When Ryan injured himself in the 75th minute of the Cronulla game three weeks ago, I must admit, I wasn’t watching.
I was distracted by our youngest who was cutting laps of the Olympic Park Room with one of the other littlies. I was just thinking to myself how cute the pair looked in their matching jerseys and tutus when Will Chambers’ lovely wife, Bianca, caught my eye and gestured worriedly towards the field.
The next minute my phone was ringing and I was asked to come down to the sheds. I’ve been around long enough to know that this is never a good sign, but I gathered my things and my offspring and off we went.
By the time I got down to the sheds the game had ended, we’d lost, and the mood was tense. I was ushered in to see Ryan lying on a massage table, and he was completely beside himself. He was in shock and devastated and he was all but sure that he’d just played the last game of his career.
I didn’t know what to do, what to say, and I was wearing light grey so I didn’t want to get in too close for a decent cuddle because, you know, sweat and grass stains.
One-by-one, his teammates snuck out of what I’m sure was a right dressing down to check on him. Most just shook their heads and gave him a cuddle or a pat on the head and I don’t think I’ve ever felt such palpable love and care for a person in my whole life.
We sat in silence as Ryan tried to gather himself. After a little while I leant in and whispered, “This is a bit like witnessing your own open casket, isn’t it?”
Finally a smile. The tiniest of laughs. Supposedly it’s the best medicine.
The point is, in that moment, it felt like the end. And two days later when a scan confirmed that he had ruptured a tendon, we were even more convinced that Ryan’s career was probably over. We were philosophical, but realistic.
In these moments, you might assume that the tendency is to reflect. To be grateful for the career that he’s had. And you’d be absolutely right, he has had an amazing career. So amazing and so well-documented, in fact, that I don’t need to detail the highlights here. Just Google it, as is my 5-year-old’s answer for everything.
But what I will say is this: at some unspecified point in the next 5 weeks, Ryan’s career will end. He will cease to be a rugby league player. But he’ll still be Ryan.
He’ll still be the chivalrous gentleman who held open doors for me and stole my heart away 15-odd years ago. He’ll still be my partner-in-crime in seeing the world and packing as much into life as we possibly can. He’ll still be the father of two adorable children who plays board games and tackles and who reads bedtime stories with funny voices and everything. He’ll still be the friend who’s there with a text or a phone call when times are both happy and horrible. He’ll still be the big brother who gives his sisters hell, but who brags about their achievements to anyone who’ll listen the moment they’re not around. He’ll still be the son who loves going to visit his folks so much, that he becomes like a giddy schoolboy when the time comes to get on the plane.
He’ll still care desperately about this game. He was never going to be a player who woke up one day and thought, “I can’t do this anymore,” because I firmly believe he would’ve gone on forever if somehow the passing of time on the human body would allow.
I also believe that he’ll be an even better administrator than he was player because there’s no expiry date this time. His love for the game is real and it’s selfless and I know he’ll thrive in having the ability to contribute to its future.
The point is, Ryan is more than what he does. In fact, each and every one of these boys are more than what they do. Their value and their identity is not dictated by what it says on their LinkedIn profile, it’s within them and I think a player’s retirement is a perfect time to remember that.
So to my lovely husband, well done on an incredible career. It’s been quite the ride. But even bigger congratulations on being an excellent human being. One of my all time favourite human beings, actually. You’ll never be able to retire from that.