Manning the Transition (October 15, 2013)

For lovers of the NFL, one of the big stories of the season so far is the resurgence of Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. The 37 year-old has simply been on fire, and in the course of a career filled with numerous triumphs and milestones, the athlete is poised to turn in his best year yet.

For a number of reasons, not the least being his calendar age (in 2008, the average quarterback handed in his cleats at 29.1 years old), Peyton is a marvel. For comparison purposes, you don’t have to look farther than another branch of the Manning family tree. Peyton’s younger brother Eli is the two-time Super Bowl-winning QB of the New York Giants. The 31 year-old Eli “leads” the league this season with 15 interceptions in just six games. Turn on any Sunday game broadcast and you’ll hear commentators celebrate Eli’s “Hall of Fame” career as if he has already retired. Ouch.

But there’s another facet of Peyton Manning 2.0 that is every bit as inspirational as his longevity. And that is his almost bionic ability to rebound from serious injury.

In May 2011, four years after Manning’s Indianapolis Colts shamed the Chicago Bears at Super Bowl XLI, the superstar underwent neck surgery to deal with neck pain and arm weakness that had plagued him for several seasons. Just two months later, the Colts displayed confidence in their marquee player by signing him to a five-year, $90 million contract extension.

The first procedure unfortunately failed to yield the necessary results, and in September 2011 Manning underwent a second, much more serious surgery – a level one cervical fusion. The Iron Man had never missed a game before, but was forced to sit out the entire 2011 season during his recovery. Meanwhile the Colts had drafted the promising Andrew Luck and were getting antsy to put him on the field. And so in what may go down in hindsight as one of the most questionable and ungrateful moves in NFL history, Indianapolis released Manning on March 7, 2012.

Just over two weeks later, after the legend visited and worked out with several NFL teams (I will NEVER forgive the Bears for not trying to make the man a serious offer), he signed with the Denver Broncos on March 20, 2012. The rest, as they say is history and to invoke a second cliché, the moral of the story is: if Peyton Manning tells you his has gas left in the tank, believe him!

Beyond simple admiration for Manning’s talent, temerity and professionalism, I am invoking the player this week as an inspirational figure. For myself. In the last several months, life has been turned upside down by chronic pompholyx eczema that is slowly taking over my hands. Burning, painful itch and disfigurement has pretty much consumed my waking hours, affecting my career (often my extremities are too swollen and uncomfortable for typing), my self-esteem and beloved, therapeutic exercise routines (adieu, Russian kettlebells). I am still coming to terms with the reality that my once soft, unblemished hands are never returning. Mitigate and workaround is the best I can do. Too often we don’t realize how much we’ve taken something for granted until it is gone. I am an Italian woman who no longer uses her hands demonstratively in conversation. The sense of touch is limited to the hours of the day free from plastic gloves, and restricted to those certain not to recoil from my frightening looking appendages.

Though I am making peace with and saying goodbye to certain elements of my former existence, I have to believe that new opportunities will present themselves, else I’ll give into the temptation to wallow (and yes, I will have those days). My talented hairstylist and friend Linda told me last week she was surprised that there isn’t more awareness of pompholyx eczema, given the incredibly debilitating and depressing nature of the condition. She then pointedly added “I know a great writer who could change that.” While I’m not sure I’m ready to be the “face” (or hands) of pompholyx, Linda got me thinking of how I might ultimately put my suffering to good use.

I’m still sorting it out, but as a source of comfort and motivation, I’m seeking identification with a post-Colts released Peyton Manning. We’ll never know exactly what was going through Manning’s head in the moment, but I can imagine the loss of support from the team he built hurt a great deal. Maybe he experienced moments of doubt about his playing future. Perhaps he wondered if he’d ever return to champion form, before promptly silencing all of those internal questions and external detractors with mind-boggling productivity.

Maybe there’s a Becky 2.0 waiting to be unleashed: a little older, slower to heal, more deliberate and thoughtful in her movements. Trades have to be made. Chances have to be taken. Unproductive days have to be anticipated and respected. But perhaps my Denver Days are still ahead.

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