Joaquin Bembhy is a rugby player from Argentina, playing with the San Andres Club in the Buenos Aires province. In this piece, he discusses the sense of belonging that comes from sport, the challenges that come from injury, and the power of self-motivation in the recovery journey.
The Importance of Sport
Here in Argentina, rugby is different from any other sport around the world. It is not professional, so you don’t get paid to play and you can play for any club you choose to play for. Even though it is not professional, the level of competitiveness is huge. The size of the clubs varies enormously. It goes from squads with a total of more than 200 people to squads which can roughly get to 15 (which is the amount of people who play in the field in one team). As teams get bigger, the more similar it gets to professional rugby, while small teams may be far away for that and compete for almost nothing. Although rugby is so diverse here, and each club is unique in it’s own way, there is one thing that no teams in the league lack, a sense of belonging.
Sense of belonging - that’s what makes the sport here so unique. You can be in the best club in the country or in the worst, but if you are really into it, you will feel an enormous sense of belonging to your club, especially if you have been raised all your life playing for it, like I was. This is because of how we’ve all been raised, and what the true value of the sport is; respect.
In rugby, the most important value over every other thing is respect - to the referee, rival, coaches, clubs, families, and any other thing that you can imagine. Even though it is one of the most rough sports in the world, and the amount of hits you receive is huge, there is no resentment at all. We know we are playing a sport were we are going to get hit all the time and we have to deal with it by ourselves.
I play rugby for my club “San Andres”, which is the same as St. Andrews in English. I’ve played for my club since I was 8 years old. Around those years, when I was small, I was extremely good due to my early developed body. By the age of 15 I had a very similar body to the one I have today. At that time, I was unstoppable. I remembered I dreamed about playing for my national rugby team, “Los Pumas”, and felt like I would really be able to do it one day (didn’t happen).
I’ve been the captain of my category for my club since the first time my team elected a captain. This was so special for me because the coaches didn’t chose me but instead my friends did. This gave it a special value. Being the team leader wasn’t easy. I had to motivate my players constantly and be the “cop” (at least this is how I felt) of the team sometimes in order for them not to lose focus. I was a young kid with big aspirations, and I had very clear what rugby represented for me in my life, alike other of my teammates which played just to have fun. Of course this is not bad, but it often brought conflict between us because there were people in the team who wanted to achieve great things, like me, and others who just hanged around with no goals.
Rugby has been everything to me, all my life. It was what I enjoyed doing the most - even training. I went to the gym three times a week for two years without missing it even once. I was always the person who arrived first to any place and would volunteer to anything related to the sport. I was an example in terms of rugby sportsmanship. I simply loved it. Until one day the catastrophe happened… It was the 23rd of August 2015. Sunday, game day. It was cold and it had rained a lot throughout the night. The sky was grey, and the club where we were playing at was far away from home. Just ten minutes had passed since the beginning of the match and we were down by one try.
I grabbed the ball 10 meters away from the rival try line and started running towards it when suddenly I see a black shadow throw all his body toward my toes. As he was pretty low, I tried to jump over him, and when I was in the air another player slightly touched me, enough to make me lose my balance.
When I fell I heard a bone wrecking noise in my knee. I immediately fell to the ground, but quickly stood up again. Jumping on one knee and shouting like a baby, I knew something was wrong.
I had broken my anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and had to be carried off the field by my teammates. Before that moment, my life had been all unicorns and flowers, but since that day, everything changed - real life started.
ACL Surgery & Recovery
Some weeks after the event, I went on to have surgery. Five months later I went on to have knee surgery again. This was because my first surgery had “failed” and not even my doctor could figure out why this happened. Day after day I'd wake up to the dream of going back to the field to do what I love the most, play rugby.
During my recovery process, which lasted over a year, I went to physiotherapy three times a week, to the gym three times a week and to every training and match my team had which was at least another three times a week. This was physically and mentally exhaustive for me. I had to see continuously how my teammates played the sport that I loved the most and was incapable of playing anymore.
Due to my own convictions and my sense of perseverance, I motivated myself everyday. I watched YouTube videos about rugby, speeches and Ted Talks. Anything that could “heal” my brain from wanting to stop recovering. The only thing my brain could think of was to keep moving forward, keep on progressing, and never surrender. Those videos were all I had. They were my engine, the only thing that kept me moving forward even though most people told me to stop trying so hard. After 13 months, I was fully recovered and in shape to play again. Going back to the field was the best thing that happened to me in a long time. I played three matches in a row. Everything seemed to be going good and smooth, until…
It was a 30th of October 2016. Less than one month since my comeback from knee injury. The match was about to end when one of my feet got stuck in a ruck, and someone tackled me down. The same knee turned almost 90 degrees sideways. I heard a bone cracking noise again, and once more I knew something was wrong. I had broken my internal collateral ligament; same knee. The story repeats again - and again - and again…
Motivation for the Injury Recovery Process
Since that first knee injury, I’ve been through a total of 10 other injuries. Five torn hamstrings, two broken shoulders (one time each) and three knee injuries. I’m still moving forward, I’m still playing rugby, I’m still making progress. I still keep watching motivational YouTube videos. My self-motivation kept me moving forward all the way, and these videos were the ones who feed it. Today I can play rugby as a normal human being. I still get hit, and injured now and again, but nothing compared to those three years were I couldn’t even run without getting injured.
I know it’s cliche, but really pay attention to me here: Listen to your own instinct. Follow your own path. Don’t let anyone get in front of you. Feed your inner self with whatever makes you keep moving forward. It was motivational videos for me, think what it may be to you and if you ever feel alone or you’ve lost the desire to keep moving forward, just stop, feed your inner self and keep moving forward.
Joaquin is currently training to return to the rugby field for another season next February in Argentina - we wish him the best of luck!