The boy who would (not) play rugby

My son Afonso turns twenty-four today. As a storyteller, I have decided to write him a story for his birthday.


Once upon a time there was a boy, who was much loved by his family and had good friends, but even so he was shy; his father thought sports would do him good; after an unsuccessful attempt at basketball he enrolled him in rugby, not too popular at the time in Portugal. He had been told rugby, as a team sport with strong values, would do much for his son.


That’s how the seven year old boy found himself training at the rugby club twice a week. At first he didn’t want to; he was so reluctant that sometimes he even cried, tells Mimi, the lady who helped raise him and his brother. However his father insisted and his mother agreed – sport was essential and very important for his life. Little did they know to what extent.


As the boy continued training his initial reluctance disappeared. While at basketball he felt like an outsider, without friends, it was different with rugby and soon he felt at home. Not even the fact that in the first match he played he had to leave the rugby field in an ambulance to the hospital with his nose bleeding profusely – fortunately it was only a scare, nothing serious – intimidated him, and he continued training with his team.


The boy was now more confident, less shy, and he always felt best when he was training or playing rugby; in the rugby field with his friends. Playing rugby made him happy.


When he was ten he suffered a serious knee injury, something never seen before in a boy as young as he was, and the rest is history: he faced pain and adversity with strength and determination also unusual for his age. He persisted in his dream and his passion. When he was told he would never play rugby again he didn’t accept it; he always believed he would be back – and he fought, he did physiotherapy during many weeks and months, and he came back. From time to time he had relapses and at times he felt somewhat disheartened but then he would summon all his courage and do everything in order to recover and return to the field. He was afraid – the problem in his knee was an ever present ghost – but he never let fear conquer him as the will to play was always stronger.


At nineteen, after yet another injury he decided he wanted to be operated on his knee. It was a tough year and a painful recovery, but he kept seeing the light at the end of the tunnel – he would be playing without fear, without any limitations – and in the end he did. He came back, stronger than ever.


So this is how the boy who didn’t want to play rugby made rugby his passion. He has been named the player of the year and the man of many matches; he has been called to the national rugby team. He never missed his training sessions and never stopped studying and having excellent results at university. When you see him enter the rugby field for a match, so big, so strong and above all so confident, you’ll never recognise that shy boy who would not go to the first training sessions. Yet passion is just like that, it doesn’t always happen at first sight; it may come slowly, surreptitiously and then suddenly it invades us and stays inside us forever.

The boy who in the end wanted – and still wants – to play rugby is my son Afonso, who turns twenty-four today. He’s no longer a boy, but a man; a kind, beautiful, brave man, somewhat stubborn at times but always with strong ethical values, who has taught me so much and fills my heart with pride. You know, my son, some people say that, before we are born, we get to choose our parents, the family we want to be born into. One day, somewhere in another dimension, you must have looked down and pointed at me and said: “Yes, it’s her. This woman will be my mother”. If this has been so I want to thank you, for it has been, and always will be, my great privilege and joy to be your mother.


Happy birthday my darling. You know I wish you every happiness in the world.

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