I play a competitive Irish sport called Hurling. It’s not caber toss, curling, or projectile vomiting. It’s an ancient stick and ball sport that looks like a cross of field hockey, rugby and lacrosse.
I’ve been playing for the Seattle Gaels for the past five years. Hurling is the only team sport I’ve ever seriously played. We compete locally in a city league, in regional games and tournaments, culminating in a season finale at the North American Gaelic Athletic Association’s national tournament (which has over 5,000 competitors).
Amidst rain, chilling wind, and triple rainbows, the season started today with my first practice of the year. About midway through practice, it hit me: a new season. For the next six months I will dedicate my Tuesday and Thursday evenings, plus many Sunday afternoons to this team. I will work my ass off to get in and stay in shape. I will be honest about my weaknesses and strive to improve. I will cry out of frustration and I will cheer for joy. I will bleed for the Gaels.
I don’t know what I was thinking when I first went out onto the pitch to play this weird, hyper aggressive sport. I certainly wasn’t aware of all that it would bring me. How it would enrich my life by keeping me healthy, physically, mentally and emotionally. I didn’t realize how many great friends I would make, friends for the rest of my life. I wasn’t aware of how much I’d learn about teams. About camaraderie. About leadership. About myself.
Most importantly: I didn’t realize that hurling would keep me sane.
A few years ago I was struggling at PopCap. I wasn’t succeeding in my role. I was having problems with my peers. I was adrift in failure. I felt absolutely powerless, frustrated and alone in my own company. Every Tuesday and Thursday though, I suited up, forgot all that, and just played. Hurling helped remind me that life wasn’t only PopCap. That my identity wasn’t only as a founder of the company. It helped keep me humble, for I was still learning. Hurling kept me in the world just enough to keep plugging away. It gave me enough energy, enough of a sense of self worth outside of PopCap, that without the Gaels, I don’t know if I would’ve survived that year still employed.
Last year we were in the middle of selling the company. It was the hardest time of my life. After a particular long day in a rather long week which was a part of a especially difficult month, we had a city league match. On the way to the match I was on the phone with a potential acquirer. While talking I had to make a snap judgement on whether we’d communicate our desire to move the relationship forward. We had been previously focused on the soft stuff (cultural fit, vision) and he was pressing hard to start actual negotiating. I was representing where the founders “heads” were at. I made the decision to say yah, the founders are feelin’ it.
After I hung up I slowly walked to the pitch. Every ounce of me was drained. I almost turned back, headed home or to a bar, but instead plopped my gear down and started suiting up. After I laced up my cleats, there were warm ups, stretches, the first half, half time pep talk, the second half (victory!), warm downs, which then ending with a lap around the field. It was on that lap that I realized I hadn’t thought of the deal, lawyers, accountants, bankers, social gaming, PopCap – any of it, for an hour and a half. Joyful tears streamed down my face as I jogged.
Up the Gaels!