An Honest Ending

Matt Woolverton

When I was 12, my neighbor introduced me to the oldest game in North America

Every day since
A relentless thud, thud, thud
I would be outside for hours
A brick wall, a stick, a ball

Lacrosse became my first love

23 years later I’m at the end of my journey
No more thuds
I’m retiring as a professional lacrosse player

Before I go
I have a few final words to share
Some of advice, some of forewarning, and a lot of gratitude

Paul Rabil | Premier Lacrosse League | The Players’ Tribune
Joseph Labolito/Getty Images

My career was full of moments I’ll forever cherish
The ones you dream about as a kid
The championships, turning pro, representing my country, starting a new pro league 

I’ve also had moments so painful I wish I could’ve forgotten
The championship losses, season-ending surgeries, trades, game-winning missed shots and poor performances
I internalized these moments
They became my fuel

So I’ve learned the highs can’t happen without the lows
Now I’m comfortable remembering both

The first time I strung my own stick, I felt a deep connection to the game
To its Native American roots 
To myself

There’s artisanship in stick making
My equipment became a part of me
My teammates became my brothers
Lacrosse a community
These will never end

Paul Rabil | Premier Lacrosse League | The Players’ Tribune
Liam Murphy

I was driven from an early age
Developed a fierce competitive streak
At times, it took over my life
I grew hungrier with every thud against the wall
I badly wanted to win
Every game
By a lot

I became obsessed

Practice never stopped
Everywhere I went, I would find my wall
From my home state of Maryland to New York, California, and Washington
To England, Italy, Spain and Israel

Me, a stick, a ball

Over time, my practice changed
I would push myself beyond exhaustion
Every day

If there’s a secret to success 
It’s dogged consistency
Like the kind you get from a heavyweight boxer training for a championship fight

Not for weeks
Not for seasons
Not for years

For decades

That’s the secret
Or maybe just very few are willing to do it

And it never gets easier
Practicing is the bare minimum
You have to scratch and claw, and it never ends
Until one day it does

Paul Rabil | Premier Lacrosse League | The Players’ Tribune
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

On game day, putting on my uniform felt like wearing a Superman cape
The field Krypton
A place for athletes to clash with force, intensity, and emotion
That emotion ran deep for me

I was told the great thing about sport is that it becomes a place where you can get away from life’s distractions
On the contrary, I brought my life to the field
All the distractions, pain, challenges, love
I played with those emotions

It was dangerous
Lacrosse wasn’t what I did — it became who I was
Halfway through my pro career I changed that
I began to create space for me — personally and relationally
That became the most important change in my life

During this journey I’ve connected with so many incredible people
My family, friends, teammates, opponents, coaches, medical teams
All around the world — you mean the world to me

You gave me a strong mind
Resilience after defeat
Humility in victory
Tolerance during injury
Motivation to endure
An ability to love 

Paul Rabil | Premier Lacrosse League | The Players’ Tribune
Courtesy of Paul Rabil

Here’s what I’ll miss the most

The huddles
All of them

The pregame huddle
You look into the eyes of every person in that locker room
Feel their soul
Share your strength
Go as one

The huddle after we score
The embrace, smiles, encouragement 
You run to the sideline
With pride
Ready to go again

The halftime huddle
The comedown
Regroup, respite, reflect, recharge
There’s new life

The huddle after they score
The frustration, regret, commitment 
The desire for another opportunity
Ready to go again

The postgame huddle
In defeat, you wrap your arms around each other, few words to share, only togetherness
In victory, you smile, embrace, laugh and exhale
You go as one

Every huddle is unique
I’ll miss them the most

23 years against a wall
23 years with dogged consistency
23 years of your support
23 years in huddles I’ll never forget

My time on the field has come to end
Today a new journey begins


Paul Rabil | Premier Lacrosse League | The Players’ Tribune