We were face down in the freezing mud. It was dark. Along with our breath, the heat from our 30 odd bodies created a light fog above the hard Tubbercurry surface.
It was around this time of year. Early January. Slogging season in the GAA.
Press-ups. Burpees. Sprints. Three-quarter pace for the length of the pitch and jog the width. Over, and over, and over again. Trying not to be too fast or too slow. Keep the head down and don’t get called out. Just get through it.
I remember this moment though. It was only near the start of the session but we were already banjaxed. Waiting for the next whistle.
I looked across at a teammate, face daubed with mud as if he was trying to camouflage himself. The unusual look of determination in his eyes struck me.
‘This is torture’, I said.
‘Ah stop that’, he replied. ‘Sure where else would you be? This is great’.
And although I thought he was mad at the time, I look back and I see that he was creating his own reality.
Because while I was focusing on the mud, the cold, the slog, how tired I was, the eternity of the session stretching out in front of us, my teammate was choosing to look at things differently. Focusing instead on the camaraderie, the struggle, the fact that we were healthy, fit, getting fitter, pushing ourselves to the limit, getting to represent our county, working with a group of friends trying to achieve something. Together.
And I was reminded of this moment today when my wife came home from the supermarket and told me of the mood of dejection she picked up in town.
The January blues to the power of COVID. Reality biting. Schools closed. Dark evenings. Job losses. No social visits. Loved ones getting sick. Numbers spiralling. The fear.
And unfortunately, it’s all true. It’s how things are this January.
But, what if in the spirit of my teammate 20 years ago, we choose to create our own reality to get ourselves through the next few weeks? To look at what we can do instead.
We can still read a book, go for a walk, watch a film with family. We can create something – write a song, a poem, take a photograph, learn something, we can dream big. We can give ourselves a break and not expect too much of ourselves for the next while. We can pick up the phone and reach out. We can help ourselves by helping others.
And things will look a lot different in a few short months.
The darkest hour comes before the dawn.
Column 18 for the Sligo Weekender. Published 7 January 2021.
PS – just a reminder that this is starting on Monday. Have loads of people interested already – looking forward to seeing what chalenge people choose…