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Commentary: The Aging Athlete

By Jim Schneegold

Buffalo, NY – When I was 18-years-old, I used to think that 25 would be about the age I'd be done, athletically speaking. Those "old fart has-beens" playing football next to us seemed to slow down to an embarrassing crawl.

But when I reached 30, I was still feeling pretty good. I played all the sports I wanted: Football every Thanksgiving, golfing, rollerblading, biking, tennis, softball twice a week, bowling. . . you name it.

At 40, I watched some of my friends give up a lot of the sports they enjoyed playing. Me - I played Mr. Macho. "I'll play full out in every sport and slowing down was something I'd think about when I retire." Diving for softballs in the outfield? No problem. Stretching a double into a triple? That's the only way to play. Thanksgiving morning football? Bring it on.

I think I was around 44 when my body made a collect call to my brain and warned, "Enough already!" It's too bad I wasn't listening when my friends called demanding I play football. I shouldn't have answered the phone. I came back home limping and it took a week to recover.

The following summer, I slid into second base during a softball game and got this huge raspberry on my thigh. Unfortunately, my body kindly reminded me I wouldn't be sleeping on my left side for two days. When I gingerly put on my pants the next morning, I finally admitted, "What are you, stupid? You can't be doing this crap anymore."

Now, two years later, my two fingers on my left hand have arthritis, my knee swells up if I try to rollerblade and, come to think of it, my neck's a little sore this morning from that strenuous activity called, "sleeping."

But I'm not getting older, mind you. My heart tells me that I can still do all these things at 46.

I guess age has always been a case of mental gymnastics. To a 25-year-old, I look like some gray-haired fossil. To a 60- year-old, he proudly boasts, "I swam 22 laps this morning. How old did you say you were?"

We never want to admit we can't do some of the things we used to. We'd like to pass the baton, but our ego won't hear of it. The view through our eyes wants to believe the body attached is still that of a 20- year-old. When we walk up a few flights of stairs, the huffing and puffing isn't a question of aging and being out of shape -- it simply means one less donut at breakfast might do the trick. We'll be fine.

It was Thanksgiving morning when the phone rang. I thought about playing for a moment. Then I realized two fingers wouldn't move, my knee screamed for ice, my neck was sore, my feet hurt and my heel spurs were acting up.

I thought the coffee was tasting pretty good when the phone stopped ringing.

My head knew I couldn't play anymore.

But my heart ached, "Maybe I'll feel better tomorrow!"

Listener-Commentator Jim Schneegold is a local writer whose was published in "A Sixth Bowl of Chicken Soup for the Soul."