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Getting a head-butt to the groin was the perfect capper to my crap day.

I stepped off the elevator on the second floor of my apartment building, pulling my roller bag behind me. When I turned the corner—wham!—a hard head connected with my crotch.

Grunting, I crumpled against the wall for a moment, thighs clamped together to try to block out the pain.

Motherfuck did that hurt.

When I didn’t hear a “Gee, mister, I’m sorry,” I glanced up to see my crotch smasher sailing down the hallway, long brown curls bobbing as if she didn’t have a care in the world.

That pissed me off.

“Hey, little girl,” I yelled.

The figure spun around and glared at me. “I’m not a girl.”

“With that long hair I assumed—”

“You have long hair,” he pointed out.

“I’m not wearing a dress,” I shot back at him.

“It’s not a dress. It’s a hakama.”

“Looks like a damn dress,” I muttered. I closed my eyes and silently willed the throbbing pain in my groin to go away.

Stupid visualization exercises never worked.

Sighing, I pushed off the wall and opened my eyes. I said, “Look, kid, we . . .”

But he was gone.

Where the hell had he disappeared to so fast?

He’d probably slipped into an apartment. But I knew everyone who lived in my building, and no one had kids.

Maybe in the two weeks you’ve been gone someone new moved in.

That’d be an issue since Bob the building manager was supposed to restrict families with kids to the other building.

Did this kid’s parents know he was running the halls unattended? Did they care?

If I ever ran into them, they’d get a piece of my mind about their son’s behavior.

Why don’t you shake your fist in the air too, you grumpy old man?

I’d cop to being grumpy, but I wasn’t old. No matter what my body felt like some days.

I shambled down the hallway to my apartment. After unlocking the door, I dragged my suitcase inside.

The piney scent lingering throughout the space indicated the cleaning service had been here recently. When I snagged a sparkling water out of the refrigerator, I noticed my personal chef had delivered this week’s meals. Now that I wasn’t on vacation, I had to get back to healthy eating. Training started in roughly eleven weeks, and I already had enough to overcome without showing up looking like a lard ass.

My damn balls throbbed, so I grabbed an ice pack out of the freezer and hobbled into the living room. As soon as my butt connected with my square-shaped sofa, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. God I loved this couch. Sort of pathetic that I’d rather have it beneath me than a woman.

I heard my phone buzzing in the outside pocket of my suitcase, but I ignored it. I wasn’t in the mood to talk to anyone. I needed time to chill. Yeah, I’d just returned from vacation, but only the last week had been flop-on-the-beach-with-a-beer time. I’d spent the previous week at the clinic in Florida with the doc who’d done my surgeries. He and his sadistic outpatient review team had performed every stress, mobility, agility and functionality test ever invented on my body to gauge the success of my surgeries last year.

They marveled at the progress I’d made since my last visit. They told me I’d surpassed their initial expectations for recovery. They listed all the medical milestones I’d passed. But they hadn’t told me the one thing—the only thing—I wanted to know: Would I ever play football at the same level as I had before the injury?

An injury that had kept me off the football field all of last season.

Actually, it’d been a combination of injuries. A late hit had knocked me out. So in addition to getting a concussion, at some point during the play I’d dislocated my kneecap—not that I’d been aware of that injury at the time. When I’d finally come to in the hospital—that had been freaky as hell—I hadn’t been able to feel anything from the waist down due to paralysis.


Even now I can’t wrap my head around that word.

When I think back, it seemed as if it’d happened to someone else. My neck in a cervical collar. My arm in a sling. As I lay in that hospital bed, I felt nothing. I’d wanted to scream but I couldn’t get enough air into my lungs to even speak.

Then the drugs kicked in and I drifted back into the black void.

Upon awaking several hours later alone in my hospital room, I tried to wiggle my toes, roll my ankles, shift my thighs, force any kind of movement, but I just ended up sweaty and frustrated.

And scared. Holy shit I’d experienced fear in that hospital bed like I’d never known.

Sleep became my refuge. For twenty-four hours the doctors watched me for signs of improvement or decline. When I groggily complained about the throbbing pain in my right knee, the doctors did another full, thorough and painful examination. They determined the hematoma on my spine had caused the temporary paralysis. When the swelling decreased, so did the paralysis.

I’d never welcomed pain like I had that night. I refused pain meds. I wanted to feel every twinge and every burning, stabbing pain—it was better than never feeling anything again.

Two days after the paralysis scare, my family loaded me into the Lund Industries private Learjet. The medical professionals associated with the Minnesota Vikings organization recommended a surgeon in Florida, so I was off to Pensacola for diagnosis and surgery.

My shoulder injury required surgery, and the recovery time was four months. It was one of the most trying times in my life, despite the fact that the surgery had gone well and the prognosis for recovery was excellent. While I appreciated the unconditional support my family provided, they’d been extremely smothering.

During the second week of physical therapy, when I became frustrated with my lack of progress increasing my walking speed, I asked for another set of tests because I knew something else was wrong. The tests revealed I’d ruptured my Achilles tendon. The knee injury had masked that issue, and my knee turned out to be the least of my worries.

An Achilles rupture can be a kiss of death to a football player. I could name a dozen careers abruptly ended by that particular injury. After the surgery to repair the rupture—which I couldn’t schedule until my knee was one hundred percent—the recovery time was a year. So sitting in the doctor’s office in Florida, I knew I’d miss the entire next season.

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