Time Goes By Takes a Break


By Steven J. Rubin

I am 76 years old, soon to be 77. I have had two hip replacements, two back surgeries, a recent broken shoulder, two arthroscopic knee surgeries, numerous spinal injections, the usual broken bones, pulled muscles, sprained ankles, etc.

In the trunk of my car you will presently find the following: a tennis racket, tennis shoes, hiking poles, hiking shoes, biking shoes, biking helmet, biking gloves, a gym bag containing necessary workout apparel (shorts, tee-shirt, sneakers) and swimming gear (a towel, swim suit, goggles, etc.), golf clubs, golf shoes.

In the winter you will find skis (both downhill and cross-country), two sets of ski poles, two pair of ski boots, skiing helmet, winter hiking boots and poles, the aforementioned workout and swim apparel, and the detritus left over from summer.

I am, to put it mildly, in total denial.

And there is more! I pay monthly dues to - not one - but two fitness centers. I have a personal trainer. I joined a hiking club called “The Monday Mountain Boys.”

Truth be told, the mountain boys have yet to see my face. And I haven’t seen my personal trainer in months. Most cruelly, I have been unceremonious kicked out of my tennis group. This, the result of a broken shoulder incurred while attempting to run down a drop shot, deviously and deftly placed sent by my opponent.

“Stay home,” I was told, once I had recovered. “Don’t try to do something you can’t.” Or more depressingly, something you can no longer do.

I have a season’s pass (a “senior” season’s pass!) to the local ski mountain. I am among the first to renew that pass every year. Oh, I manage to drag myself up there every once in awhile and make my way down the bunny slope.

Riding up the chairlift, I have visions of past ski runs. Was I that young man who competed in NASTAR races in places such as Aspen, Snowmass, and Breckenridge? Alas, no longer. Now, it’s two hours on the slope and home in time for my afternoon nap.

I still bike, but at such a pace that I struggle to keep vertical. I avoid hills or walk when I can no longer pedal. I understand e-bikes are now the fashion for the senior set and I intend to check that.

I have my skis tuned every fall. I have my tennis racket re-strung every spring in the hope I will be welcomed back into the tennis fold. I take the occasional spinning class, work out as best I can, lifting a few weights, staggering through a slow trot on the treadmill. But these days, the class I regularly attend is my senior exercise class - alternately dubbed the “lift and lunch bunch” or the “crunch and brunch gang,” depending on the time of day we meet.

Do I decry this fast evolving decrepitude? Of course I do! But what is to be done? “An old man is a paltry thing,” W. B. Yeats intoned. And I fear he was correct.

You would think I would give up this foolishness, this self-delusion. I tune my skis for what? The half-dozen runs a season down the bunny slope? I let my former tennis partners know I’m ready. I wait in vain.

My wife tells me it’s time to take up a life of the mind. Friends urge me to join their book clubs. They worry about me. “Nobody ever got hurt,” they remind me, “sitting on the couch reading a book!” But I demur.

Is this really what I want? I know I’m deceiving myself, thinking I’m the athlete I once was, or even close to that. But so what? I’m here. I’m playing on this side of the grass, as one of my golf buddies intoned one day after he managed (as I often do) to take 10 shots to reach the green.

The poet Dylan Thomas tells us to “not go gentle into that good night.” And I won’t. At least as long as my knees hold out - and my shoulder and my back and my hips. I’m good for another season. Or so I tell myself. So what if I’m living in a fantasy. Given today’s headlines, it beats the real world!

* * *

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Steven, I think your world is more real than many, mine included. While I wouldn't wish those past injuries of yours on my worst enemy, you are positively inspiring.

What a marvelous essay! I deduce you have long been living the life of the mind, to be able to recall those apt poetic lines. A writer, an athlete and, I suspect, a scholar. You've brightened my Tuesday morning.

Thanks for a giggle this morning, Steven! I definitely know how you feel...... I'm an aging athlete myself. I've stopped numerous sports I used to love - volleyball (broke a finger) & Pickleball (worst case of tennis elbow EVER!), to name the most recent "given up" sports. I decided not hurting my body is a top priority. Now all I do is walk everyday, which my body thanks me for. Your essay did ring a bell though, so thanks again.

Steve - Good to hear from you! We, too, share your age, sans failings. As Ronnie can attest my wife and I still travel far and wide. What for? Probably the same reasons you do - because its there! We, too, we refuse to give in.

Our mantra, paraphrasing Hunter Thompson:

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, a glass of red wine in one hand and a chunk of dark chocolate in the other, loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!”

As a fellow sports and outdoor nut, i'd have to say you're crazy. Find what you can do and do it with as much pleasure as you can.

Oh I get what you are saying. If it gets you up and going then keep on doing it, Steven. It's about choices and you are making yours until you have to figure out another approach. Why not? It's your life.

I was a life long former horse rider who in all the years of riding ( over 50) I never was seriously hurt. However, a whiplash car accident left me with cervical problems and nasty cervical osteoarthritis ( I can predict the weather!). I refuse to take medication and have come to a place of peace and acceptance with the pain/discomfort which is considerable. British understatement!

Despite it, having to give up riding took me to new pursuits -competition dog obedience and ballroom dancing. Both fill my life and keep me moving.

Every morning I awaken to grab coffee and do a half an hour of solo dance and exercises with light weights since my neck can't take anything heavy. After this dog and I walk for an hour moving fast! Throughout the day we continue walking...training, house care, basic life.

Do I hurt? You bet. Wine time is a nice relief -it is medicinal! I will not give in to pain. Not yet in my life...denial, ignoring and keep on moving until I can't...BTW I do balance this with reading, computer and netflix time. Life is good!

Thanks again for sharing...I hear you determination, Steven and am with you.

Namaste from a 69 year old who is also an exercise obsessive.


Steve—I hear you. My physical therapist tells me the only thing worse than moving and hurting yourself is not moving at all. Thus I continue to hike (yes, I use poles) and bike and swim and rely on massage and physical therapists to put me back together when I overdo.
I’ve learned to get back into a sport I’ve neglected by increasing the challenge very gradually. With biking, it’s the pace, and the mileage and the terrain. With hiking, it’s the distance and steepness of the hill. With swimming, it’s the distance I swim. It takes patience and listening to your body and not being swayed by whomever is with you. Thus I usually go alone in the beginning of any season, to gradually condition myself at my own pace.
Which brings me to your tennis partners. Why not try to find a less demanding group? You can still enjoy the sport, but it doesn’t have to be at a competitive level. I had to go through several walking groups to find companions that walk at the pace I want to go, ditto with biking.
Don’t wait at home for their call. Go out and find “compadres” with which you can have fun. And check back in with us!

I loved your essay Steven. I think we’re all in there with you. Most of us mourn the days of being able to rise to challenges at various levels. I hope you find some satisfaction in doing well at whatever level you choose.
In the meantime, the providers of all those services and memberships that you support probably aren’t complaining.

Are your delusions healthy? Who knows? You seem to have such a spirited sense of humor about it, I suspect it is. And like several other readers, I also suspect your mind has had, and continues to have a lively life.
I still would love to climb mountains, backpack, chainsaw, or just walk 10 miles for the joy of it, travel to Indonesia..............but it ain't gonna happen. Walking, gardening, painting, that's about it these days, and they are each a joy. People think of painting as a demure undertaking, and it can be, but for me it is, in part, very physical. Oh, and chores, chores, chores! Life is good.

You are an inspiration, Steven. I had been away from pickleball for months due to a sore knee, but I still played hockey, which doesn't stress the knees in the same way, apparently. Then my skates started hurting. Were my feet growing? So, at 80, I invested in a new pair (of skates, not feet). My first game and the skates were wonderful but I did a pirouette to avoid an even older competitor and tore a shoulder muscle. Now with the closing of gyms and arenas for the foreseeable future I am back on my bike. What could possibly go wrong?

Oh, Steven, I'm right there with you! Every single day I miss skiing. I have looked into getting a virtual reality set-up to simulate skiing, but have not yet found one that is realistic enough. Hopefully, the technology will improve.

My mind has not yet gotten the word about what my body can and cannot do. I can't tell you how many times I've walked up to a small stream or ditch and thought, "I'll just hop over it." Hah! My mind sees me sailing easily over to the other side like I once did without a thought. But my feet can't seem to get off the ground.

Still traveling, though not like I used to when I would have to buy new shoes to replace the ones I wore out walking so many miles. I've discovered river cruises, which allow me to see places without having to do so much walking and toting.

The trick for me has been constantly reminding myself to focus on the things I CAN do, rather than the things I can't, and to be grateful for having at least had the experiences I once had when young.

I admire your spirit, Steven. Keep that positive attitude and all will be well. Thank you for sharing your wonderful story.

Wonderful post, grinned all the way through.

As a person with severe asthma, I have never been able to do all those wonderful activities you now miss. I am envious even of your memories of those days.

Steven: I think we're brothers from different mothers! And from the prior comments, we're not at all alone. I still think I'm 18!! (Tho I'm darned-near 85). I took up volleyball at 70, and have since developed a 'close relationship ' with 4 orthopedic surgeons, one of whom re-attached the hamstring which I'd de-anchored from its pelvic mooring. Dumb. Like all my other athletic "over-do's". But I so enjoy my dozens of volleyball friends - - lunches, or maybe a beer after our 2 hours is done. How can I give up competition? And friends? People smarter than I counsel that "It's time to quit."
Will I listen? While you decide, keep in mind my personal motto: "Anything Worth Doing Is Worth Overdoing"!

These days I have only memories of the trails I hiked and the mountains I climbed. But what memories they are! I wouldn't trade them for anything. And every day I can go out and see that those same mountains are still there, calling my name as they always have ... and I remember. And a beautiful peace comes over me.

Wow I’m the odd all here. It made me tired just reading what was in your trunk and the things you still can do!

I come from a long line of none exercisers...and I’m doing just fine at 73..no surgeries, no more than an occasional back ache from too much yard work and high metabolism, so I can eat with joy without much weight gain.

And I don’t feel the least bit guilty.

LOL. You have far outdone me in the athletic department tho I've broken a bone or two.
But there is also a hazard to reading. As a dedicated reader with enough books to open my own library,
I can tell you to beware of the possibility of 'numb butt'.

Thanks for sharing this amazing post.

A word of warning: don't on any account think that this is maybe the time to take up something more sedate like walking football (maybe that would be 'walking soccer' for you, altho' it doesn't quite sound the same). It should be so gentlemanly and civilised, but men never lose that competitive edge, do they? Walking turns into running, tackles are every bit as rough as in the premier league and every Tuesday sees my own reasonably active 70+ year old limping home bruised and battered, occasionally requiring a hospital visit, sometimes just a brace of some sort. Stick with the skiing - you'll be safer.

Go, Stevie! As a former "serious" gardener who now sits on the floor of her golfkart to pull weeds, I HEAR ya!

What? No pickleball?

Let's go kicking and screaming into that night of which you speak. I wish I hadn't squandered my potential for fitness. However, I hold fast to the notion that it's never too late until, well you know. In the last year I've gotten in shape and intend to take up some sport when allowed back out of lock down.

With you all the way, friend. I try not to irritate my more sensible friends too much as I continue to galump around, even in this lockdown. Every time I think my drive to move, to run, is failing (mostly lungs) I find I can relearn it. Slowly.

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