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Posts Tagged sports

Keep Moving

I went to the doctor this week to be examined for a possible hernia…or a kidney stone…or a tumor. I felt tenderness and slight discomfort after straining myself lifting weights. But after 17 days it had all gone away. My doctor is always supportive. He sees so many men my age who are in such worse shape that I always hear the same reaction: “You are doing fine, great…don’t worry about anything. Keep doing what you are doing.”

Then I mentioned how I had hurt my back as well and felt really uncomfortable rising from a bed or chair. How I couldn’t sit for more than a few minutes in one position while driving. And then I would reach the tennis court and start playing…and within minutes I wasn’t even aware of any problem. I wouldn’t even think about it until the match was over.

Movement is everything, the doc told me. Keep moving to improve blood flow, warmth, oxygen.

It reminded me of what I once read about the famous cellist, Pablo Casals, who was so arthritic he could barely move around, dress himself or use his hands. But then he would shuffle to the piano or cello, slowly arrange himself and start playing effortlessly and smoothly. His body would transform into suppleness and ease. The link above refers to Norman Cousins great book, Anatomy of an Illness, which illustrates the power of the body over the mind.

Here is someone else’s version of those passages:

The following is a description of the ninety year old musician Pablo Casals:

Upon rising in the morning,…Casals dressed with difficulty. He suffered from emphysema and apparent rheumatoid arthritis. “He was badly stooped. His head was pitched forward and he walked with a shuffle. His hands were swollen and his fingers were clenched.” Then, playing Bach on the piano before breakfast, Casal’s fingers unlocked, his back straightened, and he seemed to breath more freely. Next, playing Brahms, “his fingers, now agile and powerful, raced across the keyboard with dazzling speed. His entire body seemed fused with the music; it was no longer stiff and shrunken, but supple and graceful and completely freed of its arthritic coils.” Having finished at the keyboard, Casals stood up, straighter and taller than before. “He walked to breakfast with no trace of a shuffle, ate heartily, talked animatedly, finished the meal, then went for a walk on the beach.”

Tennis is my cello…should be a book title.

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Fears And Injuries Off The Couch

In the last few months, I have been unusually active, mostly on the tennis courts…sometimes four consecutive days a week, as I am asked to sub. These efforts are in addition to my daily indoor exercises for 10-20 minutes. The result has been fear and injuries.

I was bitten by a tick before I went overseas and worried that the aches in my shoulders and knees were signs of Lyme disease. It may have been weight lifting.

Then I went tobogganing and crashed…discovered a bruised, purple toe that I thought was broken. But it wasn’t, and the pain quickly became mere discomfort and then went away.

I did some crossfit squats with weights and strained something near my groin…so I worried that I had a hernia (the doctor told me what to look for and concluded via my telephone call that it wasn’t that), but I also worried that I might have the beginnings of cancer!

I did some rowing and lat pulldowns on machines in a Florida hotel gym and hurt my back…couldn’t walk straight…hunched over and constantly hurting, whether lying down or sitting up. But after two hot showers a day and some gentle stretching, I was able to play tennis anyway.

I also took four tennis lessons in Florida, where it was incredibly humid and 80 degrees. One time I was way past exhaustion and was determined not to stop before my hour was over. I did worry that I would pass out–but not die on the court, like some other players I have heard about back home.

I hate all these injuries. I hate my fear of being struck down at any time by over exertion or disease that might be deadly. Yet I realize that I am bringing all these risks on myself by choosing to rise up off the couch in the first place. It is an expected result.

Yes the sports are fun. Yes a walk in the woods exposes me to ticks. Yes gym exercises can lead to muscle strain. What other option is there? I sit enough at the desk and watching TV as it is.

Life is always a compromise. You always pay a price. But I often wonder if I am smart about it. The fact that I can do it all, when others my age are using walkers and canes, forces me to take advantage of my abilities, while I have them. It would be such a waste to just sit, when I don’t have to.

And the injuries are so minor compared to others with real illnesses and handicaps, that I simply can’t whine about a little discomfort. So I keep exerting and risking and enjoying and loving a great tennis shot, higher weight on the machine, or a new muscle definition. I guess that’s what makes me who I am, even if some people find my achievements and abilities annoying.

Use it or lose it…and don’t whine or complain out loud.

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Dynamic Bits Of Incredible Action Videos

I can’t seem to get enough of these clips that show such beautiful, accomplished and dangerous moments in real people’s lives. Watching the Olympic skiers racing downhill at 80mph, I accept easily that I am not of their ilk. These people are from a different species.

One frustration is that I want to see more of the snippets. Fortunately the editor, Luc Bergeron, published this link to all 187 videos that he cut from. Fantastic…just find the number of the video you want to see more of, and you can be entertained for hours and days…

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240 Glorious Sports Clips

This an amazing assemblage of sports clips–240 of them– that show the beauty and grace of all kinds of sports. The editor, Luc Bergeron, has created many similar videos that you might want to look at here .

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Women Athletes At Peak Performance

peak athletes' different bodies

peak athletes’ different bodies

photos by Howard Schatz

photos by Howard Schatz

The images, taken by photographer Howard Schatz for his 2002 book, Athlete, recently resurfaced, reminding us of the diversity of women’s bodies.

What impresses me is how different body types are often needed to excel at different sports. (It reminds me of David Epstein’s book, The Sports Gene, which I will cover later…although here is an advance peek.)

Schatz interviewed and photographed hundreds of athletes for the book, a project he says was inspired by his interest in human variation and the musculoskeletal system. “I was also interested in passion,” he told the Huffington Post in a phone interview. “I was interested in what got them to do this. Because to become a champion, you have to put away so many things in life.”

You can read the whole article here.

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Mongolian Muscle Boy

Mongol boy flexes muscles in his ger

Mongol boy flexes muscles in his ger

Inside his mushroom-shaped, one-room house with no privacy, called a ger, this little boy posed for a photo. His brothers had been outside beating long lengths of hide cut into narrow strips against a rock to soften them up for use as leather ropes. I saw their dad the night before on his motorcycle rounding up his herd of horses and flocks of sheep and goats. Their nomadic life on the grassland steppes is hundreds, maybe thousands, of years old. And their love of some sports is the subject of another post.

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You Won’t Believe Some Of These

I am almost speechless after watching this People Are Awesome 2013 video. There are athletic stunts and achievements here I have never even heard of, and many are clearly somewhat established “sports.” It also reminds me how nuts some people are to take these risks…like walking a tightrope between two moving trucks about to enter two different tunnels. Still can’t believe that is for real.

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Nailed It

Here are various athletic achievements people excel at…from flips over approaching cars to extinguishing candle flames with a flicked card:

I spend hours every week practicing tennis…but I love the competitive aspect of the points and the various unexpected shots I have to return successfully. Somehow devoting hours and hours to going down stairs by just sliding down the edges of the steps is not worthwhile to me…but it certainly looks cool. Some of these, however, are definitely sports achievements…

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Keeping Sports In Perspective And Dealing With Envy

I write this after a week of sadness from the Boston bombings. Right now the manhunt is on for the second suspect.

I have been playing a lot of tennis: tomorrow will be 12 out of 18 days. When I missed shots yesterday, I couldn’t get upset—I was alive and safe. I was healthy enough to be active, while others my age are dead, too sick to run around, or not fit enough to play. Yesterday I hit the best lobs of my life. My ground strokes are improving after I learned a new technique. My serve is a bit harder.

I also had a physical and received the blood work: my cholesterol is still below 200 (197) and my PSA is healthy. Avoiding all those delicious cream sauces and desserts and buttery breads has some benefit. I do miss them though.

I am certainly proud that all the hard work and discipline is paying off. Some boys in their 20′s tell me that I still inspire them with my healthy living. Unfortunately, there are people who are older who find my good health and physical activity “irritating.” They seem to be envious and don’t want to hear about it. They resent my good genetic inheritance. They are jealous that I am able to make myself avoid certain foods, minimize alcohol and fat intake. It is frustrating for me that I have to hide this physical success. Yet here I am the second time in 10 days dealing with other people’s annoyance at my achievements. But it is how humans are. Some things don’t change…you can see infants fighting over who is better and who should keep the toys. Adults are often just infants in grown up bodies…

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Small Town Athletes Have An Edge

As London becomes the latest big metropolitan city hosts the Olympic Summer Games, many of the athletes competing come from small towns all over the world.

US Olympians like swimmer Nathalie Coughlin, marathon runner Ryan Hall, and hockey player Lauren Crandall all come from towns with a population of less than 10,000.

A study by Jean Cote of Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada showed that a majority of professional American football players came from small towns, even though 80% of Americans lived in bigger cities.

The BBC’s Franz Strasser went to Jonesboro, Arkansas, where former Olympic pole vaulter Earl Bell trains current Olympians like Jeremy Scott. Two out of the three US men’s pole vaulters train here.

The trainer talks about why small towns are better equipped to raise an athlete.

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What Are Your Goals In Sports?

David Brooks wrote a column in today’s New York Times about the moral differences between professional sport and religious teachings. The excerpt below about why we watch sports and why professionals play sports and what they are thinking may not be totally accurate, but it is worth sharing to readers of this site. I have written often, and said just this week on the tennis court, that “it’s only a game.” Yes I want to win, but striving to win the point, experiencing the challenge, the uncertainty, the satisfaction of a skillful shot, the respect of my fellows and the admiration for an opponent’s winner are all part of why I play sports. What about you? What are your goals beyond victory, domination and maybe local fame?

The moral universe of modern sport is oriented around victory and supremacy. The sports hero tries to perform great deeds in order to win glory and fame. It doesn’t really matter whether he has good intentions. His job is to beat his opponents and avoid the oblivion that goes with defeat.

The modern sports hero is competitive and ambitious. (Let’s say he’s a man, though these traits apply to female athletes as well). He is theatrical. He puts himself on display.

He is assertive, proud and intimidating. He makes himself the center of attention when the game is on the line. His identity is built around his prowess. His achievement is measured by how much he can elicit the admiration of other people — the roar of the crowd and the respect of ESPN.

His primary virtue is courage — the ability to withstand pain, remain calm under pressure and rise from nowhere to topple the greats.

This is what we go to sporting events to see. This sporting ethos pervades modern life and shapes how we think about business, academic and political competition.

But there’s no use denying — though many do deny it — that this ethos violates the religious ethos on many levels. The religious ethos is about redemption, self-abnegation and surrender to God.

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Mind-Boggling Sports Stunts In 3D

This is a thrilling collection of death-defying sports clips in an almost-3D mode that adds to the breath-takingness of the stunts. I can’t believe people have the courage to do some of these things. I can’t imagine how many takes it took to get these mind-boggling shots.

Enjoy the video.

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How To Destroy Your Game In One Easy Lesson

So I played tennis one day last week…a vacation week for both my kids who kept me up until 2,4, even 6 am one morning: we watch TV, do jig saw puzzles, eat pop corn, laugh a lot. Great time for bonding, but I become tired. However all the parenting books insist that you have to spend quality time with older kids when THEY want to do it, not when it’s convenient for the parents.

But it’s not then possible to sleep uninterruptedly for the next 12 hours, like the kids can. Noooooo. The dogs bark at 8 wanting to be let out and fed, the UPS trucks ring the door for signatures. So I was really, really tired.

Then my son wanted to play squash…in the evening after he visited his friends. By the time we finished at 9 pm and started dinner at 11, I was almost punchy. Asleep at 1 or 1:30, I was in poor condition for a morning tennis singles game that I’d accepted with a player who’d never called before. And then three other guys after that who desperately needed a New year’s Eve day fourth.

I was exhausted, doped, numb and dazed. No focus, no skill, no anything. I lost all four sets of singles: 2-6, 0-6, 0-6, 0-6. I played the worst tennis in two years. So much for being at the top of my game. So much for applying all the new spins, serves and lobs I’d been taught. I hope that fellow calls me back another time. I sure didn’t make a very good impression. Although he did see how admiring I was of his terrific shots and admitted that he had a new racket that was working beautifully. And as long as he was playing so well and saw that I was not getting angry being slaughtered, he would keep on doing the best he could. Which he did. I felt like a sparring partner who was there for the champ to pummel. To allow his fists to get toughened up on real human flesh, rather than a punching bag. So much for my good attitude.

Should I have turned him down, when he asked me to hit? I couldn’t. Too tempting. But I ended up being a zombie who could neither function nor think. No regrets. Just an increased awareness that you need your sleep and rest to be good at the test…

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Bill Ale’s Running and Cycling Story: There Are No Short Cuts, And One Can Achieve Almost Anything With Commitment and Hard Work

Bill Ale (L) and friend cycling in the Italian Alps—9/08

Bill Ale (L) and friend cycling in the Italian Alps—9/08

Hard work and commitment is the key to any athletic endeavor! Only a very small percentage of athletes have that genetic gift that seems to allow them to excel with minimal work. Most of us have to accept what we were given at birth and sculpt that into whatever athletic objective we may want to pursue or achieve. I am a perfect example of the latter guy.

I am a 58 year old, retired male and have been involved in competitive sport my entire life. I was not given the perfect body, but what I was given was heart. I learned that even though I did not have all the tools, I still could achieve anything if I committed myself to it and worked hard enough. 

After I got out of college, for the first time in my life, I had no sport, and much to my surprise I began to notice my pants more snug and my mid section starting to expand. So I began to jog, which I really didn’t care for, but I stayed with it. One day, while in the men’s room at Southern Connecticut State University, where I was attending graduate school, a frail looking gentleman approached me after noticing my running shoes and asked me if I was a runner. I sheepishly said, I was. He introduced himself and said he was also a runner. In fact, he said he was a marathoner. I was intrigued, as I had read some of Bill Roger’s books on marathon training.

48 Switchbacks of the Stelvio Pass in Italy—One of Bill Ale's best rides on a bike—9/08

48 Switchbacks of the Stelvio Pass in Italy—One of Bill Ale's best rides on a bike—9/08

Make a long story short, we set a date to “run” together. Our running date was a torture fest for me as I tried my best to keep up with him for the 5 miles we ran. After the run he offered me some constructive tips and wrote down a basic training schedule for me. I followed that schedule and soon began to see improvements. As the old adage goes “the better you are the better it gets”. I was hooked. I set my sights on running the Manchester Thanksgiving Day Road Race with my new running friend.

On the big day, which happened to be my first race, I had no clue where to line up for the start. So I lined up next to my friend, which happened to be in the second row right behind Amby Burfoot, Bill Rogers and Frank Shorter. The gun sounded and we were off. Mile one, I passed at a 5:10 pace. Mile 2, I was in a survival shuffle and by mile 3, I was walking. A harsh reality! I learned alot that day, mostly that positive outcomes are a product of commitment and hard work. Something I had not done. There are no short cuts.

One year after that memorable day and many miles I ran my first marathon in 3 hours and 55 minutes. Over the next two years, I joined a running club, trained hard and managed to lower my marathon time to just under 3 hours. Lots of 80 mile weeks . I did manage to get a PR of 2:53 in New York, but shortly after that I injured my knee, which ended my running career. Read the rest of this entry »

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A New Kind Of Tennis and A New Game Called Squash

Tuesday the 14th was energetic. I hit tennis balls for 2 ½ hours with a couple of guys, one a former coach of 50+ years who has taught me a whole different way to play the game that he invented about 20 years ago. His insights and method worked so well for me that I became a believer and practitioner right away–completely abandoned all I had been taught during my first year of instruction. Frank Adams has written a book that is still unpublished. I give him some feedback to the manuscript, and he gives me some demonstration and guidance on how to apply his techniques and philosophy about the game. I am improving considerably, and feeling restless to play with younger opponents. That means men in their 50’s!

A friend with his own squash court had invited me to play with him in the afternoon–so I did, for about an hour and a quarter. They say playing squash—and I hadn’t played a game for about two years—will ruin your tennis swing. But I have only been on a squash court maybe 20 times in my life.

I love watching the game, ever since I first saw my daughter play and eventually make the varsity team. I then began following the squash team at Trinity College in Hartford which has won the national championship 11 years in a row and is undefeated after 202 matches. Who knows why we like certain activities, foods, people? We just do and are blessed if we can satisfy these inclinations and leanings. We are moths heading for the flame sometimes…but we generally can’t stop ourselves. And why even try if we are just watching a ball game?

So I played squash and did poorly and will take my second lesson on Sunday to learn how to hit the ball off the wall. But this is as much physical activity as I have done since the army, and I am feeling deliciously tired. It’s that good ache that satisfies and feels like I have accomplished something.

I am inching closer to a goal that I have set for myself. I am proud of this achievement, brag to friends about it, put up with their teasing back at me when I tell them that I want abs–after all, that is the kind of goal that a teenager or bodybuilder would be expressing, not a 60-something like me. At my age, I should be striving for doing more good for the world and others, not going after a “six-pack.” Pretty selfish and very self-centered. Nevertheless, I am determined…

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My Gym and Athletic History

Back to the gym–it’s 40 minutes away, so the round trip visit for a one-hour workout is a 2 ½ to 3-hour commitment. I was told that going once a week just keeps me somewhat toned. Going twice a week starts to build muscle. I have made it to the gym eight times in one month only twice since I joined. Four to six times a month is my normal pattern. I wear tank tops and admire the cuts when I puff out. I have been told that I am “ripped.” But you can see that I find it hard to get there. And I almost never lift weights or do anything at home. Maybe that will change now that I am blogging…I hope so.

My life has not been the usual active, sports-filled one my friends can look back upon. There were two physical years in my 20’s in the army that included jumping out of planes five times after three weeks of heavy conditioning. But then I worked long long hours in offices for most of three decades. So I never felt I had time to exercise. I occasionally did push-ups. I skied downhill now and then. There were three years in my early 40’s (maybe 1983 to 1985) when I played with martial arts almost once a week after work—first aikido and then capoeira from Brazil. The aikido philosophy made me successful in business—if you like, I’ll tell you about it later. The capoeira demanded cartwheels and squats—I was really fit then. However I stopped, fell apart and did nothing much that was physical. That’s the history.

Things changed a little after 1991, because I moved full-time to a rural farm, discovered I liked the outdoors and began walking in the woods. I also went cross-country skiing five to ten times each winter. Then I took up tennis two years ago—playing once a week, sometimes twice. It’s usually doubles, and the other guys are over 70—one is 93. They don’t run very much—many have had hip transplants or other surgeries—but they can really place the ball perfectly after 60 years of practice. I love that I have to run around, and also the challenge of hitting a sweet shot. And within the last two months, I started playing squash. So I am now becoming physical in my late 60’s the way most males are in their teens and 20’s. Oh well, later beats never…

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