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Getting Old

How does it feel to get old? I would say it depends on how old you are at the time the question is asked. If you’re 7 it feels really really good, same at 16. Maybe around 30 you start to reconsider this ‘old’ thing a little, but it’s still good then in terms of professional maturity, increased financials and responsibility, so I would say it’s still positive well into the 30’s, maybe 40’s. But somewhere in the 50’s, for me, things started to change.

Getting old is a physical thing, not a mental thing. You are however old your body tells you that you are. You cannot control that – unlike your brain over which you do have a modicum of leverage. So, when your body starts to complain, you have no choice but to listen and comply. If you’re lucky, have a few good genes going for you, some luck along the way, your body will do the aging thing slowly giving you more time to do ‘young’ things.

Since aging is a physical thing, one of the best ways to measure it is via a physical activity such as sports. I am lucky to be on my third: baseball, volleyball, and now pickleball. My body has supported me on each, allowing me to fully realize my potential (or lack thereof) and then gently showing me that the time has come to move on. Sometimes in an unkind, abrupt sort of way, sometimes with a gentle grace that says, “Richard, you just can’t do that any more. You’re too slow, too weak”.

For example: I played baseball from age 9 to age 38 at lots of levels, none would impress anyone. In my declining years, I was forced to move from catcher to first base as my arm was getting tired, slower, missing too much. Crouching was starting to hurt my knees, blocking wild pitches was irritating me instead of exciting me, and I no longer relished those damn crashes when a runner tried to score from first on a long single. These are all physical things. So I walked away. That is what getting old feels like.

Some time later, I discovered the game of volleyball thru a secretary at work. She and her friends were kind enough to take me aside and teach me the game, the indoor game anyway. Everybody who plays this sport has to have someone or somebody who does this for them because volleyball is a game that everybody thinks they can play but to be played correctly it must be taught – it’s not natural. (I most definitely refer here to what is known as “Old School Volleyball” as the game currently played has decayed to garbage with virtually all skill requirements gone. Anybody CAN play the game we see today but don’t get me started.) It was only a matter of time until I immigrated to the beach for two man beach vb and the great life of a weekend beach bum vb wannabe. I played from around age 35 to 65 and as you can imagine there was a gigantic change in physical ability over this span of time. And volleyball has a way of showing it to you right up front – in your face: “YOU’RE GETTING OLD”. For example, the court challenge system at the Santa Monica pier provides for the game winners to stay on the court, play the next game against the player at the top of a signup list and his/her selected partner. So… if you can keep on winning, you can play a lot of volleyball. Good teams become known as an “All Day Team”. This system, of course, makes partner selection critical. If your name comes to the top of the list, you want to play with the very best available player to increase your chances of wining and staying on the court. This works greatly in favor of the better players who never have to actually sign up because whoever’s name comes up next will almost always select them to play the next game. I was fortunate enough for many years to be able so just lie on my towel and wait for somebody to choose me to play the next game. I played all day, never signed up, lived good. Until… things started to change. It started to take me much longer to “spring” up after a dive, my pitiful jump was getting more pitiful, and most telling of all… I was losing games. The sport corrects very quickly and it was only a matter of a very short time that I found that if I wanted to play a game I had to sign up like everybody else. That is what getting old feels like.

Now I am engaged in what will undoubtedly be my third and final sport.. How does pickleball measure your age? The beauty of pickleball is that it is constructed to take you gently all the way home, you won’t need an additional sport and your age will be accommodated. You get older, slower still, can’t see as well, forget the score, it’s all good because in pickleball you just modify your competition to match your level and proceed. You can go on seemingly forever or until you either can’t find the paddle you left in the back seat of your car last night or you can’t get out of bed in the morning. In many ways, it’s the kindest of sport. It never says, “You really blew that one, big guy”, it just says, “Hey, these guys are GOOD, maybe I should think about moving over to court 7”.

So, I’m fighting right now to get back to trying to beat those GOOD guys but when I return, if I fail, I won’t have to find my next sport, I’ll just move on over to court 7. I guess this is just another way of measuring what getting old feels like but it’s far more pleasant.

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