Getting Older, Not Necessarily Better

I was at a bowling tournament this weekend in Edmonton. 90 or so of the best bowlers in Western Canada participate. Many of them are very young and very talented. Shockingly young.  One of these youngsters and I were on adjacent lanes and glanced at each other to see who would go first when he said “go ahead sir”. Sir? I know I’ve probably been a sir for a long time now, but I didn’t need reminding while competing. I did tease him about it a couple of minutes later “Sir? You trying to get in my fucking head, kid?” He laughed at the old guy and called me sir the rest of the tournament. I called him kid. He finished second. I finished in a spot that roughly corresponds to my age.

Now, at no point in my life have I had the talent necessary to win a tournament of this caliber. Not all that long ago however, at least to me, if everything broke right cashing (top 15 or so) was certainly possible. Along with making some money in side pots and brackets. But now? In many ways I’m better now than I’ve ever been. I’m certainly smarter, I’m a better spare shooter, but I physically do not have enough power to compete at that level. My margin for error is much smaller than my talent is able to compensate for. And I am 100% NOT ok with this.

I remember the first couple of times I noticed my diminishing athletic ability, both happened in my late 30s. Not that I ever really had a ton of athletic ability. I was never the last guy picked, but I’ve never been the first either. But I could basically hold my own in all the classic North American sports. Nothing special, just one of the guys. Anyway, the first example of my waning skills was playing volleyball at the beach.I hadn’t played in a few years and every ball I went for or spike I attempted seemed to be just out of my reach or brushing my fingertips. At first I thought my timing was off. Then I realized I couldn’t jump anymore. Ever hear the term “White men can’t jump”? Well, old white guys really,really can’t jump. I learned to compensate, which basically means I played like shit. Probably no one other than me noticed. But I noticed. The second time was playing coed football. I had been asked to try out for the work team. I worked with a bunch of engineers,so any athletic ability was at a premium. This became even more obvious at the first practice.  Slow and uncoordinated seemed to be the common denominator. We did have a couple of girls who were pretty good,and one played quarterback. I was practicing at cornerback and on one play the receiver I was covering was running an out pattern. I was laying back to bait her into the throw. As I said,she was pretty good but didn’t exactly have a rifle arm. My plan works and she lets the ball go with more zip than I expected, but I still had plenty of time to close and intercept the ball. So I went to accelerate to closing speed when, to my absolute horror, I realized i was already running as fast as I could. Which wasn’t very fast. So the pass is completed and I remember thinking “who was baiting who just now?” It was completely apparent to me that I was too old for coed football. With engineers. A pretty sorry state of affairs. I remember feeling pretty dejected and wondering if there was anything I could do about it.

I’ve always been competitive. Ridiculously so if I’m being honest. I’ve always expected more of myself than my skills had it in me to deliver on a consistent basis. Golf is the biggest example of this. I’ve played my whole life. I’m pretty good at it, single digit handicap. I can still hit it pretty far, but like bowling, the power game can’t hang with the kids anymore. I still truly hate it when I hit a drive as good as I can and someone in their 30s bombs it past me, and blame myself for not being good enough any more,even though intellectually I know that is stupid. I’m trying to get better at accepting it, but I mostly fail. I still believe if I just work harder and exercise more I can get some of my power back.  I have to try to improve the thugs I can control, like accuracy and short game. But in the end, what I want is the power back.

I was talking about this to a friend around my age. He told me that I should learn to just enjoy the game. Sounds good on paper. I’ve never been that guy and never will. I am hard wired to try to be my best all the time, be it golfing, skiing (I honestly try to make every turn as good as I can) or even fishing. The unfortunate part is I beat myself up internally when I miss the mostly unrealistic goals I set for myself. If anything, age has made it worse. I am marginally better at accepting “failure” (really, I am, I haven’t thrown a golf club in years),what I am not good at, and I kinda hope I never will be, is downgrading my expectations as my skills diminish.

A quick aside on ageing and fishing. You would think that fishing is one past time that you can still enjoy the same as you did when you were young. I’m here to tell you that is bullshit. I find I can’t hike as long. Or plow through that thigh deep current to get at that mid river run. Or swim to that third sand bar. Or make that long cast that no one else can make. Or scramble down that steep bank to hit water no one else will try for. Jackie says she is pretty sure I will meet my end falling off a cliff or drowning when I fall in some river. It’s getting less likely as I can’t really make it to the dangerous spots anymore, so I guess maybe that’s good. Anyway, it’s still fun, but I can see the effects of ageing in fishing at least as much,and sometimes more, than other sports.

So what to do about it? A few years ago I saw a guy fishing this lake a few hundred yards from me. Really pretty casting stroke and he’s catching pretty good. There is a little cabin at the lake and we both hike back to it at around the same time. We chat for a bit, really nice guy. After he leaves, my friend I was fishing with asks me how old I think the guy is. I said 70? He said “nope, 82.” I think to myself “that’s the goal. I want to be that guy when I’m 82.” To do so, I decided to take my physical health more seriously. I started to bike to work, about an hour each way, a couple of times per week. I try to work out a few times a week,though I do struggle keeping up with that. I pay some attention to what I eat, not enough but way more than I used to. Compared to others my age, I’m likely I’m as good or better shape than I’ve ever been and if anything I’m doing a little more each year.

From a physical perspective I’ve been really lucky. Other than some back issues in my 30s and early 40s I’ve never had any physical problems. Knees, hips, etc seem to really be hanging in there. I know that can change at any moment, but it won’t be because I’ve given up and accepted the inevitable. I’m going to use my competitiveness to kick the shit out of ageing as long as I can. I would rather set unrealistic goals I can’t meet and be disappointed when I inevitably fail if that gets me a few more years of participation in my chosen sports, even if I’m still mildly disappointed in the results.

So, in the end, I have this to say to you ageing: Fuck you. I know you will get me in the end, but you’re going to have to work like hell for it. I would say I’ll be the mouse flipping off the eagle:mouse flipping off eagle

but that’s not exactly what I’m going for, as the eagle doesn’t really have to work for it. Instead, I will be the Rocky Balboa to your Apollo Creed. You will win in the end, but I want you saying Ain’t gonna be no rematch. I want you walking away bloody and battered. Spitting out a tooth would be a nice touch. And for the record, even when you do win, I probably won’t acknowledge it.

I played volleyball in Mexico recently while on vacation.  I hadn’t played in awhile. I sucked. I can’t jump. I can’t judge the wind. I fall down a lot. But I tried. Hard. One guy told me, “dude, you give everything you’ve got.” I remember thinking “unfortunately I don’t have much,” and being a little embarrassed  in my performance. The next day the games were starting and the guy next to me on the beach who was playing the day before says “you coming?”  Good enough.

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