Gary Boughton wants to savor every moment this season, whether it is at the Dome Arena or on the road.
Last weekend, the Rochester Lancers veteran midfielder announced that the 2019-20 Major Arena Soccer League season would be his final one as a player.
"That was part of my decision to announce my retirement before the season was so I could go into these home games and really have almost a mental edge, 'Hey, this is one of my last opportunities to do this,' " he said. "To be able to go on the road and see not only former teammates, but guys I've competed against for years now, that we have mutual respect for, that we can that relationship with and be like, this is our last heavyweight battle here.
"That's something that I'll able to savor as well. Just running out of the tunnel before the games, and getting the feeling, knowing it’s the last go-around for that."
Indoor soccer is not for the meek. It is a physical game, that can test and punish a body beyond its limits.
Every athlete knows his or her body and when it’s time to slow down or call it a career.
"I have been mulling over the decision for some time," Boughton said. "The body tells you when, the mind tells you when. I feel like I'm very fortunate to have been able to do it at all. It's been probably a debate I have had in my mind since halfway through last season in M2."
An original member of the Lancers' 2011-12 team that began playing in the Major Indoor Soccer League, Boughton has undergone three surgeries.
He never made any of them public until now.
"I didn't want to be one of those guys that people could look at as, if I wasn't playing well, I didn't want it ever to be attributed to injury," he said. "I always wanted to be held accountable to my performances based on their merit, my effort."
Boughton first went under the knife in 2012 with foot surgery.
"As a soccer player, those are just so hard to come back from in certain ways," he said. "I was able to bounce back. They kind of say, once you have one surgery, then more and more of them kind of pile up. The human body is so intricate that one injury can affect such a small part of how you walk or how you move or how you run. That changes something in another part of your body, that changes something that is connected."
His last surgery, to repair a bilateral sports hernia, came in January 2018, "which meant I basically tore the bottom of my abs off of my pubic bone on both my right and left sides," the Buffalo native said.
"One side was worse than the other. but at age 30, having that surgery is a lot different than having it at age 22 or 23."
Boughton, who turned 31 on Nov. 16, did all the proper rehab, but sometimes the body just doesn't respond when we want it to.
"The league is so predicated on these back-to-back games," he said. "After this specific surgery, my recovery from Friday to Saturday or Saturday to Sunday, the second game of every weekend was a real struggle not only getting through the game, getting through warmups sometimes."
Yet, Boughton felt that he had "something left for this season."
"One of the things people talk about, especially in athletics, is that they don't feel like themselves on the field anymore and that's been something I've been having those thoughts throughout the end of last season,” he said. “I got into great shape and physically was prepared as best as I could for last year. And then we were in late January, early February, midway through the season last year and I was struggling to get through Monday, let alone the games on the weekend.
"It's really hard to describe. I don't want to say that this surgery has caused me to have to hang them up. I think it’s just the combination of everything. It's time. I don't want this injury to be the story, if that makes sense. The timing of it on top of the injury and my coaching career, in unison all play a factor."
Boughton has been preparing for the next stage of his career for years, coaching at the college level. During the off-season he guided Trine University women's soccer team in Angola, Ind.
"I think I'm really lucky to transition from playing full-time when I was younger," he said. "Now, it's playing part time and coaching full-time. After this season it will definitely be transition into the entire coaching part of my soccer career. I am very fortunate to be able to do it. Not everybody gets to wake up and do soccer every day. I'm pretty blessed to have had some success on the field and on the sideline and do this for a career."
Boughton and the Lancers return to MASL action with two games at the Dome Arena in Henrietta this weekend. They host Utica City on Friday and the Harrisburg Heat on Saturday. Both games start at 7 p.m.
"It will be exciting," he said. "I don't think I'll be upset in any way. I really am looking forward to it. I know the atmosphere there in the Dome and everybody's excited for the season to start. Our home opening crowds are always fantastic. I think I will have a big smile on my face. That's how I envision it once I hear the crowd and make that initial run onto the field. It's going to be a really enjoyable game for me. Thinking about it now, just savoring that moment more than dreading it."
After all, there will be many more moments to savor.
"I've already got our last home game circled on my calendar," he said of the March 7, 2020 meeting with the Kansas City Comets. "I know that's going to be an emotional week for me. That was definitely part of my decision, before the season for more of a mental perspective, in my own way, to be able to really savor it, really take it all in. That would be worse getting to the end of the season, making that decision and almost looking back and saying, 'Well, I wish I would have made that decision so I knew that was my last trip to Kansas City, my last game against Utica or Baltimore.’ Just knowing going in ahead of time, it's almost a more gratifying way to accept that this will be the last run for me."
Home Opener weekend tickets are available at RLancers.com