Roger Marolt: Who knew the Hands of Time had a knuckle ball?
It seemed 50 marked the age when I lost my fire. It’s not that I got tired of competing. It was more like I was forced to focus all efforts on staying healthy enough to even play. That was when I thought 50 was old. Today, even seeking age-class medals seems more risky than I thought base jumping might be when I was 25.
I used to track Bodie’s quest for another World Cup and count Lance’s yellow jerseys. I followed Manning’s record-setting passing stats and scouted box scores for the next .400 hitter. Now I pay attention to the injured reserve lists and mark my healing of the latest pulled muscle against pros with similar ailments. If I can get back to mowing the grass more quickly than they get back in their lineups, I win. That’s my race.
It’s not only the effort to remain athletic through middle age that is painful. I was running on the track and there was a coach out there. We exchanged brief pleasantries each time he and his team lapped me. Afterward he complimented me on my stride. “Did you used to be a runner?” he asked.
There also was the trainer in the gym who made a big deal about how fit I looked for my age to encourage his client. “If you don’t mind me asking,” he said after the build-up. “How old are you?” I told him. He paused. “Is that all?”
For a while I found peace entering races with age categories. At first I thought it absurd that they give awards to those finishing behind the middle of the pack, but then you get used to seeing the same people around you and rivalries form. You absolutely do not want to get beat by someone who looks as old as you do. This all came to an end a couple of years ago, however, when there was some confusion in the results and they posted my name and time in with the women’s over-40 category. I missed the podium. It was not the perspective I needed.
I am even starting to see the allure of golf. A friend summed it up best. “Golf is the only sport where anyone of us can hit a shot now and then that not even the best professional golfer can top.” And, it is absolutely true. An old duffer holes-out with a three-wood from 140 yards out; who is going to beat that? Nobody. Never mind the pro covers that yardage with a half swing pitching wedge and beats the octogenarian the other 99 times out of 100.
It’s really not that you are always injured in middle age, either. It’s just that you always feel like you are on the verge of being injured. You get an itch and you think it is a ligament about to snap. It is not unfounded paranoia. A friend kicked a tennis ball for his dog and threw his back out. He limped around so long that he forget what caused it.
To motivate myself through the challenges of staying active through the aging process, I told myself that I was doing it for the kids. I wanted to live the Rockwellian image of playing ball in the backyard while burgers sizzled on the grill. What I didn’t understand was that this also would include father-daughter lacrosse games, playing goalie for soccer shooting practice, shagging volleyball serves, dual-slalom ski races, hours of pitching batting practice, weight training and wind sprints. If this wasn’t more involved than the simpler times of my own father, my dreams have tricked me in order to make me ache.
I wonder if the irony is that you feel older if you stay active because continuing to try to play games highlights diminishing physical prowess. There is an allure to sitting around drinking beer and convincing yourself that you were great in the glory days, rather than going out to still try, leading to doubt you ever actually did put topspin on a tennis ball.
It is humbling. And this, it turns out, is why the foray into sports after 50 is transformative. It is a not subtle reminder that the time has come to look at physical activity as a thing larger than strength of body and quickness of reflexes. It is time to appreciate your heart pounding under the sun and lungs filtering fresh air to produce something beyond higher, faster and farther. It is coming to know who we really are and what intricate beings we were meant be. It is bigger than a personal best time in the local 10K. It is wisdom, solace, peace and joy with the way things are; a game-winner for gratitude.
Roger Marolt is not complaining about getting older, he is only perplexed about it. firstname.lastname@example.org
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