At first I didn’t think it was a big deal. I told myself that I must have glanced away for a split second. Surely my skills couldn’t have deteriorated that much. Could they? I mean, I realize I’m no longer 25-years-old, but still-- |
Worse was the unfamiliar doubt that filled my head; doubt that nags to this day. Here’s the deal: In any sport, especially those demanding hand-to-eye coordination, there are three main components: conditioning, mental toughness, and physical skill. In my opinion, the mental part is where the bugaboos first step to the plate. See, physically you know what to do, but if you let your head rule the day through either anger or self-doubt; then the physical part begins to unwind, and becomes your opponent’s ally. But what if an unknown “something” insidiously creeps up on you, and it really is physical? At first there is denial, although deep down you suspect something is wrong, which results is a closed loop of mental and physical doubt. Arrrgh! Insanity!
Here’s what happened. I sent a blistering forehand groundstroke deep into the court, and didn’t expect to see the yellow sphere come back. But darned if it didn’t! No matter though, it was a weak reply, and I advanced to the net for a put-away, backhand volley, while subconsciously admiring Luis for having the tenacity to return it. The guy can absorb and redirect pace with amazing regularity. Still, I had made the same volley thousands of times. Easy-as-pie, right? Never mind, I’ll answer that for you: Right! Then it happened. Instead of the satisfying pop of the ball connecting with the sweet spot on the strings of my expensive Babolat racquet, there was a sickening thud as the ball hit the throat of the frame, and dribbled flaccidly into the net. Wha…?
Since that day, I have not been able to forget that single, solitary moment in time. Twice I’ve returned to the same tennis court to rally back-and-forth with my wife who is a very good player. The results are in. All three elements—conditioning, mental toughness, and physical skill are suspect. Being a rather analytical chap, my preliminary diagnosis is that my age may be the real villain. See, what’s been happening, especially over the last two years, is that a winking, grinning imposter shows up in my mirror. I wrote about him once when I turned fifty. Some days I could swear there is another shadowy presence wearing a hood standing behind him.
“Good, morning, Mr. Hyde,” I say. “Why don’t you find someone else to annoy. I’m tired of carrying your load.” I figure I may as well give him a little lip.
He simply stares at me knowing he’s got all the time in the world; something I’m in short supply of. (Yeah, I know I ended that sentence with a preposition—doesn’t bother me anymore.) Anyway, my enemy in the mirror often talks to me in my voice. Trouble is his sounds come through my ears, which he has affected with tinnitus. Over the years, he’s done other things to me as well. My former triathlete training regimen required that I run five miles upon waking, ride my bike 20 to 25 miles, and swim 1,500 meters. I did this faithfully five times a week, and even had trouble keeping up my weight. Then my enemy gave me plantar facetious, but I could still run every other day. Then chronic hamstring pain; then a hip problem that I suspect is connected to sciatica. Sometimes after running, playing tennis or pickleball it’s quite painful, Hey, c’mon man, who am I, Job? So one could accurately say that the physical maladies have undoubtedly affected my conditioning and mental outlook. By the way, he’s been trying to turn my hair gray, but my hair is younger than both of us (except it is thinning).
The worse thing he has done is to have me recall memories—infected me with nostalgia. Fortunately, there isn’t much on my bucket list I haven’t accomplished, although I continually add to it. Those memories are pleasant enough, but it’s the other personal recollections that make me sigh. I remember my wife and me as a young, cuddling, romantic couple, not today’s comfortable veterans of a long and successful relationship that retire and rise at different times. I miss the “us” that was. I remember the gleeful sounds of our children at Christmas or on a beach in Hawaii. How did they become adults so quickly? I remember golf outings with my parents; both now beyond the gossamer veil of this life. I remember being valued as a businessman for my experience and innovative ways; but now I’m an outsider who represents zero value to society. I empathize with a baseball player like Larry Doby. He was the second African-American in major league baseball, and the first in the American League. He was the first African-American to hit homeruns in the World Series and All-Star game. Everyone remembers number 42, but nobody remembers number 14—but I do. Like Doby, I am a forgotten man.
If I bring up NFL quarterback names like Bradshaw, Montana, and Staubach, I receive blank stares. (Who?) They counter with Brady, Luck, and Wilson to which I (being a wise guy) reply, “Who are those guys? Sounds like an accounting firm.” However, I know that in a short 10 years they’ll probably be forgotten as well. It’s the human condition, folks. We tend to live in the present.
So here I sit wondering about tennis. My eyesight seems fine, but I pick up the approaching ball slowly. Instead of seeing it come off my opponent’s strings, it’s almost at the net before I lock on. This causes poor footwork, lousy racquet preparation, and (ta-da!) errors. In addition, I had rotator cuff surgery some years ago, and I’ve lost the boomer—my laser-like first serve.
To summarize, my hamstring and hip hurts, and occasionally I tend to cramp. Recently, I discovered an arthritic finger that won’t close all the way, but so far it doesn’t cause pain just mistakes on the piano. So I suppose the root cause of my problems are indeed physical; what a reliability engineer would relate to wear out failures. To solve the problem would mean getting younger. How do I do that when my enemy in the mirror is so insidious, implacable, and unrelenting?
Someday I’m going to be lying flat on my back with a doctor shaking his head, and people crying in a corner. The last thing I plan to say is, “Hey, do me one last favor. Go tell that guy in the mirror to find someone else to haunt. I’m through with him.”
Copyright 2017 by Gene Myers still young (even juvenile) at heart.
Related Articles -
sport, self-doubt, tennis, age, training, physical maladies, nostalgia, ,