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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