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Archive for April, 2012

Natsumi Hayashi Floats And Levitates For Fun

200-300 attempts to get the perfect shot sounds like a very tiring effort

Natsumi Hayashi posts photographic self-portraits on her blog, Yowayowa Camera Woman Diary. I love them, and definitely regard them as an athletic challenge and achievement. She does 200-300 jumps to get one winner that she uploads and displays in print shows.

“I must be aware of the shapes of my arms and legs and make slight adjustments in every jump,” she said.

New York Times writer, Kerri Macdonald, says, “the more complicated—in some cases, dangerous—the pose appears, the less inclined a viewer will be to anticipate a landing. Ms. Hayashi holds her head high, averting her eyes from her landing point. She releases her muscles. She points the soles of her feet to the sky.

floating down for a drink

And she readies herself for a fall, knowing that it’s important to maintain the pose in the air.”

“I cannot easily suggest my style to everyone,” said Ms. Hayashi, who, like an athlete, uses therapy to learn to control her body. (Still, she did fall—and land on her jaw—once.)

You can read the whole article here and see many more of the levitation photos. Ready to start jumping yourself???

Natsumi likes defying gravity inside the picture

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Filly Meunier’s Childhood Secret To Good Tennis

Tennis Sisters—Filly Meunier (rt) with 2010 French Open Champion, Francesca Schiavone—8/2011

Before I posted my words two days ago about subbing surprises, I showed it to one of my opponents, Filly Meunier. Her reaction was another surprise: “I had no idea you were so frustrated. You didn’t show it one bit.”

When I told her how startled I was that my weaker partner was giving me advice on how to improve my game, she said, “I have learned that the less you say, the better. Encourage your partner to work as a team. But if you don’t have anything positive to say, you say nothing.”

When I asked Filly how she had developed such a strong game, here is what she wrote.

ah ! , you flatter me ! such a nice compliment. thank you.

I don’t have many secrets to my game, and in my opinion, it would be beneficial if I did. There is a lot of technique/strategy I don’t use (and don’t know) and have not taken the time to learn or practice. Maybe one day.

I’ve played tennis since I was a young girl, for the most part only once or twice per week. On days I’d find no one to hit with, I would hit against a cement wall at a private school near my home. Could that be my secret? I believe that could improve one’s eye, hand coordination and ball contact. Since then, I have continued to play the game , mostly just for fun (very few lessons) and on average, only twice per week.

For the past two years (and for the first time ever) I have enjoyed playing in the ladies Dogwood League at the New Milford Tennis and Swim Club, something new for me. Competition/League tennis is really fun. I take it more seriously and strive to do well for my “team.” It’s a totally different ball game when you are working towards a trophy and working to advance your “team’s standing,” in addition to winning your own match. It’s a lot of pressure (talk about butterflies!), but I enjoy the challenge. In the past two seasons, we have taken home the “Silver” and continue to work towards the “Gold.” I am proud to say that in last year’s final (of the four courts that played), my partner and I won our match 6 -4, 6-3. Unfortunately, our other three courts lost their matches (though one of them came very close to a win at 6-2, 2-6, 5-7). Nonetheless, it was loads of fun having a shot at the Title!

I did read Brad Gilbert’s “Winning Ugly” last summer and enjoyed it. I would recommend it, if you haven’t.

I hope to get to play with you soon again Ira. It was a pleasure to have you join us last week. You played very smart, very tough, had some impressive “gets” along with some very nice points. Keep up your good play and always remember to keep having fun. In the event I find something interesting to add to your site (which I thoroughly enjoy), I’ll be sure to send it along.

The photo (above) was taken last year at the New Haven Open. I thought you might get a kick out of it. I was sitting at a court watching a match and suddenly heard Francesca Schiavone’s famous “grunt” (“ahh..hee”). With total excitement I scurried around and found her two courts over (practicing with her coaches). I waited patiently, and as she walked off the court I approached her to say hello. She was very personable and friendly, so I had a few words with her and then asked for a photo. She has been a favorite of mine and I was so elated to have met her. It was fun.

Schiavone is currently ranked #11 in the world.

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How A Squash Player Should Learn Tennis

A squash player named Stephen commented on my March 2nd post about how Practice Does Not Make Perfect. He also asked how he should learn to play tennis. So here is his post and an answer (below) by Bjorn Runquist, a local coach for squash and tennis. I would also add that if you can play squash, you don’t need more cardio training to play tennis. I played about 8-10 squash games yesterday and was exhausted in just 1 1/4 hours, whereas I can go 2 of singles and 4 of doubles and not be nearly as tired. Let us know Stephen how you do…

Hi ira,

I stumbled upon your bog whilst looking for tips on how to improve my squash game.

To put it mildly, you have inspired me. I mean that in no small terms either.
I’m a 23 year old University student from the UK and the Chairman of our Uni’s Squash team.

All too frequently I find myself frustrated that I cannot compete at the level of some of the teams we play (just last week I lost a game to a player who turned out to be a Hong Kong open champion).

Like you my return is not good enough, especially the backhand, so hearing of your troubles and the revelation about “perfect practice” really hit home with me. Now I cannot wait to get back on the court and get a good mindset going.

I’ve looked over your site a bit and read your story about how you wanted to embark on the journey of change, and all I have to say is well done.

I’ve always been larger (not obese by any means, just carrying extra padding :) ) and have used it as an excuse to not play tennis, as the movement required for it really takes it out of me. After reading your blog however, I feel shamed within myself that I have not tried harder to do what I dream of doing, and getting that “beach body” and playing tennis.

So here is a little question for you.

I’m fairly good at squash, good all round strokes, but have never really played tennis other than a playful back and forth. What would you think the first step should be?

Should I get a coach? Work on my strokes or serve? gain cardio to hang with the guys in rallies?

Hope you are well today,

Stephen

Here are Coach Bjorn’s suggestions:

Advice for your web site commenter on tennis: definitely get private lessons. The stroke is so different from tennis and is critical to being able to hit the ball hard and keep it in the court. The business of simply striking the ball is, I think, much more complex in tennis— there are more “correct” ways of doing it in tennis than in squash (slice, top-spin etc). Once you have the strokes down, the game is simpler than squash, but changing technique from squash and getting a proper stroke in tennis is critical to anything else— get private lessons, visualize and hit a thousand strokes without a ball (the tennis stroke starts at the feet, goes through the knees which drive the ball and shift weight in the right direction and finishes with the racket and the critical follow-through of the last 3rd of the swing).

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Lessons And Surprises When Subbing

Subbing in a doubles tennis game is often full of surprises. Twice in the last month I was called late at night to fill in for a missing fourth, and I said “Yes,” to be polite and allow the regulars to play. Plus I love the game.

My opponents both times were much stronger than I had imagined from what I’d heard or seen. Balls were returned unexpectedly…a lot. I was lobbed, lost points to very angular, ungettable winners, and my great (rare) forehands down the middle were somehow retrieved and sent back for another point against me. Live and learn.

Now usually I could care less if my partner “doesn’t play perfectly.” I even like the challenge of having the weaker partner. Winning isn’t everything, I am out there to practice my new strokes and just happy to be playing at all. As a sub in one match last week, I was facing a 75(+)-year-old who is my role model: can return almost anything that comes to him and lobs and places expertly. My partner was another 75 to 80-year-old whom I like, is witty, was admired as a professional and also inspires me to keep on playing until I drop. I just didn’t think I might pass out in this match! He just didn’t move or return toward the center when he went for a wide shot. I had to cover most of the court, like a singles player against two people who could return almost anything. I was pretty tired pretty fast.

Then my partner began telling me I should yell at HIM during the point to remind him to move back into a good position! I have enough trouble remembering to move myself back into position. Now I am supposed to tell both of us what to do? It was actually quite funny.

But I have to admit the “singles-against-doubles” effort got to me. The other team made me run from one side of the base line to the other and then back again with perfectly placed moonballs. I was worn out after just a few games, my serve suffered, and it showed in the score, as we lost 5-7, 2-6, 0-6. I was lucky some points to touch the ball, even if it didn’t go back over. When it did, the other side just put it away. When I gave them a good shot, and they returned a soft ball, my partner didn’t always make the easy winner. On the other hand, when he did make a point, it was like a huge victory. I loved his smile and shared in his jubilation. Hey, it’s only a game, and lucky us to be playing when we’re over 70!

Half way through the match, I was a tad frustrated, but I kept coming back for more in a futile effort to turn things around. Some times in games where I am the weakest player, I can count on my partner to carry me or make half the points. In this unforgettable match, I felt it was all on my shoulders. That was crushing pressure.

Afterward, when I was licking my many wounds, my partner publicly offered me some well-intended advice. First he said that “I probably shouldn’t say anything,” but then he told all four of us that the problem with Ira’s game is that it was one-dimensional. No lobs or drop shots. I admit I was a bit disheartened to hear any constructive criticism.

Fortunately I didn’t scream. I just smiled and said politely we might have done better if he had been able to move back into position after each shot.

Hours later, when my emotions had subsided, I realized my partner was right. Although I have a great excuse—I was lucky just to get to the ball and send it over the net, much less control it with a perfect lob or drop shot—my game had become very predictable. So it was a good, if punishing, lesson.

Tennis is such a mental game. I love it. Pain, defeat and all. But when you hit a winner in the sweet spot…it’s all worth it. Hope I can still be playing another 10 or 20 years. Even if I can’t move too well or hardly at all…

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How Actively Do You Relax?

I relax by writing, watching TV, surfing the internet, reading a book, looking at the grass grow. This morning I played 1 1/4 hours of squash games, lost every one, and am exhausted. I need to “relax.”

The other night I met a man who said he can only relax by being active. He said that he had hunted EVERY single Saturday for a solid year. Pheasants, quail, chukars, deer. If he couldn’t hunt near his home up north, he “hopped” a plane and went to Georgia or South Carolina. On Fridays or Sundays, he takes a golf lesson in the morning, plays 18 holes, then goes home and has a trainer give him a shooting lesson, and finally rounds out the afternoon by shooting 500 clay pigeons in his back yard. Probably just before going to a black tie dinner party.

How does a seemingly normal human being do all that activity?

But I remembered a lawyer I once hired who invited my family to his weekend house in Massachusetts. He was up by 5:30 am rowing his shell on a lake, then played two hours of tennis. As soon as we arrived around noon, we all ate lunch and went for a hike up a mountain. Back at the house, we were ushered onto a a speedboat for a spin around the lake. He said this was a normal day. Rowing is so beautiful when the mist is on the water. Gets you ready for the day.

But any one of these activities would have been enough activity for me. I was going crazy just talking, eating and hiking. I’d already driven a couple of hours to get there. The boat tour was fun, but way too much input for me.

Yesterday I heard from a friend that these guys may have ADD, which is attention deficit disorder or ADHD, which is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Some part of their brains need to be constantly stimulated to feel ok or calm or relaxed. Too much stimulation wears me out. I need to relax. Too little stimulation makes ADD brains go crazy. They need MORE activity to feel relaxed.

I knew that ADD/ADHD kids are given ritalin to relax them. I never knew before yesterday that the drug is a stimulant and helps decrease one’s need for activity and movement.

Whether the two adults I referenced have any disorder or not, they certainly have higher energy than I do or will ever have. The challenge is to discover what you need, what you like and figure out how to have them both.

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Tough Mudder Was Created By Harvard Student For Class Contest

The video above has commentary by the two founders of Tough Mudder, who are also on camera as they describe their first ever event in May of 2010.

In just two years this start up has attracted 500,000 participants paying $90-200 each, depending upon when you sign up. This year there will be events in 28 locations. A great and growing success. You can learn more in yesterday’s post .

What’s more impressive to me is that Tough Mudder was founded by Will Dean and Guy Livingstone. Dean developed the concept while studying at Harvard Business School, where Tough Mudder was a finalist in the annual business plan contest. Wow! Those Harvard guys can really come up with some earth-shaking businesses: facebook, Microsoft, etc, etc…

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Tough Mudder Obstacle Course Claims It’s The Toughest

Kate St. Hilaire told me her father is a toughmudder. I wasn’t impressed until I found out what that means. Tough Mudder events are hardcore 10-12 mile obstacle courses designed by British Special Forces to test your all around strength, stamina, mental grit, and camaraderie. With the most innovative courses, 500,000 inspiring participants (25% women), and more than $2.5 million dollars raised for the Wounded Warrior Project, Tough Mudder says it’s the premier adventure challenge series in the world.

Those who comple one of these courses are convinced they can do almost anything else. It’s an ultimate physical achievement. In 2012 there will be Tough Mudder courses held in 28 different locations, mostly in the US, but a few overseas. Some have as many as 32 military designed obstacles, including running through fire and hanging electric wires, jumping into pools of water and ice cubes, swimming through mud, climbing walls/ropes/rope ladders, running up large hills (sometimes carrying heavy logs), walking balance beams and ropes over freezing water (one video I saw was held in 38 degrees), going through long and narrow pipe tunnels, walking up a mountain bent over under a net, crawling many yards under 18 inches of barbed wire…you get the idea.

Now check out this video above and decide if you have what it takes to accept this challenge! It was shot by Ryan Tworek who completed the course wearing a head cam, so you can see every obstacle in the October 2011 Virginia event.

I love Ryan’s hot tip about the electric shock obstacle: “Yes, they had 10,000 volts or 3 car batteries hooked up to it and you didn’t know which one’s are live as it’s alternating current! I got hit 3x and you definitely know when you touch one of the live wires! It’s yellow rope with a metal wire in the middle of it.”

Wikipedia’s description of Tough Mudder includes a list of upcoming events, which the New York Times wrote are “more convivial than marathons and triathlons.” Contestants are not timed, and organizers encourage ‘mudders’ to demonstrate teamwork by helping fellow participants over difficult obstacles to complete the course. The prize for completing a Tough Mudder challenge is an official orange sweatband and a free beer. It is estimated that 15-20% of participants do not finish.

You might also want to compare this obstacle course with two others I have written about: the Tough Guy and Spartan Racing. There are also many painful long-distance running events you can explore under the “running” category on the Home Page

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Spicing Up Your Tennis Game

Federer and Nadal play tennis in Dubai

Kate St.Hilaire sent me a link to 25 photos of sports being played in unusual places, like a basketball court on an aircraft carrier and a soccer field on a Tokyo rooftop. Here are three of the sites related to my favorite sports, even though the tennis courts are strictly humorous publicity stunts for Roger and Rafa. Amusing to me is that one of the sites is the portable squash court in New York’s Grand Central Station…I went there for a match and didn’t think it was unusual at all!

Squash in Gaza

Tennis in Qatar

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TJ Faces Two Big Challenges

TJ (left) with friends—3/24/2012

Back on March 17th, I wrote about how I hurt my knee and was scared that I might no longer be able to play tennis…and then was ashamed that with all the sickness and sadness in the world, I had no right to feel sorry for myself. Here is a poignant and powerful comment from a reader named TJ. She has really set a high athletic challenge for herself: to run a marathon (26 miles) although the most she has ever run non-stop in her life is “just” eight miles! She also has another challenge involving her health and appearance, and has an unbelievably positive and adaptive attitude. She reminds me how in the past, as my hair thinned out, my bald spot became larger, and I watched a relative lose all her hair during cancer treatments, I would rationalize that “it’s better to be bald than dead.”

This post resonated with me, so I felt the need to comment. These are just some thoughts, so forgive me if the sentiment’s a little scattered.

This past December I entered the lottery for the New York City marathon for the fourth time in my life, and was admitted. FINALLY I’m getting the chance to live out one of my lifelong dreams of running 26.2 miles in the city in which I’ve learned some of my most important life lessons. To have the opportunity to meet this challenge head on, means the whole world to me, and every day that I go running, I just picture all of my Rocky Balboa-esque workouts culminating in that final moment when my mind has conquered matter, and I’m dashing across the finish line.

Another challenge presented itself this past December too—I discovered I have an auto-immune disorder called alopecia areta that causes my hair to fall out in patches sporadically. While otherwise perfectly healthy, I have absolutely no control over what my hair will look like the next day, and eventually, if my body doesn’t respond to treatment (cortisone injections in my scalp once a month), I could end up totally bald.

You can imagine that for a woman, not having any control over how I’m going to look is incredibly frustrating, and it’s made me consider how drastically others’ perceptions of me could shift in the next year or so. But surprisingly (even to me), I’m not that upset. I’ve had a lot of time since December to reflect on what my condition really is in the grand scheme of things. I’m not dying. Being bald wouldn’t change who I am fundamentally. There are so many worse things that can happen to a person. I have friends who are battling cancer, mourning the losses of their parents, and learning how to live their life again with only one leg. So whenever I start to feel sorry for myself for a little hair falling out, I remember that for now, I can still go for a run. Who knows? Maybe if I end up totally bald, the lack of extra wind resistance will shave a couple minutes off my marathon time? : )

she is losing patches of hair

It’s tough not being able to do something you’ve been able to your whole life. It’s tough not having control while your body changes. I know playing tennis and putting your hair up are in two totally different ballparks, but I think I can empathize with the sentiment. We’re all constantly on a journey to achieve and to perfect ourselves despite the wear and tear that comes with living. But maybe if you stay off of your knee for a while, you’ll have the opportunity to pull something else out of yourself you didn’t know was there. Maybe you’re a world class chess player? Maybe you’ll spend more time rowing and find that it’s something you love?

We are each a project that’s always evolving and re-growing. I could lose all of my hair. I could sprain my ankle and not even make it to the marathon (knock on wood). But until that happens, I’m relishing in shampooing my hair every morning and beaming with every step I take in the evening because you’re right—as long as we’re alive, it’s not enough to just watch the ocean from the beach. You don’t get a dress rehearsal, so you have to enjoy what you’ve got while you’ve got it and push for everything you want in this life. If you love tennis, play tennis until you can’t play tennis anymore, and then when you can’t, you’ll find a new passion within yourself and be a stronger person for it.

When I’m running, I spend a lot of time thinking about the people and ideas that have made me strong enough to conquer a marathon, and I want to put them all on the t-shirt I wear that day in some way to remind myself of who I really am. You can be sure that I’ll have a shout out to irasabs.com somewhere on that shirt. Thank you for always being an inspiration.

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Sports Lessons Can Be Life Lessons

I mentioned yesterday that I was getting a lot better at tennis and squash, and much of that improvement was attributed to pointers from knowledgeable coaches and the advice that “practice DOESN’T make perfect,” but “PERFECT” practice is what is needed for better performance.

What seems applicable in these thoughts to life off the courts is that you can’t get things “right” the first time. It’s a lot of trial and error, identifying “perfect” practice and then practicing. There is the need to risk failure, to make mistakes, to get up off the mat when you fall and do it again. One needs to read books and talk to others who have succeeded, whether it is creating good relationships, career changes, making money, relocating where you live.

Life is full of challenges. Just like athletics. Unfortunately life has to be lived, whereas no one has to play sports. We all know you can learn about people by watching them play sports, and you can learn about life by playing any sport. The biggest problem is that there are no classes for how to live your life. And people expect you to know what you are doing and act like you know, when we are actually very uninformed. So most of us bluff others and also ourselves. A big mistake. Life is a lifelong learning process. We are all in it together. No one is really fooling us if they suggest that they have all the answers. But experience is worth everything, and practice—that is “perfect” practice—makes us better at it. So let’s keep on learning and practicing and enjoying the progress.

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The Joy Of Improving At Sport

Today I was a case history twice on how to improve at sport. Maybe there is a message for non-athletic activities as well.

I played my best tennis ever for two hours in the morning, using the new techniques I’d learned from local coach Rob Ober, who’d roomed with Andre Agassi at their tennis camp. The open stance and serve pointers he gave me took a couple of weeks to adjust to, but I am now swinging and serving well enough to be more competitive with some strong players in the area. My ground strokes have more power and sometimes have top spin.

In the afternoon I played my best squash ever for an hour and a half and won eight games out of 12 against a player who beat me all five games the last time we played months ago. I was using the new swing, serve return placement and body position that I’d learned from local coach Bjorn Runquist, who had wisely taught me that “Practice does not make perfect, but PERFECT practice is what makes perfect.” A major distinction.

My tennis partner in the morning was a 4.0 player who has seen me play at least three or four times with months or years between viewings. When I first faced Phil Farmer four years ago, I wasn’t even at the level of the 75-93-year-olds with 50-75 years of experience I was playing with. I could out run the older guys, but they could place every shot so accurately that if the ball came near them, they earned a point. Drops and lobs were a key part of their strategy. At the end of our games back then, Phil gave me some wise advice that I really appreciated him mentioning. He said it seemed that I hadn’t identified his weaker side, forehand or backhand, and that my game would improve if I noticed things like that and adapted my game to each player. I was grateful for his suggestion.

A couple of years later, Phil saw me at his club, where I was a guest, and he commented that my game had improved. A real compliment. In the last year, I have been learning about doubles strategy from Joe Marshall and the books he and Rob Ober recommended. So today Phil praised my game a couple of times, noting that I was playing “good smart tennis.” My volleying at the net was also pretty good.

It’s very gratifying to work at something and make progress. To challenge yourself to grow or improve at a skill and then realize that objective. For now I just want to keep getting better. There is no end goal, like winning tournaments or becoming the best in the country or the county. I just want to play with stronger and more experienced players and be invited back into their games. I am enjoying the journey and not focused on any final destination.

I remember a friend telling me sadly that he had stopped playing tennis regularly, because so much activity had injured his body, and now his level of play was only going down, rather than up. It was too upsetting. But I am still on the upside of the curve, aiming for the highest point I can at this age.

Somewhere in the future, I will reach my peak performance, my level will start to flatten out or decline, and I will be back playing mostly with the 75-90-year-olds. I hope that happens, when I am almost 90 myself. I may have wistful moments about how good I was in my early 70′s, but at least I will still be alive, playing, enjoying some cardio, and having the thrill of making each winning sweet-spot-shot.

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Beach Vollyball Champion Kerri Walsh Has Abs

A recent news story about how bikinis may no longer be the official uniform for women’s beach volleyball motivated me to look at what the present costume is. That’s how I bumped into Kerri Lee Walsh-Jennings who with teammate Misty May-Treanor were the gold medalists in beach volleyball at both the 2004 and 2008 Summer Olympics. They have been called “the greatest beach volleyball team of all time.”

Of course I picked this picture, because it’s so rare to see women with abs.

In this photo by Jamie Squire: Kerri Walsh (left) and Misty May-Treanor celebrate during the women’s gold medal match against China during Day 13 of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China.

And for those the least bit curious, here are excerpts from the AP news story I mentioned:

Under new rules adopted by the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB), players are now free to wear shorts and sleeved tops. The governing body said the move was made out of respect for the cultural beliefs of some of the countries still in contention to qualify for the games.

But top players say they won’t be switching from the beach- and TV-friendly bikinis to the more modest uniforms approved recently by the International Volleyball Federation as a nod to countries where more modest attire is preferred.

“It’s something I really feel comfortable with,” said Kerri Walsh, who with Misty May-Treanor won the gold medal in Athens and Beijing while wearing the standard beach volleyball uniform: a two-piece bathing suit. “It’s something I feel empowered by, not distracted with. I’m not a sex symbol; I’m an athlete. I want to be streamlined out there.” Read the rest of this entry »

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150 Straight Days Of Exercise

Forgive my bragging, but this is really a terrific achievement for me. I challenged myself to do some kind of exercise every day—even if just 5-10 minutes—no matter where I was, time of day, or what I did. I completed this much of the goal—150 continuous days—with five sets of push ups: 21, 25, 21, 21, 32 with 90 seconds rest between sets, except for 120 seconds before the last set. Exhausting.

This has changed my life completely, because I do them in the evenings, and I won’t eat usually until I have done the task. And many of the days, like today, I played squash for an hour after working during the day. So I came home at 8 pm and couldn’t get up the energy to do the exercise until 9:15. This is mostly an effort to stay disciplined, and I have not been a disciplined person ever before, when it comes to regular exercise.

Many of the early days, I ate and then read or watched TV until I felt able to exercise without nausea or indigestion. Often I was exercising after midnight or after having fallen asleep on the couch.

Doing push ups three times a week is another sub goal I have also taken on to see if I can ever reach more than 57 non-stop push ups. The program I am following is supposed to enable me to do 100, but I’d be happy for now just to break my previous record…which I set in 1987, when I was in the Soviet Union for a month and could exercise every day. I was also a lot younger. We’ll see what I achieve.

Tomorrow I will practice a new tennis serve that I saw on TV. So much to do. So many challenges to take on…How are you doing?

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I Have Reached Another Birthday

Ira after 1000 non-stop crunches—4/5/2012

Today I am 71 years old and have been writing on this web site for exactly three years. Although the age number sounds ancient—and I am definitely a little scared to be this old—I am thrilled beyond anything you can imagine that I have survived at all for one more year. And I am still enjoying good health. I remain grateful for so many parts of my life, and I am constantly reminded by less fortunate friends—and strangers read about and seen in media—how really crappy life CAN be and actually IS for vast numbers of humans. Of course I have setbacks and disappointments, struggles, anxieties and fears. But they are in the past, and as much as possible, I keep on looking forward.

The Buddhists say Life is Suffering. M.Scott Peck (who lived and worked just a few miles from me) says in his book, The Road Less Traveled (10 million sold), that Life is difficult. It is filled with problems and pain. It takes discipline to deal with them. It is only because of the problems that we grow mentally and physically. Many people attempt to avoid problems and suffering instead of dealing with them.

Somehow I have been able to wend my way through and around many of my problems. It’s not clear to me how or why I achieved this. I attacked them obliquely or confronted others head on. But I credit much of the progress to chance, luck and good genes. All around me are contemporaries who have had serious illnesses, injured their limbs or were born with organs that let them down. Some of these incidents might have been prevented if they’d eaten less or exercised more or paid a bit more attention. But a few are sick, because their military service resulted in exposure to toxic chemicals. Maybe, like my father, they looked left instead of right and were hit by a car…or like a friend who looked straight ahead and broke legs, when he fell through a hole in a roof. Others went on vacations to remote places and came back with lifelong diseases. Life can be so cruel.

When I was working full-time, I almost never exercised. I just couldn’t make time for it. It’s only now that I am semi-retired, and not forced to work eight-plus hours every day, that I finally have the psychological strength and time to exercise and play sports. Many friends have been enjoying the gym and sports their whole lives. They had to do this. It was not a choice. It is who they are. And when you exert yourself like that, you will have injuries, soreness, and wear out your body. So by age 71 or younger, they are no longer able to participate.

Fortunately, my genes, my attitude, my diet and now my physical activities have brought me to this wonderful, but totally ridiculous, place, where I care about six-packs, tennis swings and low cholesterol. I want to be fully alive, and good health is the highest priority. I have been sick and confined to hospitals. Without health, you just can’t partake in many of life’s activities. If these words help guide you to a fuller, lengthier and satisfied life, I would love to hear about it. I don’t know how I became who I am. But here I am, making the most of a blessed journey.

I hope you enjoyed this day, my birth day. I just learned that April 5th is also the birthday of Colin Powell, Booker T. Washington, Thomas Hobbes Gregory Peck, Bette Davis, Spencer Tracy and Melvyn Douglas.

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Kathy Martin Keeps Breaking Running Records

Here is a story about Kathy Martin, a 60-year-old Long island, NY real estate broker who began running when she was 30 and then, “sometime in her late 40s…discovered…she was one of the most remarkable female distance runners in the world…

Last November, in the Philadelphia half-marathon, she finished in 1:28:28, 44th out of 5,888 women. She easily won the 60-to-64 age bracket; only three of her peers were in the top 2,000. Her time was so fast she would have finished sixth among women 30 to 34…

Distance running is more popular than ever. Running USA, a nonprofit organization that promotes the sport, counted 13 million finishers in road races in 2010, up from 5.2 million in 1991 and 500,000 in 1976. Much of the rise comes from aging baby boomers, building their stamina like a retirement nest egg. In 2010, 45 percent of all finishers were 40 or older; in 1991, the percentage was 35 percent, in 1976 only 28 percent.

Recent medical research shows that many of the ravages of aging are not so much inevitable as voluntary. Muscles do not have to shrivel, joints do not have to stiffen. Earlier expectations of physical deterioration were based on studies of sedentary people. But there is a marked difference in durability between the fat and the fit, the layers and the players. People who continue to exercise intensively have a much slower rate of decline…

Martin usually works out seven days a week, not four or five. She runs and does plyometric exercises that emphasize strength and speed. She eats sensibly though not fanatically….

Her face looks young for 60, and her legs have the muscle tone of an athlete half her age…“I hope I do this until the day I die,” she said. “I want to be all used up, just a wisp of dust left.”

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Johanna Quaas Is World’s Oldest Gymnast At 86

Johanna does moves at 86 that most of us could never do

A friend once said that I have a site for old people. Sort of annoyed me. When I see athletically fit old people—and 86 is definitely old and not middle aged—it gives me the inspiration to keep on acting like a younger person. If the oldsters can do it, no matter how rare or exceptional, then maybe I can be one of them too. And if the youngsters mind their diet and develop healthy habits, they will enjoy the vitality of capable bodies much longer than if they think it will all be ok without paying attention.

I do admit that it looks strange to see this old German Granny, white hair and wrinkles, performing tricks that I couldn’t do at 24. But watch her do the moves…She must have good abs!

COTTBUS, Germany–Gymnast Johanna Quaas, 86, performed an impressive parallel bar and floor demonstration after finals concluded at Germany’s Cottbus Challenger Cup – setting the new world record for the Oldest Gymnast, according to World Records Academy: www.worldrecordsacademy.org/.

Displaying balance, strength and flexiblity that would be the envy of someone a quarter her age, Quaas’s floor routine included a handstand forward roll, cartwheel, backward roll and headstand, while on the bars she performed a full planche, holding her body taught and parallel to the ground.

A multiple-time senior champion of artistic gymnastics in Germany, Quaas, from Halle in Saxony only took up gymnastics when she was 30, putting an end to the belief that the sport is the preserve of the young.

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Starting New Habits Is Easier Than Breaking Old Habits

On March 31, I wrote about the difficulty of changing bad habits. And how I read that it is better to create a totally new habit, which leads to new neural paths and doesn’t demand the near impossible re-routing of an existing muscle-memory routine.

So it was perfect that after months of frustration, during which I saw that my serve and ground strokes were not as powerful as many of the men I was playing with, I was prepared to give up what I had been doing and try something—ANYTHING—new. Here is how I learned about, and have begun using, a totally different way to play tennis that is working beyond my wildest dreams.

Rob Ober, a top tennis coach I know at the Kent School in Kent CT, asked me for the first time if I wanted to hit with him, to help him get back in shape for the beginning of his season. I said yes enthusiastically.

(I have known Rob for six years, when he coached my daughter on the varsity team. But when I asked him to give me lessons, he directed me to his #1 player. However he is now giving lessons and can be reached via email: obergallery@yahoo.com.)

We stopped after an hour, and Rob made some comments about my swings and stance: “You should keep your feet planted and use an open stance. Your chest should face the net on a forehand. You do pivot 90 degrees on a backhand, but bring the racket head back quicker by holding the throat of the racket with your left hand. And when your ball goes into the net, you know you are lurching forward, which is a mistake.”

Aha! I thought. I had originally learned the classic way to hit, by turning my body perpendicular to the net and raising my racket before swinging. I had no effective backhand. Then I was introduced by Frank Adams (a coach for 50 years) to a very unconventional way to swing that had me turning slightly away from the net and dropping the racket. There was no need to bend my knees, and that style gave me such an improved backhand, that I embraced it immediately. But I saw after a couple of years that both of my swings lacked power. Frank can execute it, but I didn’t generate the power he and others with more conventional swings did.

Now here is Rob, a top coach who roomed with Andre Agassi at Nick Bollittieri’s Florida Tennis Academy, offering me a third method. I jumped on it.

What a joke. The first time I tried it with a better player who always beats me, I won just ONE GAME in three sets. Usually I win two or three, and sometimes four in ONE set. But none? Or just one? Over 60% of my strokes went long. Terrible!!! This fellow told me that keeping my feet planted was a mistake. Maybe I missed one of Rob’s vital points.

I watched the pros on TV and saw that they pivoted their feet after the swing, so I tried that the next time, and had a better result. But still not great. Then I was playing at the school, and Rob came in with his students, and I barely had time to tell him the results. He said I had to also bend my knees and rise up, just like a basketball toss, so that I can transfer my weight into the ball. And keep the face of the racket facing the net—never the frame pointing at the other side—so that a top spin will be created.

The next day I tried that in a strong game in which I am one of the weaker players, and by god, I was a new man. I hit a much more powerful ball, it went in more than out, it had spin. I was ecstatic.

It turned out to be much easier to learn a completely new way to hit the ball than to keep on trying to slightly change the old way. I was creating new circuits and new muscle memories. Rob also told me to look at the ceiling after I served, rather than watch the ball or the seams. Finally I learned that when I bend my knees on the serve, I should be bending DOWN for more power and not leaning back on just my right leg. A major difference that I never appreciated. My serve is now also “more better.”

I can’t wait to play again this week and create more comfort with the new ways of hitting. And it was so easy to adopt a completely new way to swing. Now if only I can discover or be taught new ways to do things in the rest of my life. I guess that is where teachers, coaches and self-help books come in pret-ty handy.

Rob also said, “What people do not realize is that the first movement in any stroke usually determines the outcome and effectiveness of the stroke.” Maybe I can apply that to daily personal and business life as well.

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Micah True Is Gone

Too bad it’s over for Micah. 58 doesn’t seem so old to me…

Searchers on Saturday found the body of renowned long-distance runner Micah True, who vanished four days earlier after heading out from a lodge for a morning run in the rugged wilderness near New Mexico’s Gila National Forest.

The cause of death was still unknown, but there were no obvious signs of trauma. The 58-year-old True, whose extreme-distance running prowess is detailed in the book “Born to Run,” set out on what — for him — would have been a routine 12-mile run Tuesday from The Wilderness Lodge and Hot Springs, where he was staying. He left his dog at the lodge and never returned. A search began the next day.

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