In all the years I’ve been sick, and in all the months I’ve been struggling since my first surgery last May, I’ve used sports as a lifeline. When I was younger, I would watch sports and pretend I was part of the game, mimicking athletic actions in front of the TV. I threw down slam dunks on the doorframe of my living room, I made diving catches in the outfield by jumping onto my mattress, and I curled in perfect free kicks off the carpet of my bedroom.
To this day, I still act out imaginary actions when I really get into a game, which is why I prefer to watch sports alone – it’s weird to celebrate an imaginary goal with imaginary teammates when real people are around. It’s physically energizing to watch incredibly talented athletes embroiled in unscripted games. So much so that I prefer to stand when I watch important games (you can read a story of mine over at The Arsenal Collective for a better idea of what that’s like).
Last Saturday I was gifted tickets to the Toronto Raptors first round NBA Playoff game against the Brooklyn Nets (photographic evidence above). While a live sporting event is exciting enough in itself, the higher stakes of playoff game can turn an arena into a madhouse. That was the case at the Air Canada Centre last weekend, as 20,000 fans who had been storing up their energy for six poor, playoff-less seasons finally had a chance to release it.
It was wonderful to be surrounded by people who, like me, had no problem cursing at officials, shouting obscenities for every turnover, and screaming with joy for each bucket the Raptors made. I was on the edge of my seat only because I couldn’t stand for the whole game – that would have been impolite to the fans seated behind me. How they managed to sit down is beyond me. They must have been on Ritalin.
Even though the Raptors lost the game, the experience of attending my first ever playoff game in any sport put my mind in a better state, a state that for at least a few hours wasn’t squarely focused on stomach rumbles or butt creams or holding in a shit. That’s not to say I escaped completely from my body’s defects. I still did have to take a shit, which I did with 5 minutes to go in the second quarter; I knew if I waited until halftime I’d have to wait in a massive lineup for what was sure to be a pristine toilet stall. I had some uncomfortable moments in the second half, and I had to work to hold in another bowel movement for pretty well the whole subway ride home.
After I got home and let out that shit I had been holding in, I felt pretty good. Not just because of the sweet relief around my pelvis, but because I was able to take part in an amazing event without being too hampered by my surgically altered digestive system. It wasn’t as comfortable a day as I would have liked, but it wasn’t too bad either.
The Sunday after the Raptors game, I was treated to another brilliant sporting performance, this one by my beloved Arsenal Football Club, who cruised to a 3-0 victory over Hull City. I watched the game on a small rectangle on my laptop, and I was back to mimicking brilliant through balls to Olivier Giroud and firing in goals from Mesut Özil’s cutbacks. I wasn’t quite as active in my imaginary athleticism while I had my ileostomy, and noticing that my bag was gone while I made perfectly timed tackles on Hull City’s players made me feel good; like I had progressed. Another mental and physical escape, except unlike the Raptors game, the real-life result was brilliant.
Thinking about it now, I remember a time a few years ago when I was in the middle of an ulcerative colitis flare-up. I was going to the bathroom upwards of 20 times a day. I opened my laptop at 7:45 on a Saturday morning to watch Arsenal play. While the first half was underway, my bowels eased. I had no urges to go. Soon after the halftime whistle though, I had to run to the bathroom. I watched the second half in relative comfort, and again had to shit at the end of the game. The mind in focus is a powerful thing; it’s just hard to focus it. By the way, don’t take this anecdote as a reason to suggest my IBD is “all in my head” or I’ll punch you right in the genitals.
I’m still hesitant about actually playing sports and running again, even though I’m 10 weeks removed from my surgery. I just don’t want to push myself too much too soon and end up with a hernia or some other injury that will only set me back further. So while I bide my time before I can lace up my running shoes again, I can at still lose myself in the exploits of all the professional athletes I admire and envy. Oh, and if you have tickets to game 5 of the Raports-Nets series and need an enthusiastic companion for the night, I’m available.