goal today, continue to give life everything you’ve got without hesitation or restraint in years to come.

This day will galvanise existing friendships and new friends will grow out of acquaintances. The best friends that share in your revels and sustain you in hardship will also not hesitate to criticise you when you go astray. You will understand true friendship by those who caution you when distracted, cheer you when disheartened, inspire and sustain you when distressed and depend on you to do the same for them as you share in some of life’s greatest moments.

Nothing else you’ve ever known in life may seem greater or worthier than what you are about to experience when you hold that beautiful Shield aloft and immerse yourselves in the rapture of the crowds below. You are all rugby stars today, but soon you will be ex-Bradby winning or losing players. I don’t mean to sound dramatic, but that is the truth. But do not be disheartened, because even greater moments of wonder and fulfilment are all but a few years away. You may celebrate them in silence with a kiss or know them in the smell of a newborn child. You will soon feel the need more intensely, to define who you really are and what you really want to be; not just as a sport star, but as fathers, executives, intellectuals, salesmen, politicians, artists, professionals... or whatever means you alone can choose to give real substance and meaning to the legacy you will ultimately leave behind. I wish you all the very best!

Respice Finem!

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