The Sporting Life

Almost all of my life I’ve been a competitive athlete.  But, as I’m getting older (there’s a theme here) there seems to be fewer sports in which I still compete…or even play, for that matter.  Sometime, a long time ago, baseball and I parted ways.  It’s hard to say why.  Maybe, it just got to be more and more difficult to find eighteen able-bodied men/women to play; possibly I started worrying about how hard that ball is and how soft my head can be.  In any event, I’m just a baseball spectator now.

About ten years ago, I along with my friend, Nnelg (yes, I know–almost impossible to say; the price of identity protection) joined the NY Urban Professional Basketball League.  We were routed onto a team of other basketball nomads and would play weekly, organized games.  Most of the other players in the league were twenty and thirty years younger than we were.  This was of  no great consequence to me until during a sequence in one of the games, I went up for a rebound and collided with a young guy on the other team… which is to be expected.  But, in a moment that would be definitive for me, he turned  and said, “Are you all right?”  The only thing missing was the word, “Sir”.  If I didn’t know it before, I knew then that the image I had  of myself and the  one  seen through the eyes of a twenty-five year old were at great odds.  Although I’ll still shoot around and sometimes play H-O-R-S-E, that season marked the end of my competitive basketball career.

One by one the sports that I play are dropping by the wayside.  That’s why whenever I read about someone who is still going strong despite their age, I’m inspired.  Such was the case when a few weeks ago, I read about a 92-year-old man,Victor Elmaleh, (http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/02/05/92-and-still-ruling-the-squash-court/?emc=eta1) who had been a squash champion and is still playing.  Not just playing, but beating up on opponents who are  fifty years and more younger.  This was beyond inspiring. 

 The last bastion of my competitive sports career is tennis.  Which I play very frequently, and pretty well.  I also, often  play people a lot younger than I am.  I win and I lose.  But when I lose, it’s because my opponent is better than I am…not because they’re younger.  A distinction with a difference.

Anyway, back to Victor.  As I say, I was incredibly inspired when I began reading that article.  I’ll look to almost any role model I can find to give me hope that there won’t be any serious fall off in my ability to keep playing something…anything, at a high level.  And here…here was a man almost thirty years older than I am still competing with youngsters!  I should have stopped reading that article after the first couple of paragraphs.  Because somewhere buried towards the end was a  very casual reference to a caveat Victor insisted on with his young opponents.  They had to hit the ball to him.  Yes, you’ve read correctly…RIGHT BACK TO HIM!!  Wherever you were when I read that, you must have heard the bursting of my balloon.  Yet another hero with feet of clay.

I realize that I’m probably being a bit too hard on Victor.  After all, he is 92.  And it’s not like he doesn’t have to hit the ball to win a point.  And, remember he’s 92.  So, maybe that’s the way I ought to go about my quest to stay competitive as I get older.  I’ll just insist on a few ground rules before we play.  Require that my opponents  hit only to my forehand side; maybe also ask that they wear weights on their ankles.  Having them be blindfolded would be helpful, as well.  This is good!  All of a sudden, I feel that getting older isn’t going to hurt my tennis game much at all. 

Dammit!...hit it to me!

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One Response to “The Sporting Life”

  1. Mike McPartland Says:

    After age 75, which I’m reaching this month, I will notify my younger tennis opponents that if they hit the ball short (dropshot or mishit inside the service line), I am permitted to play it on two bounces.

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