EVERY time he puts on his boots, Lloyd Burns is reminded of what was taken away, but he is back involved in rugby – and loving it.
In the autumn of 2011, the bricklayer-turned-hooker was still on a high following his World Cup exploits with Wales.
But in April, at the age of 27, the Newport Gwent Dragons star announced that he was hanging up his boots after doctors discovered problems with his heart.
Understandably, it was a decision that left Burns distraught, angry and frustrated, but time is a great healer.
Two weeks ago, while his former Wales team mates were training ahead of their Test against Samoa and his ex-Dragons colleagues were preparing for Northampton, the former hooker started a coaching job with the Welsh Rugby Union.
His duties include helping the forwards of Pontypool Schools Under-15s – who he represented in the Dewar Shield when a pupil at St Alban’s – along with work at Newport High School and at skills camps that are part of the WRU’s Join the Beat campaign.
For now it’s part-time, as he felt it best to dip his toe in the water before leaping in, but more could follow.
It will never replace the thrill of going on the charge with ball in hand, but the ex-front rowforward is relishing helping the next generation.
“I’m really enjoying it and I kind of wish that I hadn’t left it so long,” said Burns, who is halfway through his WRU level two coaching course.
“The sport has been part of my life since playing mini rugby in Talywain and it feels great to be back involved.
“It’s different to playing and I can see that it’s a pretty steep learning curve!
“But I have got my foot in the door and I will see where it takes me – it’s too early to be setting coaching ambitions.”
The tale of Lloyd Burns is an incredible one: the former Pontypool number eight making his mark as captain of Cross Keys before earning a Dragons contract and seven Wales caps.
There were plenty of knockbacks along the way and a number of doubters, but he made a habit of dusting himself down and flinging himself wholeheartedly into the next challenge.
Perhaps it was that trait that made the advice of medical experts even harder to take – he could prove the opinion of doubting coaches wrong, but it would be foolhardy to question doctors.
That helplessness still rankles.
“I don’t think that it’s easy to be told by somebody else that you have to retire and I can imagine that it would have been hard to take even if I was 34,” said Burns.
“You think ‘why me?’ and just want to go into your shell.
It’s still rawnowand there are times when it gets to me.
“Sometimes when I am getting ready for training and I am putting my kit on, it brings back memories; that can be difficult, but I suppose over time I will get used to it.”
Burns still faces regular medical tests on his aorta, but there has been no need to go under the knife yet.
And with wife Rachaelm – who he married on the eve of his international debut against the Barbarians – and seven-month-old Oscar Byron to keep him on his toes, Burns is “getting busy living”.
“I am massively proud of everything that I achieved,”
he said. “Myfirst Wales jersey is framed.
“I know that it was a big achievement to get from where I did to playing for my country and I have a brilliant and understanding family that have helped me come to terms with what happened.
“I am back on my feet and motivated to move forward.”