When I was a boy I used to go running at night. This started around the age of eleven or twelve and would happen regularly, until about the time I left for college. I would wait for everyone in the house to fall asleep, then slip out the front door and run. Did my parents know about this late night habit? I’m certain they did, though they’ve never brought it up and neither have I. In my mind I was undetectable, a marvel of stealth; but a boy’s mind is full of convenient tricks that play in his favor.
Once outside I would just run. Simple as that. There was never a set course, no distance or marker. Only the idea that each step took me closer to something wanted. At times I would pretend to be someone else while I was running. Fictional sports heroes mostly. It could be Rocky one night, Benny Rodriguez the next, even Pheidippides if I felt like covering a large distance. But the customary fantasy was pretending I was the only person in the world who cared enough about soccer to run at such an hour. To work while everyone else was sleeping. I would run in the dark, in the quiet, and the solitude found there would help me believe. Running and dreaming, that was my childhood. Reckless yes, but mostly foolishly earnest. The boy me could dream, and boy could he run.
Now here I am. The dream has been lived, the boyish fantasies fulfilled. I’ve built a career playing a game. A game I’ve loved and always will. And where has that left me? Well, today I don’t run much at all. Exercise means lifting weights, riding the bike or rehabbing. It means walking the four flights of stairs up to the press box where I watch my teammates play. Sometimes I jog when my son takes off up the street toward the swings. He thinks it’s a fun way to play. So do I.
Please don’t mistake my sentiment as soliciting pity. That’s not what I’m trying to do. Naturally I would have preferred to avoid the tackle that led to my physical demise, but that’s not the point. It happened, and through the combined efforts of those involved in my rehabilitation I was able to get back on the training field again, even make it through a preseason! Then a moment, a change, bringing me here. That’s life in the game, and that’s okay.
The end of this season marks twelve years that I have been a part of Real Salt Lake. It will also be my last. I arrived in this city at the age of twenty; foolish, confident, and ready to make my mark in the soccer world. I never gave any thought to the possibility of staying here my whole career. A small excitement to see snow, sure, but setting or season were mere backdrop to the primary focus. As they say, I was here to play ball. And now I sit in my kitchen, reflecting on the journey, a physical relic of my former self, grasping at emotions as I try to convey the good and the bad of it all. And that’s just it, from here all I see is good. How lucky I’ve been, how fortunate and thankful I feel. Real Salt Lake and Salt Lake City have given me a new definition of life. It was here I met my wife, built a family, made lifelong friends and bonds in a community now synonymous with home. There was a life awaiting me here that the rookie me never thought possible, a dream that even my imagination couldn’t have dreamt. I suppose that’s what makes this whole ordeal easier to handle. When you pit one against the other, a knee and a career are a simple trade for a life and a home.
To my family, who have seen the best and the worst and have only given love in return, I thank you. To those in the club that have believed in and supported me through the endeavor, I thank you. To the supporters of our impossible club, who have stood tall and proud in the face of giants, and brought glory to Utah, I thank you. To my teammates, who long ago could have relegated me to a mere hand shaken in the morning, but have only shown me kindness and empathy, I thank you. To those in the streets that ask about my knee, who say with a sad smile that they miss watching me play and hope to see me on the field again soon, I thank you, and I apologize, I’m heartbroken to let you down. And to those who love this city as I do; who look daily to the east as the sun rises above our mountains and feel at peace, who explore the rivers, traverse the valleys, further one more bend in the spirit of adventure, who love the people, the streets and their geometrical perfection, who take the quirks of the town in stride and defend its nature to outsiders, to those who have created our culture of food, and to those who make the weekend pilgrimage to the RioT, who rise as the sun sets and the ball is rolled out, who cheer for a moment of brilliance from the home team, and for what we have built together, I thank you.
The end brings peace and understanding. All those nights chasing shadows in the dark, they were leading me where I was meant to be. To the most beautiful place on earth, home.