This is a truly inspirational Guest Post from a young man whom I have admired over the last few years. Cavan Burns will tell his own story in his own words. My link to Cav was an influential coach from my younger days. Jimmy Whyte was my manager at Neilston Juniors where he made me his captain. Jimmy’s characteristics of grit and determination are amplified in his grandson, Cavan. Over to Cav……..
On September 30th 2015, I lost my beloved Uncle Jim to a heart attack in the early hours of the morning. I was unaware of the all, consuming loss until the afternoon and was burdened with the news on my return home from school. At first I was overcome by confusion, then grief. It seemed that the world slowed down around me and I felt empty. I didn’t really know how to cope with loss, which may have been unusual for a fourteen year old. The impact of my uncle’s absence consumed me. The cheerful theme song of my younger brother’s children’s television show echoed in stark contrast to the devastation which permeated my family.
Prior to Uncle Jim’s death I had nothing to mourn for apart from the unfortunate death of my goldfish of four years, Max. I didn’t know how to mourn. I didn’t know how to cope. A feeling of emptiness consumed me. I spent a few days in the darkness of my room, accompanied by a “Still Game” box-set, which was a present from my uncle, as a way of trying to enlighten the sinister atmosphere that surrounded me. My way of coping was trying to return to a sense of normality, preferably as soon as possible. Therefore, on the Friday after my uncle’s death I made a return to football. Throughout the training session I didn’t feel comfortable, thoughts of selfishness flowed through my head. My concentration lapsed, I shouldn’t have been there. The world was portrayed in a different light, dark yet more vivid. It was as if my eyes had been opened to the cruelty of reality, ironically not for much longer. Life has a habit of kicking you whilst you are down. I was at my lowest, lost in a blur, a dark yellow haze, then black. A nervous murmur of laughter filled my ears, then the panicked voice of my coach. Then silence. More panic. Ambulance. Waiting room. Hospital. More grief. No laughter.
As a footballer you become accustomed to familiar smells. Deep Heat, the pungent smell of sweaty shin guards. I wished that Deep Heat could’ve healed this injury. This was my first time coping with the smell of a hospital. The horrible aroma of sickness. A hyphema is a pooling or collection of blood inside the interior chamber of the eye. The blood may cover most or all of the iris and the pupil, blocking vision. The simple definition of my injury still sends shivers down my spine. The world around me slowed completely, disoriented and confused I struggled to find desire to carry on. It would be easy to give up. The darkest week of my life. Despite how hard it was, it reignited a fire inside of me. From now on it would take a lot to permanently put that fire out.
Sometimes, being a stubborn bastard pays off. Never lying down to anyone or anything is a key trait of mine. I suppose this helped me through this difficult time apart from the fact I was so eager to leave the hospital that I risked permanently damaging my eye. I felt like a burden in the ward, with the beds around me filled with sick children. It seemed to me that I was taking up space. Space that could’ve been used for a child with something much more severe than what I had. I spent the whole October week in bed, in the darkness once again. I had to get out. The pressure in my eye didn’t compare to the pressure that crippled me, with the feeling of guilt plaguing me down. Why did I go to training that night? Haven’t mum and dad been through enough? Selfishness. Unfortunately at that point in time this was another key trait of mine. After four hard months of heartache, bitterness and pain I made an unlikely and near impossible return to the sport I love: football. Aided by a sense of fearlessness and the view that I can combat anything life would now throw at me, and of course, my trusty sports goggles. A new aura of confidence surrounded me unlike the cocky, arrogant persona I left behind (hopefully), but now an aura of thankfulness and belief.
Football has always been an outlet for me. It keeps me out of violence, drinking etc. which are all prominent at my age in the West of Scotland. With a point to prove I set out with my head down, feeling the effects of every game. When it rained I saw blurs on the pitch due to the steam on my goggles. When it was warm the condensation would gather and cause blurs again. In order to continue doing what I loved I had to wear them. Simple as that. No longer having that sense of selfishness also vastly improved my game. I literally saw things in a new light and in a positive way this time. After a year of hard work I was given a lucky break, a chance to prove myself at the highest level I was capable of at the time; the Scottish Youth FA national team trials. For the first time since my final eye assessment I was nervous. Before I had nothing to lose but now after so nearly having this opportunity taken away from me I had to take this opportunity with both hands.
6 months on from the trials here I sit as captain of this team. Living proof of what determination can achieve. In April, I led my country out in Valencia in a four day trip that I have earned. The point of this essay is not to gloat, or portray myself as big headed or egotistical. The point of this essay is to prove a point. At some points in my life I will again encounter the darkness, but this time I won’t be blinded by it. In the past year and half I hope I have overcome the persona of the “old me”. The selfish me. The boy who values football over mourning. If it wasn’t for football I would still be mourning, not just for my uncle, but for myself. For my future.
When life kicks you when you are down, kick life back into the top corner. Never give up.