Posts Tagged life lessons

You Have To Laugh At Life

hahahahahahaha. Ya got me!

So just ONE day after my last post about how fragile Life can be, I start having shooting pains in my abdomen—about 12 of them over the last three days. Like an ice pick stabbing in my right side. Of course it’s the weekend, so I don’t rush to the doctor. But should I go to the emergency ward?

And I had just had two really intense workouts, so I was admiring my abs and feeling strong and healthy. By yesterday I was reading about appendicitis, hernia, diverticulitis, colon cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, looking at pictures of human anatomy, changing my diet, wondering how I could have an ulcer, fearing I am bleeding internally, thinking maybe I tore muscles, also feeling slight tingling up my right side and extending to my triceps. I mean this is crazy. I am SO healthy.

Yet here I am worrying about illness and death. Terrible. Are all these fears just a few millimeters below the surface of my daily mental life? Are these the anxieties I and others live with all the time? Pathetic. But nerve wracking.

So I changed my diet immediately, because the pains often came on when I started eating. I gave up gas-producing carbohydrates. I threw out some prepared foods. I drank more water. I semi-fasted. I skipped a daily yogurt. Maybe I was having modest food-poisoning? Maybe I had caught an intestinal bug. I didn’t have fever, shakes, dizziness, etc.

For the moment I feel OK. But these kinds of extreme frights are ridiculous. How do I stop them?

…20 minutes after writing this, I read a column about trauma that started like this and just embarrasses my feeling any anxiety about a few stomach pains. Life is fragile and also totally relative.

Tragedy has twice visited the Woodiwiss family. In 2008, Anna Woodiwiss, then 27, was working for a service organization in Afghanistan. On April 1, she went horseback riding and was thrown, dying from her injuries. In 2013, her younger sister Catherine, then 26, was biking to work from her home in Washington. She was hit by a car and her face was severely smashed up. She has endured and will continue to endure a series of operations. For a time, she breathed and ate through a tube, unable to speak. The recovery is slow.

…two days after writing this, the nurse practitioner at the doctor’s office told me I had probably strained a muscle, and I should take it easy for a few days: fewer reps, less weight, if I insist on my daily exercising. Today is the 27th, and I seem to be healing…

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Life Becomes More Fragile

I was a bit scared this week, when someone had to stop playing after just three games and said it was his heart. Should he go to the hospital? Are his tennis decades at an end? It was the same court, where a man just dropped and died at age 85 some years ago.

Two summers ago, I played doubles with a man in his early 70’s who stopped after just a game or two. His playing days ended right then. Too much pain in a leg after giving it a few weeks rest, I think. This August he was riding his bike and his heart gave out. How awful.

At my local indoor courts, I always see the “old-men’s game,” because they are there five days a week at 8:30 AM, and range from mid-80’s to 90 years old. Some can hardly run or move quickly. But I long to join them, if I make it to their phase of life. For now I admit that there is a tiny bit of anxiety that any serious ache or pain might signal the end of my athletic days…maybe my life. A constant fear that I can usually dismiss and forget about it.

Anxiety is a deadener in its own right. Millions have it, own up to it, try to overcome it with drugs, meditation or therapy. I know a retired cardiologist who dealt with life and death issues by burning up his tension running a few miles every day. And many friends talk about their fear of those doctor visits, when they might hear the dreaded diagnosis that will lead to no more: sports, athletics, frivolity, and life.

When I watch the deer and birds outside, they are constantly alert to danger from predators…every time they put their heads down to eat. In a developed country’s middle-class society, we generally don’t have to worry about being cut down physically by bullets and bombs–though car crashes are a risk–but there is still the reality of the doctor saying we too have a terminal illness. So it goes. Whatever. It’s why I play while I can and strive to live healthfully.

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Improving Your Tennis Or Your Life

In the last week, my tennis game has jumped to a higher level…in the opinions of those playing with me. I can feel it too.

Among the reasons for my stronger strokes and serve is great advice from a high school classmate I saw recently who has been a tennis coach for decades. Marilyn gave me suggestions that I have been working on for two weeks…and then it all came together during four tennis matches in the third week. I was the best ever. Everyone was surprised and commenting. My net game was also terrific, and I had few unforced errors.

I have always said that Life is a Smorgasbord, and you have to sample all the dishes to find out which ones you like. Marilyn told me to do things that were very different from other instructors I have taken lessons from and watched on video. So I was eager to experiment…anything to hit a harder ball with accuracy. Her techniques work for me…so my game is now at a new and much higher level…this is really fun. Especially when I can startle people who think they are going to dominate me.

Of course I think the same lesson applies off the court and in your everyday life: keep experimenting, don’t ever give up, maintain your enthusiasm, don’t be afraid to change old habits, embrace new ways that might be better. Unfortunately I see that most people are too comfortable with their established routines to risk failing in new efforts.

A Zen parable asks you to assume you only have one arm and hand and are holding a small bit of water in a glass. Now consider reaching for the pitcher that has more water. Most people realize that they have to put down the glass first, AND AT THAT MOMENT THEY HAVE NOTHING. So they hold back and settle for the smaller amount/achievement/standard, etc.

Would you take the chance of losing everything to go for a bigger life? Most of us are very cautious in that situation. It’s scary to try a new way of relating to people or changing careers or making money. That’s way people generally stick with what is familiar and do things the way “they have always been done.” Which is quite difficult in these days of constant and rapid change.

Luckily hitting the tennis ball differently isn’t that big a deal. So I took the chance and seem to be winning the bet. We’ll see how long this peak performance continues…

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When The Student Is Ready, The Teacher Will Come

You can’t cram advice or lessons into peoples’ brains, if they are not ready to receive them. We all become overwhelmed in certain situations…you can see your friend’s eyes glaze over, when you are giving such “needed, helpful guidance.” But staying patient is really hard in the early stages of a learning process.

I was aware of that again for myself recently from both sides of the divide. Some one asked me for advice, I gave it, they ignored it, and I think they are making a big mistake. But it’s not my problem. It’s just that the right way to behave—in this case NOT making a very expensive purchase—seemed so crystal clear to me. But my friend doesn’t see it that way and took actions that I pray don’t get him into financial trouble. Hopefully I am wrong.

The teacher came to ME this week, while watching the Barclay tennis doubles finals in London. I saw finally that in spite of what I had been taught to do, the pros were standing much closer to the net. I suddenly want to do the same, and two coaches I asked about it said I could stand as close as feels comfortable…doesn’t have to be in the middle of the box. Similarly, I finally noticed that doubles pros on TV serve and come up to the net, rather than hanging around the base line. I feel ready to do that as well.

So now I see in my brain what has always been reaching my eyes, when I watch the pros. But it hasn’t registered with me before…too much of a beginner…or intermediate player, and just not my time to “get” these lessons. It’s a good sign, gives me more confidence in my game, and I am starting to do it when I play. You can’t be surprised, when I tell you that old habits die hard, and I can’t always remember to rush toward the net after serving, or stand closer to the net. But I am eager to make these changes. Something has finally clicked. I must be ready.

As you know from earlier posts, I think of tennis and other sports as metaphors for life. You can learn a great deal about people from how they play the game, and you can learn even more about yourself. Then I am always attempting to extrapolate what I learn about playing tennis to the game of life, particularly when I am improving my skills at tennis. Maybe a flawed connection…but I love making the effort.

The TV announcers talk so often about how a player has lost, or has less, confidence…even the greats like Roger Federer, who is losing more than he used to. Believing you can win and staying relaxed, rather than tense and rigid, are such fuzzy terms. Clearly defined and visible observations are so much easier to follow. But that ain’t happening on the court or in the life mix. Nevertheless, I keep on swinging, and as a friend wrote yesterday, “keep on hitting winners…”

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A Moment On The Lips, Forever On The Hips

Un momento en los labios, para el resto en las caderas. That’s the phrase I bumped into in a Spanish language phrase book. The editor sure has a sense of humor.

I remember my capoeira mestre telling me he never ever drank a drop of alcohol. It was like taking poison. It would affect his athletic performance for sure. Yet just two days ago a friend who is considering expensive stem cell injections in another country stated that if he gave up drinking, he would grow more stem cells naturally. But he loves his wine or liquor too much.

I know former alcoholics (they would say they are never “former”) who refuse to take one drink for fear that their old compulsions will take hold. I understand completely how one little slip can lead to much bigger deviations. On a recent trip to Spain and France, it was impossible not to be served meat, cheese and cream in the food. It was everywhere, and these are three foods I gave up to keep my cholesterol low. I definitely miss chorizo sausage, so I had one little taste. Suddenly I was eating cured ham, salamis, lamb. Heavenly tastes. I tried cheeses I used to eat, had vegetables in cream sauce, and many flans with egg yolks. It was all delicious.

Of course I thought neurotically that I was on the way to killing myself. Ridiculous. But I started rowing again in a hotel gym on that trip. That kind of cardio really burns up the cholesterol. Thank goodness I left after 12 days of this food orgy. I was thrilled to get home and eat more normally for me. Much healthier.

But the idea of a short term deprivation for a longer term benefit is too difficult for most people. Whether the goal is to lose weight, be healthier, or save money. Humans want the immediate gratification. Just heard about a recent study testing whether people could give up some money in the short run to make more over time. If they had to wait a few hours or a day, they could. Wait a few days or a week…forget it. No wonder people can’t save money or invest in long term projects with payoffs years away. It’s how our species functions…maybe how we have survived for centuries. We will see if this pattern works when dealing with commodities shortages and climate change. In the short run, see if you can give up one food pleasure for a week. Catholics do it for Lent, right? Isn’t that 40 days?

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Tatyana McFadden Is Inspiring Marathoner

Tatyana wants the triple crown of wheelchair marathons

Tatyana wants the triple crown of wheelchair marathons

Here is another inspiring story: a girl is born with spina bifida and has no use of her legs…paralyzed from the waist down. So she walks on her hands, develops extraordinary arm, shoulder and back muscles and grows up racing in wheelchair marathons. She wins them, excels at skiing. Amazing.

What makes the difference between a person like this and one who just vegetates in a wheelchair and does nothing? Parenting? A mentor? You have to admire this kind of achievement.

And Tatyana is going for first place in three major marathons in a year, which no one able-bodied or disabled has apparently ever done…she has won this year the Boston, London and is now training for the Chicago Marathon. Good luck!!!

Update…she won it. Congratulations…

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I Never Give Up

One of the lessons I learned early in life is that you can’t give up. You have to keep plugging, trying, working to achieve your goal. It sounds obvious, but I am amazed how often others settle for second place or failure. Now second place doesn’t sound so bad…unless there are just two of you competing on opposite sides of the tennis court. So often I have to pep up my partner in doubles who is resigned to losing…even though that partner is a much better and more consistent player than I am. Surprising!

We were losing something like 2-5 and down 5-40. But I told my partner that “I never give up.” I am sure he smiled skeptically…but we came back and won the set. Fortunately for me, lots of other players were watching our comeback. Gave me some cred with these much better players. I was just a sub at the time, scraped off the bottom of the barrel at the last minute of desperation. Since then, I have been invited to sub more often.

I was proud to show my children how I wrote an op ed piece about partisanship and fights between Repubs and Demos. Then it was rejected by the NYTimes and some other major papers. I found a list of the 100 biggest papers in the country and started offering it to the largest circulation ones first. I was pretty worn out by all the rejection, but the 45th one I sent it to–the Seattle Times–published it enthusiastically. A good example and role model for a child.

I used to tell salespeople who worked for me that if you contact 100 prospects, you might find 10 who are interested…and then one–only one–might bite. But you have to keep calling. You can’t stop after 13 and say no one wants what you are offering. I built a successful publishing company with that attitude.

So all those years of successes after persistent action gave me more encouragement and confirmation that you should keep going, put in more effort, never stop striving towards your goal.

What happens if you do that and fail early on, never succeed, don’t see the sense of continuing to make the effort? I guess your life experience would convince you that you should stop trying. I mean what’s the sense of keeping going? Only rats keep going down the same dead end of the maze.

Is it just luck? How did I acquire that attitude of persisting? Was I born with it? My father was an extreme optimist. My mother thought he saw the world with rose-colored glasses. She wasn’t as hopeful about things as he was. I thought he was often naive. I thought she was often more realistic. But both world views seemed to have rubbed off on me. Helped me turn out pretty well.

I am a believer…I never give up…

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Could An Inch Change Your Life?

I was frustrated about hitting more powerful ground strokes, so a friend showed me his grip: the butt of his racket ends in his palm. My hand was an inch closer to the racket head. So I moved my hand away from the racket head, and my strokes improved enormously. IT WAS A MIRACLE!!! This slight change puts the racket farther away, and the ball hits the sweet spot more often…the racket has more whip. It works for my serve as well. FANTASTIC!!!

Of course my mind is never satisfied to stop there…it immediately wonders if life operates the same way…just make a tiny change in some small part of actions or decision-making, and things will be a million times better? Where are these little inflection points that are so major, so determinative in our lives?

Choosing to proceed with a marriage, when your fiance has just revealed a huge character flaw or three is one place. Going into business or taking a job with a person who has just demonstrated immorality or deceitfulness is another. A third fork in your life road might be deciding to go away to college, rather than staying home with the familiarity and coziness of your high school friends.

But what about older folks like me, way past college, spouse and career choices. Our lives are far from perfect at any stage. Many of my friends are still striving to make more money for current bills, college tuitions or retirement nest eggs. Yet they struggle horrendously with risking their savings in unfamiliar investments. Big topic of discussion. What to say to children who appear to be screwing up, but want to be independent? Choosing the right expensive products, like cars or houses, are areas ripe for mistakes.

These are not everyday decisions. And poor choices can lead to much grief as a consequence. Wouldn’t it be great if all you had to do was make one little change, like altering your grip by an inch, and everything would be better and easier?

I like to think it can be that simple…once you are shown or learn the different way to behave or decide. But I can see that we are all locked in by our past experiences, fears, lack of confidence, and various levels of comfort with risk. I have made the same investment decision in hours that a friend came to after 18 months. I was intuitive almost instantly, while he was rational and conducted intense research and due diligence. And he not only has more money than I do–so the loss would be less damaging to him–but the project was much much farther along, by the time his mind said “Yes.”

Relocating to another town, state or country is a tough one, even if you have dreamt for years of living out of New York City or in Florida year round. Yet when I moved out of the Big Apple, some friends thought I was crazy. And a few ended our relationships as a result. I was basically rejecting their choice of how to live a life, and that was too negative for them to stay in touch. “Where will you eat? What will you do out there?” they confronted me. A number did say that it sounded idyllic, and they had often fantasized about doing the same thing, but they were “city people,” so couldn’t really move to the country. I laughed the other day, when I went into our newly renovated, 3-D theater in our neighboring town of 35,000 and watched a first-run movie without a line and with plenty of seat choices…and then heard three days later about a city friend who couldn’t see the same movie at night, because it was sold out since 3:00. Dinky, rural life isn’t so bad sometimes.

I know that risk-taking takes practice, just like serving a tennis ball. I know that decision-making and sizing up a person are other skills. You can’t succeed at them from the start. Some people are afraid of mistakes. Others use them as learning experiences. I had a consultant who was not impressed, when I told him that I had not failed at any of the projects I had carried out in my publishing company’s early years. “Then you aren’t taking enough risk,” was his response.

I never forgot it. Maybe that willingness to fail is like the inch on the racket handle. I will keep looking for those slight, small places, where your whole life can be affected.

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Looking Forward To Being Old

The indoor tennis season has started up again, and there were the “old guys” on the far court almost every time I arrived. Some barely move, their strokes are often raggedy, and lobs and dinks are a key part of their game. I heard that one of them had turned 90 recently.

Dave is always quick with jokes and clever retorts. I asked him how he was able to live so long? What had he done right? “Suffer,” he said instantly and with a twinkle. “I have suffered a lot, and that’s what has kept me going.” He also said that he was the last of his closest five friends to still be alive.

How have you been able to keep playing tennis? Again he answered brilliantly, “One word…when the ball comes to my side of the net, I turn to my partner and say, ‘YOURS.'” He is always good for a chuckle or laugh.

But his birthday was a real confront. I found that I was actually jealous. A good high school friend of mine died last month…had a stroke when he was packing some boxes and died in the operating room. Many others are gone, of course. So I found myself hoping, longing to be 90 years old. It would mean that I will live 18 more years. I will see my younger kids marry, maybe even the older kids’ kids (my grandkids) marry. I will watch the world evolve, however warmly, spend more time with friends, read more books, etc etc. And maybe I could be one of those rare birds who plays tennis into his 90’s. It’s a real dream for me to live that long. And stay healthy.

I know, I know. Most people equate aging with decay and the inability to do what you could do when you were young and healthy and fit, without having to go to a gym or watch what you ate. The food sludge from years of indifference hadn’t yet clogged up your tubes, a few smokes hadn’t yet blackened your lungs, and a cut or sore would heal in hours rather than take weeks.

Nevertheless. I’d be thrilled to make it to 90 and have all those additional hours of good living–and good tennis–part of my history. Stay tuned…

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I Am A Couch Potato

After 3 1/2 weeks of not playing tennis and so much sitting on planes, in cars and watching the US Open while I de-jet lag, I have gone over to the dark side: I am now officially a couch potato. This is an awful feeling. It’s been years since I didn’t stretch my lungs and legs each week or even every few days, hitting squash or tennis balls one to five hours, climbing up hills or hiking through forests. And I am not as driven to exercise as others who must do some cardio or visit the gym every day.

It’s disgusting. Debilitating. I am groggy. I feel like sludge in plumbing pipe. GIVE ME DRANO to clean out the mush. I need oxygen…

Melodrama aside, I am completely spoiled. Exercise makes me feel good and energetic. Friends tell me not to worry…they know I will get back into it. And they are right.

But why anyone would accept feeling this way is a mystery. They must remember running as children with the freedom those little legs gave them. I need that active aliveness now. I was a guy who never exercised…less than a decade ago. Now I am practically a missionary for sport and health. What a blessing.

Get off your couches, people. You will be amazed at how much more alive you feel. It’s like fuel for the engine to take in some oxygen and stretch your muscles and your mind beyond the comfortable zone. Enough…back to the tennis court and the rowing machine…

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Stuck In Mongolia

Pull, pull, pull

Pull, pull, pull

On the way to visit Chinggis Khan’s birthplace, the main trail/road was washed out, so our caravan had to cross a stream that was mostly mud. At the narrowest point, there was already a blue truck with two horses in the back that was buried deep in the mud. Nearby farmers were making money by charging vehicles for tows, but after many attempts, not even two tractors pulling simultaneously could move the truck six inches. Our two SUV’s had made it across, and they gave it a try from either end. But broken cables and great frustration were the only result.

stuck-in-the-mud trucks

stuck-in-the-mud trucks

For some reason I never understood, our cook van attempted to cross right next to the blue truck. But it failed to make it, and then the driver kept giving the van gas, so the wheels could spin and dig themselves deeper into the mud. DON’T SPIN YOUR WHEELS IN MUD, SNOW OR SAND IS ONE OF THE BASIC RULES OF DRIVING. Now both vehicles were stuck, and two tractors and two SUV’s couldn’t move our van either.

a muddy ford is no problem for a horse!

a muddy ford is no problem for a horse!

What to do, what to do. I eventually suggested that the horses should come out of the blue truck to lighten the load. That did the trick…although I can’t be sure that anyone really listened to my advice. The cook van also had to be emptied of its load, so out came the tents, stove, chairs, food…almost everything…and we had a picnic lunch, while pure manpower with shovels first took away some of the dirt and grass. Cleverly, there was a rubber, inflatable “jack” that was used to then help raise the van about a foot higher. And it used exhaust fumes from an SUV to fill up this red balloon.

patience is essential in Mongolia

patience is essential in Mongolia

After 2 1/2 hours, the lighter van was also liberated by two SUV’s doing the towing. Once all the supplies were repacked, we were finally on our way. But this was just another example of life on the steppes, when there are no tow trucks you can call with your AAA card. And for some reason, I was pretty calm, enjoying the view, the food and the experience. George’s perfect attitude was having its effect.

BTW When we returned to this spot on the way back, two 15-foot-long boards were used to drive on under the water surface, but above the mud. That prevented spinning and digging in, and we traversed the ford in seconds. It was our secret, hidden “bridge,” which we left for other vehicles…

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The Perfect Attitude

1–the cow crossed first

1–the cow crossed first

Our first river crossing in Mongolia was pretty tense…I couldn’t believe we were going to attempt it—the water looked pretty high to me. But the lead car made it first, followed by the second one. Finally it was the van’s turn, and it almost made it…until the engine died. Was it flooded with water? How were we going to move it to shore? No one else was around. No trucks or tractors to help us pull it.

At that moment, when I was concerned and puzzled, our fearless tour leader, George Archibald, yelled out, “Whiskered Tern, whiskered tern.” He had sighted a bird and wanted us all to grab our binoculars and relish its beauty. He was totally into the bird. He did not give the van and its passengers in the water a drop of attention.

Forget the binocs. I was worried about the van. The driver—who was also a terrific mechanic—kept cranking the starter, but the engine wouldn’t catch. Flooded? Not enough air? Under water? Start, start, start…crank, crank, crank. After about five minutes, it turned over and started. What a relief. Slowly the van inched its way to our bank…

Then I looked at George and asked him how he could be focusing on the tern, when our group was in such dire straits? “I can’t do anything about the engine, so I don’t fret about things I can’t fix. The mechanic was responsible for keeping the cars functioning…I had to let everyone know about the birds.”

Now that is what I call being smart. Not becoming anxious or ruffled by situations that are out of your control. George is a very rare bird himself!

2-then we forded the river

2-then we forded the river

3-next the other SUV began its crossing

3-next the other SUV began its crossing

4-don’t make any engine-flooding waves

4-don’t make any engine-flooding waves

5-finally the cook van followed

5-finally the cook van followed

6-and the engine died in midstream

6-and the engine died in midstream

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Humiliated, Devastated And Embarrassed

In Newport last month, I entered a “batting cage” for tennis players and learned that my serve almost never exceeded 65 mph. One out of maybe 10 was over 70. Whoopie Doo! Two videos made with an iPad and emailed to me revealed that my form was nothing–and I mean NOTHING–like the pros on TV. But to be perfectly honest, it looked so bad that I was devastated, dismayed and heartbroken.

Finally I understood why I have no power. So I watched how-to-serve videos, received advice from friends who play and practiced some serves. Of course Practice Makes Perfect ONLY if you practice perfectly. I felt like was bending my legs, dropping my racket toward my back, rather than leaving it above my shoulders, and accelerating the racket head. I could visualize my improvement.

Two weeks later my daughter filmed me and lo and behold…it was still awful. At this point I am practically suicidal from failure. (I know, I know…it’s only a game) In spite of how improved I FELT, the video didn’t lie. I was taking an unnecessary and power-robbing step backwards, I was still pushing the ball from above my shoulder, and worst of all, I looked like an old man farting around on a tennis court. Using this newer half-assed, still-weak serve in games, I no longer had my respected consistency and placement skills that gave my net man easy putaways to the opponent’s return.

Forget about the difference between a competitive game with others and relaxed, no-pressure, non-choking practice. I still couldn’t do it even on the practice court. And now I was double faulting a lot in games, along with sending my first serve too long too often.

Then a couple of days ago I faced two players who are both better than I am. Beautiful ground strokes and powerful serves, one a lefty. On my team however was a teenager, I think, who was better than both opponents. When I expressed envy for his serve, he said I had to drop my right shoulder. Aha! That is how you get your knees to bend naturally, I realized. The light bulb went on with the brilliance of our sun. I tried it immediately the second time I served, and I had a glimmer of improvement. Not easy. But I held my serve to win the set 6-1. My net game had been better than usual, and it resulted in a number of needed points.

The next day after work, I hit 250 serves until it was so dark that I couldn’t see the balls land on the court. The sky behind the tossed ball was almost totally black as well. And guess what? I still can’t get it. Somehow I can return net volleys like I am playing ping pong, but am unable to make my body contort itself anywhere near the desired form and coordination a good serve requires. Frustrating!

Well I am determined to “get it.” I have trouble watching the ball in the air, bending, bringing the racket near my back, dropping the right shoulder, pronating my right wrist, landing on my left foot with my right foot up in the air. And tossing high enough, which is the most important part of a serve I keep hearing.

It’s a real challenge that I will tackle like all other things in my life. The good news is that it’s not life and death, either physically or economically. The bad news is that millions of 13-year-olds can do it, so why can’t I also come close to mastering some approximation of a decent serve?

But when I do achieve this difficult goal, the victory will be all the sweeter. I never give up, I keep trying, and some day I will DO it, not just TRY to do it. Until then I am obsessed with practicing serves. The challenge is invigorating. My body and legs are sore. And I am amused by how we see ourselves one way, but the videos and pictures and outside world see a different version that we might never suspect. Painful. Embarrassing. But forever true…

And it lease it’s only tennis, not politics or a corporate ladder.

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Over 600 Days Of Daily Exercise

Today will be the 604th day in a row that I have forced myself to exercise for 5-15 minutes. In the beginning I was impressed that I could stick to it. I read that Jerry Seinfeld made himself keep writing comedy routines every day by never “breaking the chain.” After years of thinking I had no discipline, I have proven myself wrong, changed my self image, grown in self esteem, kept some tone, can still see some abs…at least a 4-pack.

I might play tennis four times a week, but those games don’t count…I still do “my exercises.” I travel to France for a week…I do them there and before/after the flight. No matter where I am, no matter what I have to do, no matter how late—and sometimes it might be almost 2 am—I do my exercises: abs crunches, abs bicycles, bent over rows with weights, pec flys, push ups, planks (reached five min in Japan, four min the other day), wall sits…these are my regular tasks. Sometimes it is agony.

I heard this week that Novak Djokovic stretches two hours each day. But he is a professional. A former prima ballerina from the NY City Ballet told me that “anyone can find an hour-and-a-half a day to do exercises and stretches.” I thought she was naive. I barely had time to eat some meals when I started my own business and struggled to keep it going.

There were gym rats I met who had no girl friends or needed to get away from their wives. I saw them at the gym, when I went for two years. But I couldn’t keep spending 2-3 hours each visit, including travel to and from. So I gave myself the challenge of doing “anything for at least five minutes a day. 600 days is 20 months. I still can’t believe I did and am doing it. But it is one of my major accomplishments…if I can do it, maybe you can too.

The other day a friend complained that he joined a gym five minutes from his home and went a whole year WITHOUT EVER MAKING IT INSIDE! The owner gave him another year of membership. I told him about my daily routine, and I don’t think he felt 5-10 minutes a day was very impressive. However he said maybe he was setting his bar way too high. I’ll check in with him the next time we meet. Hope he is doing something…

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Scott’s Story

A friend sent me this very inspirational story about Scott Belkner, who was born with Cerebral Palsey and has dealt with this in a very impressive and memorable way. He was also featured on Reddit, and you can read people’s comments and questions–and Scott’s answers–right here .

Some of Scott’s words worth repeating are: Go big or go home… If you can’t do it in one try, keep trying…To people who don’t have a disability, you need to stop feeling sorry for us: that don’t help us.

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Don’t Turn Your Other Cheek. Get Pissed Instead!

My problem in tennis has been that I am not a killer. Too nice a guy, my friends say. Not aggressive enough. I do try to be tough, but it’s artificial, not my basic personality.

Two days ago I was playing poorly and became pissed. After losing two sets by huge margins—2-6 and 0-6—with two different partners, I was furious in the next set with my third partner. I played angrily. We were ahead 5-3. Unfortunately we lost 5-7. It was a tough match to lose. I was really frustrated…near to smashing my racket. Rage. I never have those emotions.

Today I was very insecure about my game before we started. Had minimal confidence. My team lost 4-6, after a very long set. But I was playing hard and pretty well. With the same partner (for all three sets), we crushed the other guys in the next set 6-0. I really wanted that bagel. It felt good. Now the other team was ticked and stayed on serve, so it was 2-1 in their favor, and it was my turn to serve. At this point one of the opponents used a mental trick on me—he admitted later that he had used it in high school. He pointed out before I started that I had not been broken once in two sets. The only player who could claim that distinction. Then joked that he “didn’t want to put any pressure on me by pointing out this fact. Heh heh heh.”

Of course it certainly DID increase the pressure, and I lost the game. I was so annoyed/angry/upset that there was no Mr. Nice Guy left in me. I told him loudly enough for everyone to hear that what he did “was fucking shitty.” And when he smiled, I repeated it. I was ready to explode.

In retrospect, this was a welcome and unfamiliar feeling. I wanted to take him apart. Now my team was behind 1-3, and I had no intention of putting up with this stunt. We won the next five games, and my aggression, serving and net play helped make it happen. I had zero sympathy for the other team. I wanted to defeat them. It wasn’t just a game. It had become a blood sport. No feeling sorry for their frustration. No worrying if my speaking up would alienate them. And none of that turning the other cheek crap.

Still feels pretty good six hours later. Have to save some of that juice for next time.

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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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Feeling Apologetic For Success

April 5th was my 72nd birthday, and it sounds old old old. I feel like I am in my 50’s, and people tell me to act as young as I feel. So I do. I played two hours of tennis each of five of the last six days. I did my daily exercises, and have done that now for 514 consecutive days. I still watch my diet and avoid excessive food portions and alcohol. And it has been paying off: the deprivation and discipline are keeping me fit.

Though I haven’t had the serious illnesses that many of my contemporaries faced, I am concluding that a lot of my good health is pure luck. I just happened to be born with “good” genes. And I dodged some accidents that others might not have been lucky enough to avoid. (However I did return from an army tour in Korea on a stretcher with hepatitis.) I don’t quite feel guilty, but the more people of all ages I meet who are sick or injured, the more I feel a bit apologetic. I am even hesitating to write these public words, because I don’t want to upset others who read them. Or create jealousy.

In a doubles tennis match this week, I kept returning balls at the net that one opponent was hammering at me. He became so frustrated that I almost felt sorry for him. He kept his cool and often hit away from me, but he seemed to grimace a lot each time I volleyed his ball back for a point. Why in the world do I feel the least bit of empathy for his frustration? I wish I had the killer instinct on the court or was at least indifferent to his annoyance. Yet that is not who I am…I feel badly.

Similarly when I can move and play sports ably, while others are handicapped by age, injury and infirmity, I feel defensive. Yet so much of it is just luck. I just happen to be controlled enough to exercise, to stop eating when I am full, and to eat more healthfully by avoiding fat and salt. It’s who I am and how I turned out.

Sometimes it’s hard to accept who we are, whether bad and failing or good and succeeding. I know, I know…it’s a high-class problem…and after writing these words earlier, I read the paper and saw that an acquaintance I liked died a couple of weeks ago after a long battle with cancer. She was 71.

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Leaving Your Comfort Zone In Sports And Life

A friend of mine is having surgery today, and others who are ill will need surgery as well. So I feel hesitant to talk about simple challenges involving tennis grips and how to hit the ball. But I had a life lesson yesterday that is applicable beyond tennis, which I have always said is—along with other sports—a metaphor for life.

There’s a really nice guy I play tennis with who offered me some advice. I welcomed his suggestions. He was a 5.0 player decades ago, and even now sees the minutest details I may never perceive. He knows what grips the other players use, their hitting patterns, weak strokes, and what kind of ball they will serve from the angle of their racket face. He has shown me how to notice whether he is hitting a flat, side spin or top spin serve—although I can’t see it at all in a game. He knows his stuff and wanted to share it with me.

Over the last few weeks, he said my grip at the net was incorrect. I learned from videos that he was absolutely right. So to improve my game, I changed my grip. He said my stance when serving was limiting. I tried his recommendation, and it seems my serve has more power. All good…so far.

The problem is, I now have to think much more about what I am doing. It’s not automatic, instinctive reflex. And these changes are messing up my whole game. I have plummeted in a very short time from playing my best tennis to much poorer performance. My teams generally lose our sets. I am incredibly frustrated.

Now I know what I am doing is good for me…in the long run. And I would much rather just keep doing what I was doing. So easy. Most people do what they are comfortable with, don’t want to change their behavior, because it is too difficult at first. Or they might fail. They might be ridiculed for their mistakes. They might feel shame and embarrassment.

But I am willing to take chances, make change, go beyond my comfort zone, risk failure.

Another very experienced tennis-player told me about an unusual way to grip the racket, when I make a spin serve. I asked the coach who had given me serving lessons. He said I should try it, but it would take “some time,” before I could do it consistently. Change is hard. Success and improvement don’t happen right away.

Yesterday I was a mess. I can’t believe how befuddled I was. All my strokes were off. So many capable people have said not to think, just relax and let your game flow. Well it’s been impossible recently. I was lucky to get the ball over many times yesterday, much less in the court. And playing felt really crappy.

I was reduced to a deer in headlights. Frozen, unable to move in time, letting balls whiz by that previously would have been do-able net volleys. It was awful. And my vastly improved ground strokes disappeared too. Worst of all, I was horribly upset with the situation. I was not the cool Roger Federer guy, but one of those hot heads who almost smashed a racket.

I don’t like that. It’s not the usual me. Athletics at the amateur level are supposed to be fun. There’s no big dollar prize at the end. Just the satisfaction of a job well done. But now I have to insulate myself from being frustrated and ticked. Maybe that is a good challenge. Sort of Buddhistic: seeing hurdles as golden opportunities that will be overcome with practice and effort.

Most of all, I remember that these are high class problems. Nothing at all to fret about in the scheme of the world’s turmoil. But I was affected. Do you ever get upset, when you can’t perform well at recreational sports?

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Thoughts On Motivation And Living By A Military Amputee

This amazing story by Derick Carver—the amputee in the video above— was sent to me by a reader in Japan and is very inspirational. It’s also a good kick in the butt or take-your-breath-away punch in the stomach about how to live your life. Coincidentally, I also served at Fort Bragg, learning to jump from planes and becoming Airborne, and also spent time—a month—recuperating in Walter Reed Hospital, after I returned from non-combat, military duty in Korea with hepatitis. Other than that, of course, there is NO comparison…

In early 2010, I was serving as a Platoon leader in the 82nd Airborne. On a dismounted patrol my platoon was ambushed by the Taliban and I lost my leg in combat. I flatlined 3 times, I endured 47 surgeries, would need 52 blood transfusions. I fought through them, and I continue to fight every day of my life. I will fight until the day I die. I am an American Airborne Ranger…that is what I do.

People always ask, “What motivates you?” This question comes up at least 3 times a week while in the gym. I can only assume someone sees me, my leg and other injuries and imagines how difficult it must have been to recover from such a traumatic event. My response is always the same, “What the hell else am I supposed to do?” Three years ago I was an Infantry Officer with the 82nd Airborne, had a Ranger Tab, and I was jumping out of airplanes and leading men in combat. Now, because according to your standards I’m “disabled,” am I supposed to be a different person? Sit around and feel sorry for myself? That’s not in my nature; it’s not a choice I’m willing to accept.

Motivation or the lack thereof is a choice. Just like everything else in our lives Read the rest of this entry »

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The Power of Visualizing Your Goals

I know a visionary. He sees his project completed, before he even begins to create it. “Execution is the easy part,” he told me when he was fund-raising. Successful entrepreneurs imagine themselves with money, behind the big desk, running a giant company. I have known that for decades. Doing it is something else.

What about playing sports? Why not apply those principles to my strokes and points? One of my friends reminds me, when I have lost confidence. Doesn’t that mean I don’t think I can win? Or at least do well?

This video has some amazing statements about the power of imagination…that picturing yourself doing things, like lifting weights or playing the piano, will actually change the brain and improve the muscles, so that one can do better at the desired physical skill. I am going to start seeing the shots, before I hit them. I will let you know how much improved my game becomes…

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Teaching Old Dogs New Tricks

So my friend’s 15-year-old, deaf, blind yap dog won’t eat out of his usual bowl. Who knows why? Eventually we threw some pellets on the floor to get him to eat, and he did. Now we put his food on a plate…and he eats it…sometimes. And he still avoids his bowl.

I remember hearing that it’s almost impossible to break old habits, especially in sports. You have to develop new habits that accomplish your ever-distant, unattainable goal. Make new circuits in your brain and muscle memory, rather than rewiring the old, entrenched pathways.

On the tennis court, I am the old dog trying to learn a new trick. And about a month ago, I finally learned how to hit a good forehand. It’s so good that I am staying in cross court, base line rallies with some of the best guys in my doubles games. In the past I would have no hope of not making the unforced error within a swing or two, so I would charge the net right away and attempt to make a winning volley. But two strong partners started complaining that I should stay back in the base line rally for 3-5 strokes, that I WAS holding my own and should keep doing it, until they could intercept the opponent’s shot with a winning net volley. Were they actually talking about ME? I hadn’t even realized I was doing so well.

I still have trouble watching the ball, but I finally started doing it better and turning to the right AND KEEPING MY LEFT HAND ON THE THROAT OF THE RACKET. In the many many former days, I would stay facing the net and just bring my right arm out to my side without turning. WRONG! The ball went into the net or too far and out. One day it just clicked. I actually realized what I was doing wrong and began noticing that my left hand MUST hold the racket until I was turned. It’s unimaginably easy now to turn.

Now I think this same scenario plays out in life off the court all the time. We keep doing the same thing over and over that causes mistakes (unforced errors) and failure. Of course there is no one standing at our shoulder correcting us…or telling us that we are being insensitive to others…or informing us how to earn money or get the girl…etc etc. But even if we were aware, we have to change the old way with a new approach. Damn hard. Almost impossible…without a trauma, like a serious accident, illness (heart attack) or near-death experience. Jeez! I just read a sad story about a girl who almost died in a car crash and wasn’t wearing a seat belt. You think next car ride she will do that again? Probably not. But she has known about wearing seat belts for years. Maybe decades. Why didn’t she do it? Hard to change old habits.

I laugh out loud, when I am told to watch the toss and where the server’s racket hits the ball, so I will know what to expect. Or to hit down the middle, if both opponents are back. I have to remind my well-meaning partners that I am simply trying to get the ball back and over the net most of the time, and that I am not at their level. But they keep advising anyway…as if just telling me will lead to their desired result. Not quite hopeless. Better than nothing. Executing good advice is just a whole other challenge.

But maybe someday I will be at that level. Today one of those better players showed me that I have to change my grip for a spin serve. Three earlier coaches never suggested that new trick. Maybe now I will have a real spin serve…once I can remember to do it. Why not? I figured out a new way to turn my body for a forehand…

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Help Cycle For Survival Save My Son-In-Law’s Life

Here we are last year, after my one-hour ride and my daughter, Josslyn, and son-in-law Evan's four-hour rides

Here we are last year, after my one-hour ride and my daughter, Josslyn, and son-in-law Evan’s four-hour rides

On March 3rd, I will again be riding with hundreds of others on stationary bicycles for one to four hours near Grand Central in Manhattan. All to help raise funds for rare cancers that are poorly supported by major charities. Over four weekends, there will be 13,000 of us on 2600 teams (it was 4000 total on 850 teams two years ago, 10,000 and 2000 last year) in 10 cities (New York, Los Angeles, Washington, Chicago, Miami, Boston, San Francisco, etc). We will all be cycling away to music, speed and terrain cues from the spinning instructor and the encouraging shouts of hundreds of friends and family members. It’s a very thrilling ride.

The annual Sloan Kettering “Cycle for Survival” raises money for research of rare cancers, which are those with less than 200,000 total reported cases in America. Most of the money raised through other programs goes for the common cancers, like lung, breast and prostate. Over the last six years, the annual Cycle for Survival events have raised over $17 million for experimental research, and all of it goes for research.

I will soon be cycling again for Evan's survival

I will soon be cycling again for Evan’s survival

My son-in-law, Evan, has been fighting a rare cancer since 2007. In fact there are only 100 cases in all the literature of people who have his exclusive, and serious, illness. The experimental drugs and treatments coming out of the Sloan-Kettering research have kept him alive. Unfortunately his fight has intensified, and he had a total laryngectomy last year to remove the tumor in his throat. The electrolarynx he now uses sounds different, and he can still speak understandably. Hopefully Evan will be strong enough to ride with us this year in March. He did four hours last year and the year before. I barely made it through one hour.

If you would like to help support this event, a donation of any amount—no matter how small—would be greatly appreciated and help treat the rare cancers, which include cervical, stomach, brain and all pediatric cancers. Just go to this Cycle for Survival link .

And if you are in New York and want to actually cheer us on and experience the excitement of the event, contact me at ira@irasabs.com for more details. We’d love to have you shouting along…

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How Derek Rabelo Surfed The World’s Most Dangerous Wave…Blind!

No doubt this kid is an inspiration. Though blind, he surfed the most difficult and dangerous wave in the world! What I like best is that he uses “other means” to achieve his surfing goals. He says, “Each style of wave makes a different noise…a tubular one type, a fat wave another…when a wave is open, it makes a different noise…from when it is closed.” Maybe I could learn some “other means” to return a tennis ball. I better, because the most important requirement is to “watch the ball,” and I forget to do that at least 50% of the time!

Derek Rabelo lost his eyesight to glaucoma when he was just one year old, but that setback has not stopped the 19-year-old from becoming proficient in a wide range of outdoor sports, including swimming and skating. In his own words: “I don’t feel different from others. I feel normal, and I don’t feel limited at all.” He especially loves to surf, following in the footsteps of his father and uncles.

Rabelo began honing his surfing skills two and a half years ago in Rio de Janeiro, while attending a local surfing school there. He said that because of his inability to see, he uses other senses like touch and sound to gauge the size and shape of the waves he rides. His mother, Lia Nascimento, says of her son: “He has courage that I sometimes lack, to do things.”

In February, filmmakers from “Story Hunter” followed Rabelo with a few cameras to document his trip to Hawaii, where his dream became reality — he successfully surfed the Banzai Pipeline. This particular area is known for being perilous to surfers with its huge waves and shallow water. Rabelo navigated the waves with ease, providing inspiration to even professional surfers who would later see his videos.

Indo Surf Life tweeted, “Next time we complain about life being unfair, we should remember this kid.” Not sure we could ever forget Rabelo or his courage.

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Suicide In Sport And In Life

 Nicolas Almagro succeeded again in losing to David Ferrer

Nicolas Almagro succeeded again in losing to David Ferrer

While watching Nicolas Almagro dominate his Davis Cup buddy David Ferrer in the Australian Open quarter-final, I was thinking what a mental game tennis is. Two sets up and serving for the match in the third set, Almagro couldn’t put it away. Ferrer won the set. Almagro had lost all 12 of his previous Ferrer matches. The announcers were saying tennis is all about what’s “between their ears.” In the fourth set, Almagro broke Ferrer FOUR times and was broken back each time! At that point I was sure Almagro either couldn’t handle success or had a death wish. Of course he lost the match, the fifth set 2-6, after having five or six match points in the contest.

After this harmless metaphor for suicide, I remembered an heiress I knew who continually sabotaged herself, so that after respected career progress, she would talk back or be arrogant to her bosses—she didn’t need the money to survive—and then be fired. I saw this a few times over the years, before she became depressed and killed herself with pills. Her sister had jumped off the Golden Gate bridge. Maybe it was merely genetic. But clearly she did not want to win or succeed. Maybe it frightened her. Maybe she was uncomfortable with success and enjoyed the familiarity and self-inflicted victimization of failure. I’m no shrink, but I did hear from a more psychologically knowledgeable person this weekend that humans stick with familiarity and situations in which they feel comfortable.

Did Almagro really WANT to lose? Is he scared of beating his good friend? He clearly has the physical ability…but he just had to step easily over the finish line…and didn’t. Or wouldn’t. He did everything he could to fail.

The day after that defeat, I met a friend who told me her high-school classmate who was always the life of the party had killed himself with a shotgun at age 50. Then I heard about an ex-husband who broke down his wife’s new apartment door and shot her… and then himself. And then another suicide story was thrust on me this weekend.

Whew! I was just watching tennis games, Lord. Your message is coming in loud and clear. I am sure that I want to win my games. But if I have the ability, and I know I can make my shots, why do I miss them so often? I can see that I lose confidence at times. It’s clear I play more cautiously or hit more gently to keep the ball in the court against a professional-power stroke or serve. I often believe I SHOULD win more points. What is going on in my head that prevents me from finishing the rally?

I played in a game recently in which one man hates to miss any shot. He became so upset with himself that I was afraid to win points against him. We were using the very court in which an elderly man had had a heart attack, fallen and died some years ago. I was actually scared that my upset opponent might do the same. So I eased off. Very deliberate, intentional and conscious soft play. Ratcheted my game way down. Not a lot of fun to fear you might kill a man playing tennis. Being hit in the head or body by a partner this month was nothing compared to the guilt I’d feel if I caused a death on the court. Clearly some people take this tennis “game” much more seriously than I do.

For the moment, I’m pretty sure I want to win. I used to mutter to myself to “kill” my tennis enemy. I just didn’t want to do it, when the game grew as big as life.

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