Being an aging athlete is kind of a stinker. Partially it is because you know that your efforts, exertions, and dreams don’t matter much to anyone but yourself. Passion after all, is under rated at any age. As I watch my youth eclipse and my (limited) abilities fade, sporting participation miraculously remains one of the things that makes life worth living.
When I was boxing, I paid a few bucks to spar with real fighters, who mostly worked on their defense and tried not to hurt me. I had tried to get into the Golden Gloves competition, but was too old. So a couple of other white collar pretenders and I from Gleason’s Gym signed up to fight 4 round prelims at Madison Square Garden for $100 per round at the Friday night fights. We were gonna be contenders! The Monday before the event, I got a middleweight up and comer as a sparring partner. In front of his friends, I hit him with a terrific combination that knocked him down. Of course, he got right up, and knocked me senseless. I woke up with the endswell pressed to my nose wondering what the heck had happened. There followed not one, but two operations, to repair the septal hematoma and fracture that ended that phase of my crappy athletic odyssey.
Forget that I am not a naturally gifted athlete. That just doesn’t matter. I have tried to achieve a high level of competence in multiple sports. During my skiing phase, I went to race camp with the Mahre brothers, who won gold and silver medals at the Sarajevo Olympics in 1984. As Phil said to me, “you have world class attitude; it’s too bad you have virtually no talent!” When I bet him $100 he couldn’t beat me by 2 gates on a race course; he wouldn’t take the bet. In the actual event, he beat me easily by more than 3 gates.
I decided to take up tennis again. It’s a sport that I excelled at as a Public Parks kid. Perhaps it might not be life threatening? I won the consolation doubles at the National 45s indoors at Snowbird. OK, it was like 5th place, but my partner and I had to win several tough matches to win that cheap crystal ball trophy. The next day, basking in a euphoric afterglow, I went skiing in nearby Park City. I jumped off the moguls on double black diamond runs to dance in the sunshine of a spectacular Utah Bluebird Day. Unusually, I fell over. No problem, it happened occasionally. But this time, I fell across my Telemark non-releasable binding, and fractured my fibula right through the hard plastic boot. Ughh! That required a plate and six pins to repair.
Two seasons later, I was playing the National 35s grass courts (they were being held near where I lived, and I thought I might get lucky and steal a match). While serving for the first set against a pretty good local teaching pro who was not familiar with the grass court surface, I stretched for a backhand and…ouch! It felt as if someone had hit me in the leg with a racquet. My opponent came to my side of the court looking at me sadly as I said I was OK. “Sure you are”, he replied, just before I defaulted the match because of a ruptured Achilles tendon that was operated on two days later.
Now I was determined to play it safe. Just take my training conscientiously, and do nothing dangerous. Physical therapy, trainers. No more skiing or anything that would put me into a hospital again. Fast forward another couple of years to last spring. It was the 55s singles at the National Tennis Center at Flushing Meadows. I was playing just great (as well as could reasonably expected, and then some). It was the semifinals against the #2 seed, and I won the first set only to lose the second in a tiebreaker. My wife and one of my daughters uncharacteristically showed up for the third set to cheer me on. I was serving down 2-4, 15-40 and miraculously came back after some terrific play that surprised even me to win the third set 6-4. Despite the adrenaline coursing through my body, I felt a stabbing pain in my foot. I took several Advils and luckily came back and won the final the next day in straight sets. But my foot really hurt.
After a few weeks of limping around, a podiatrist diagnosed me with a Morton’s Neuroma. Several injections, expensive orthotics and some physical therapy didn’t eliminate the pain. It would only hurt a little at first, but as I continued to play, the pain increased . Hitting partners got tired of my asking to do only half court drills while avoiding full court play that pounded my foot with needle like sensations. I was advised to get an MRI to confirm the original diagnosis. (Of course my health insurance refused to pay for it.) The MRI showed that I had a plantar plate tear. Last week, I had a Weil Osteomaty to finally correct the problem. It was my 5th surgery from self inflicted athletic injuries.
To some people, my continuing cycle of injuries sustained in the course of sporting activity seems ridiculous and excessive. But I am already plotting the changes I will undertake to improve my game and avoid other injuries. In about six weeks, I hope to be back on a court. I might even be well enough to defend my title at Flushing Meadows. Life is good!