Illustration by Clara Nicoll

Sporting life: My first injury made me feel like a real athlete

Though an inconvenience, breaking my finger has meant joining an illustrious history of sporting bravery
November 3, 2022

You’ll have to forgive me if I drop a few of my Ps and Qs. I’ve broken the ring finger on my right hand and as a result a whole section of my keyboard has become inaccessible territory. My little finger has to pick up the slack for the redundant fourth finger that’s just hopping about in space, housed in its protective waxy splint-sheath. It’s trying to look useful but is only getting in the way—which is rather apt, because that is exactly how I felt running around on the field where I got the injury.

I’m a newcomer to athletic pursuit. Even off the pitch, I’ve always been a clumsy person who bumps into things for the sole reason that I don’t really know where my limbs begin or end. It was no surprise to me, or anyone who knows me, that my nascent cricketing career has been accompanied by bruises, strains and blackened nails. 

My previous sporting experiences were different. Armchair warriors like me rarely bear visible scars of our pursuits, because the greatest physical danger we do to ourselves is internal. I’ll never know how many years I’ve taken off my life through habitual sofa-snacking, drinking beers at the game and the toxic levels of stress that I put my heart through on a weekly basis. 

My enthusiasm has occasionally taken a physical toll on my body. I was at the Olympic stadium in 2012 on the evening that Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis and Greg Rutherford all won gold medals—and lost my voice for 24 hours afterwards. Super Saturday was succeeded by Silent Sunday. I also scored heatstroke from an especially intense day watching dressage. But I’ve never suffered anything as a dramatic as a broken bone.

That might be why the incident has already been memorialised in my mind not as one of failure but of true heroism. Yes, I hurt myself in practice, attempting to catch a ball. And yes, a more competent athlete would have easily taken it, and a more self-aware one would have kept her hand out of the way. But—and here is my proudest boast—I still played in the game the next day and, during a reckless and ungainly attempt to stop a ball speeding to the boundary, hurt the same finger again.

Being someone who spends very little time caring for, let alone listening to, her body, eight days passed before I thought to present myself at a hospital. When I eventually did, an X-ray showed that I had broken the bone not once, but twice, in different places. The splint has been with me for a couple of months. When I’m not resenting its inconvenience, I show it off as a badge of honour. 

After all, there is nothing I appreciate more as a fan of sport than the athlete who plays on through pain. Some of my all-time favourite stories are of moments I never saw—Bert Trautmann seeing out the 1956 FA Cup final with a broken neck, Colin Cowdrey walking out to the crease with his arm in a plaster cast to face a fearsome West Indies attack. I did watch 400m runner Derek Redmond limp to the finish line at the 1992 Olympics, sobbing on the shoulder of his father, and I still get a thrill from seeing the famous picture of Terry Butcher after England’s 1989 qualifier against Sweden, covered in blood from shirt to shorts like the final survivor of a teen slasher movie. 

I doubt I’ll ever feel closer to those sporting idols than I do right now. I was disappointed to miss the final month of the cricket season, unable to pitch in with the team on the field, but I’ve joined an even bigger club: that of frustrated, injured athletes. And while my broken finger has proven deeply annoying—not least for the friends who have had to help me wash my hair—it has also achieved the one thing that my physical efforts could not. It has made me feel like a real athlete.