In recent years, I have become reacquainted with several muscles, tendons, and ligaments which had been working quite nicely in my body for sometime now. This reunion of sorts has come of the heels of several athletic events that have reminded me that I am an athlete – young at heart with an aging body. Although I was never a professional athlete, I was an very active athlete in my youth, high school, college, and post college years. Leading up to the birth of my first child, I was athlete who could run, swim, bike, play sports on a daily basis with only minor fatigue as my barrier to working out the next day. Not so anymore. Here are some examples.
About 5 years ago, my sister Erin asked me if I was interested in running The Blessing of the Fleet, a 10K road race in Narragansett with her and her very fit husband, Harvey. Not having run competitively (or actually even down the street) in over 10 years, my answer took little or no time to respond. “Of course I will.” The chance to run a road race with my sister and her husband, both runners and both extremely fit, far outweighed the physical challenge ahead of me. So, about a month before the race, I started jogging. One thing I noticed was this 190 pound boulder was now on my back as I was running. Or should I say walking fast. Also, the running course that I had mapped out online seemed to be wrong, as the 3 mile course seemed like 30 miles. Oh and then came the hill training day. Running downhill past Wickford Middle School, my left knee muscles, tendons, and ligaments decided to take a nap on me, plunging me into the pavement just before I got to Wickford Elementary School. If my kids were there with their camera phones, I would have most definitely made their “laugh out loud” highlight video of Dad’s athletic prowess for years to come. After self diagnosing my leg as just fatigued, I limped back to my house and put some ice on my knee. At this point, I had no other alternative about running in the 10K, which was now a week away. After receiving a phone call from my sister about where to meet up, I took a deep breath and said “Great, see you then.” I did run with Erin and Harvey that year, and I did finish the race, and I did pay for it for about a month after. Meanwhile, Erin and Harvey probably went for a 25 mile bike ride the next day. Looking back, I know my heart was in it too much to say no to my aging body.
This past spring, I was asked to play on an NK men’s softball team with other Wickford Little League dads and coaches. I was thrilled at the opportunity. But, having thrown batting practice for my Little Leaguers last fall, I noticed my right shoulder, specifically my rotator cuff muscles, were very sore and achy. I iced and rested all winter in the hopes of getting back into baseball and coaching this spring with a fresh arm. So, given the situation that I was coaching again this spring and I needed my arm for practices and throwing, I did what I felt was the right move. “Of course I’ll play.” To date, our softball team has had several practices and one game. During each practice and the one game, I warmed up, played catch, stretched my arm, etc. As I am throwing, my heart remembers all of those games I played at North Kingstown High School and American Legion and at Springfield College. It remembers the feeling of throwing the ball in from left field on a line to the second baseman to nab a potential runner trying for a double. It remembers warm summer nights when I could throw 100 pitches and never got tired. Fast forward to 2016, a 44 year old body with a youthful heart and still a love and passion for sports. I would say I have about 25 throws until my supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis muscles send a memo to my brain that reads “Hello, we are punching out for the day, leaving, bye-bye, we are off duty until further notice.” But in those 25 throws, my heart is pounding and my smile is ear to ear. Then, I go home and ice my shoulder for a day or two until I’m needed for my Little Leaguer’s batting practice.
In closing, an aging athlete has to factor in several things. At heart, the aging athlete is young, vibrant, full of energy, passion, and at times a risk taker. Body wise, the aging athlete tends to be less flexible, especially in the joints – back, hips, hamstrings, shoulders and much more injury prone. I’m not a doctor nor a physical therapist nor a fitness expert. My unsolicited advice is simply to listen to not only your heart, but also your body. Prepare for events, if possible, with a physical fitness program that includes cardiovascular, strength training, and flexibility. Be realistic with what you can and cannot do. Or, make sure you have a good physician, physical therapist on call and you have plenty of ice ready for those muscles, tendons, and ligaments who have been playing nice in your body for years, which are now violently angry at you.
P.S. My hamstring muscle is very angry at me right now after my last softball game. Will I be ready for next game, asked my coach. My answer is “of course I’ll be there.” Some people never learn.