Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Agony of an Injury-Based Retirement

Sometimes it’s hard to leave the sport you love, and sometimes it’s downright painful… in the most literal sense of the word.

Earlier this week, U.S. skating fans heard the
sad news that Naomi Nari Nam—first a teenage singles phenom, then a pairs skater making a stellar comeback—is retiring from competitive skating for good. Turns out the hip injury that ended her singles’ career several years back (and prompted surgery last year) is to blame for her somewhat premature departure.

Then a couple days ago, word gets out worldwide that the senior men are losing yet another reigning Olympic medalist. Stephane Lambiel, citing a persistent leg injury, called a
news conference to call it quits.

I know there’s a lot that can—and has—been said about such departures and the commentary they make on the state of skating in general. The thing that struck me as most poignant, though, was the timing. These were announcements that came on the edge of a new season. These are not typical retirements; rather, these are ones that come after a special kind of soul searching. I can only imagine the way both Nam and Lambiel continued to train over the past several months, hoping and praying they could keep working through the pain; knowing, perhaps in the back of their mind, it would be very unwise to do so. Still they tried, till the last possible week/day/hour, to make it work.

How do they put out that fire? How do they grind it to a halt when they’re not ready? The funny thing in Lambiel’s case, as you’ll recall, is that he did grind things to a halt midway through the 2006-7 season (citing a lack of “inner fire”, wasn’t it?), but then rebounded in time to snare the bronze medal at Worlds.

Once you start a year’s worth of something you’re so passionate about, I guess it’s hard to stop. Even if it’s agonizing to continue.

In these two cases, though, it was too painful to begin. That’s the sort of thing that makes all of us ache for them.

For the
Clip of the Day here’s NNN and her partner Themistocles Leftheris at the 2007 Four Continents. (Sigh… I miss trying to pronounce, or even type, that name already.)

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