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Life's grand plan
Tuesday 8 February 2011
Life's grand plan
Overcoming a chronic fatigue illness made the son of a club legend reconsider where football fitted in.
WILL Langford didn’t feel good. The Hawthorn rookie was almost 17, playing his second game for the New South Wales under-18 team in the middle of 2009. He sat on the bench for almost a full quarter, feeling exhausted but not really wondering why. He was working hard at school, then spending most weekends on a football field. “I sat there and I felt really flat, but it didn’t feel like a mystery,” he said. “I figured that, with everything I was doing, I kind of had a right to be tired.” Soon, though, the teenager was more than merely worn out.
Langford was one of four players to join their father’s club late last year, but while each step of Mitch Wallis and Tom Liberatore was followed, and the late-season rise of Jacob Brennan well documented, he made his way quietly onto the Hawks’ rookie list. Langford’s father, Chris, played 303 games, helped win four flags, captained the club and then joined the AFL Commission. But his son had grown up in Sydney. He was a NSW scholarship player, who had already agreed to join the Hawks, should they want him. And he wasn’t even actually playing.
Things came to a head 12 months ago, seven months after that under-18s game. As a scholarship player, Langford was able to play for the Team GWS TAC Cup side, and he was picked for a few games at the start of the season. After one early match in Melbourne, though, he spent most of the flight home in the toilet, sick and in pain with stomach cramps. By the time he got home he had to be carried from the car and lifted into bed.
Langford spent the next eight weeks there, his eyes too sore to even watch television at times, sleeping 20 hours a day for a week. His doctor couldn’t say what was wrong, and Langford underwent all sorts of tests, tried all sorts of medications, and was eventually diagnosed with a form of chronic fatigue. “My body,” he said, “just shut down.”
For all his young life, Langford had taken his schoolwork seriously. “I didn’t spend every waking hour bent over at my desk reading books,” he said, “but I had things that I wanted to achieve.”
As a 16-year-old, he knocked back an invitation to join the AIS-AFL Academy because he had already agreed to spend three months living in Paris as part of an exchange program, walking to school through the snow and turning an alien environment into one that felt comfortable.
“At the age of 16 I was given a huge amount of independence and, I suppose, freedom,” he said. “Having done that, I’m much more comfortable now with foreign situations and unfamiliar situations. I think I became a more rounded person for the time I spent over there. But I guess I did take a lot on. I liked being busy.”
He played football only because he loved it, and his improvement at 15 didn’t surprise only him. “In New South Wales you play for your club side, then your Sydney zone side, and from there the state side. I remember speaking to dad and we agreed that I might not even make the zone side,” he said. “Once I made that I thought, ‘I’ve got this far, let’s see’, and I went to Queensland with the state team and got put to full-back. I’d never played at full-back in my life, but I guess that was the legacy of my old man. I’d played a lot of rugby, and when I got put to full-back it was largely about one-on-one contests, and hustling and busting and getting bashed around. I wasn’t a big person, but I found that the physical side of it was something I enjoyed.”
Langford kept playing football just because he loved it, and was never sweating on whether, come the end of his scholarship, Hawthorn would want to keep him. But when his body shut down, and he was forced to rest, a lot of things stopped being so important.
“I’d just been reckless, I suppose, with how I was pushing myself. But I say to anyone who asks, it was defi nitely diffi cult at the time, but now I see it as the best thing that happened to me. I was forced to take a rest and while it wasn’t at a particularly convenient time, no one gets to decide the timing of these things,” he said. “I got to the point where school didn’t matter any more, it was all about my health . . . I had time to think about things and decide what would make me happy, rather than feel stressed out and have everyone around me stress out.
“I thought a lot about what would make me happy and where I wanted to go in life. I was definitely mindful of footy and if I’d get picked up, but it put things into perspective. It was never, ‘Geez, I don’t know what I’ll do if I don’t get to go to Hawthorn’. As long as I’m happy and healthy, it doesn’t really matter where I am or what I’m doing.” By the end of the school year, Langford had the energy to sit through one class, then two. He made the effort to get in for a few days at the end of the year, knowing he wouldn’t see some of his classmates again. At home after that, he sat at his desk and decided to sit the exams and simply do as well as he could in them. No stress. He did well enough to get into the course he wanted — Environments at Melbourne University — which could lead him into urban planning or architecture.
Physically, Langford is on the mend. He started training expecting to do “70 per cent of 70 per cent” and is constantly aware of how he is feeling, but has ended up doing about 80 per cent of the Hawks’s pre-season program and enjoyed being seen as more than just a full-back in waiting.
“They want us young guys to experience everything, to train with all the different groups of players and understand what everyone is meant to be doing. It’s been a good way to go about it,” he said. “It gives you a broader understanding of what’s going on and helps you feel like you understand the club you’ve come to. There’s been a lot to take in - the coaches are always asking really probing questions of us - and that’s been good too. It keeps you thinking, and it keeps you on your toes.”
The above originally appeared here.
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