On 29 August 2011, Christos Kontis received a nasty shock. Six days after celebrating APOEL FC's qualification for the UEFA Champions League group stage, he complained of feeling faint following a goalless draw with AEK Larnaca FC. Tests showed he had suffered a heart attack and would have to retire from the game.
"It was something that rarely happens to an athlete like me," he told UEFA.com. "I used to take care of everything in my life; I never smoked, I had a professionally good life, so all my health tests before had come back perfect."
His team-mates were taken aback too. "It was a big shock," said APOEL's Brazilian striker Aílton. "We just were sitting together in the bus when he went to the hospital with the doctor, but nobody knew about it. And the next day I heard from a friend that he was in the hospital with a heart problem, so I went to visit him straight away."
Kontis's medical denied him a chance to grace Europe's premier club competition, but the former Panionios FC, Olympiacos FC and AEK Athens FC defender believes some good came out of it too.
"The doctors have taken care of me, so now I have my life back," he explained. "It's as if it never happened. I feel very well. I feel better every day. It is not something that will stop my life. I am active like before, I can play football, tennis and other sports that I like to play but didn't have the time to, or chose not to because I didn't want to tire myself out.
Now I have a different life, and I like it very much."
The 36-year-old has also been buoyed people's response to his plight. "I have had so much love and support from my team-mates, friends, from people I don't even know," he said. "I get emails and phone calls every day. I can't find the words to describe how I feel, but it's very nice how people feel about me. And this gives me the strength to go on because life never stops."
He may not be taking on FC Zenit St Petersburg, FC Shakhtar Donetsk and FC Porto this autumn, but he is discovering that there is more to life than the beautiful game.
"Life is the most important thing," he said. "I have a family, I have two kids and my wife. And this is now what I think. Football is one part of me. I loved it. I gave it everything, but now I can't help but see things from another point of view.
I see everything differently now. I see that my health is the most important thing. And now I have a new life ahead of me."
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