Last Monday, I stepped onto a basketball court for the first time in 10 months. In the ensuing two hours, I’m happy to report, I did not totally embarrass myself among the lanky teens and twentysomethings who flitted effortlessly from end to end. I also did not die — an eventuality that seemed a distinct possibility about 90 minutes into the game.
At one point in the evening, I turned to Jerry, one of the other two geezers on the court. “Maybe basketball isn’t the best sport for guys in their 60s,” I said. He just smiled.
I’ve been playing with Jerry and a dwindling group of old guys on this court for 30 years and always enjoyed the competition, such as it is. But last week’s session had me seriously questioning my sanity — especially in the days that followed as I struggled to get out of bed each morning with my aching knees, sore ankles, and stiff back. Maybe, at 63, it’s time to focus on more moderate exercise.
Then I stumbled on a piece in the NY Times that suggested I was part of a larger trend among Boomers who push their physical limits in an effort to ward off the effects of aging. “There’s a dramatic shift taking place because more older people are adopting the attitude that I can — not that I’m unable because I’m older,” aging expert Colin Milner told the Times.
The article profiles several folks who took up competitive sports in middle age, including 61-year-old Catherine Wilson, of McLean, Va., who fell in love with the triathlon in her 50s. Like lots of middle-aged folks, she worried about slipping into decrepitude if she didn’t make an effort to find a sport she could love. “When you’re going to be 50, you realize you better get on it,” she said.
I don’t disagree, but I’m never going to be as obsessive as someone like Wilson, whose weekly triathlon training schedule includes three hours of swimming, three hours of running, and five hours of biking. Nor am I going to follow in the trail of My Fitness Guru, whose idea of a good time is to ski 50 kilometers up and down the hills of northern Wisconsin.
Of course, everything’s relative, isn’t it? I’m not the only one who thinks it’s a little weird for a guy my age to be setting picks, scampering after rebounds, and contesting shots against players younger than my own children. My Lovely Wife always seems slightly pleased when I return from these adventures with all my body parts intact (which I’ve always thought was kind of sweet). My friends think I’m completely insane.
And they may be right. Someday, my body just may not be able to stand up to the pounding it takes on the hardcourt. Until then, though, I’m going to hang in there, because there are things about competitive sports — the camaraderie, the physicality, the emotions — that encourages me to stay active. Even if it takes a little more effort to get out of bed the next morning.