by Ben Utecht
The sound of the crowd returned. I had to go. I let go of my dad’s hand and ran out onto the field with my teammates. The game started with a huge play by the Bears and ended with our team holding the Lombardi Trophy as world champions. The Super Bowl was all I imagined it to be. Yet I came away from the game reflecting on how I almost lost something irreplaceable before the game even started. Standing in the tunnel, caught up in the hype and excitement of the Super Bowl, I nearly let the game consume me. I almost lost myself, my real identity, all because of a game.
I now look back on that moment with a sense of irony. Even though I made a conscious choice to go back to where it all began for me and there recover my true self, I now face a battle in which I may not have a choice in how this ends. The game has already changed me in ways from which I may never recover. Future changes could well lie in front of me. The odds are troubling. In all fairness, it is not the game of football in and of itself that extracted such a heavy toll on me, but rather the lasting results of what medical books call mild traumatic brain injury. Most people simply call them concussions. I suffered five documented concussions over the course of my playing career, which stretched across four years of college ball and six seasons in the National Football League. I never thought about the long-term effects of this injury until it was too late.
However, this is not a book about concussions, or even football. Both play a major role in my story, but they do not define me. Mine is a story about a preacher’s son who grew up in a loving family, a boy who grew up praying for a family of his own someday. When I found the woman with whom I now share my life, I knew I had found everything I had ever dreamed of. Now all of us, my mom and dad, my wife, my sister, and myself, are locked in a battle as I hope to hold on to those I love. They are not going anywhere. Unfortunately, my memories are. I have already lost some I once treasured.
I now understand that our essence as human beings lies in our ability to remember. Everything that matters about our identities—our very sense of self—comes from our memories. We may live in the present, but the present doesn’t last. Every moment quickly slips into the stream of short-term memory and journeys toward the ocean that is the long-term memory center of the brain. There our memories take root, shaping us, refining us, defining who we are. We are the culmination of all we have experienced, all we have thought and read and believed, all we have loved. We are living memories. Without memories we cease to be ourselves. In a very real way we cease to be.
And that is the very real possibility I now face. My memories appear to have an expiration date even as I fight to hold on to them. I don’t know who will win this battle. That is why I am compelled to write this book. Yes, this is my story, but it is also a love letter to my wife and four daughters. Someday all that you are about to read may be nothing but a blur to me. But with this book in their hands, my family will always remember who I was and why I loved them so much.
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