MY NON-ATHLETIC LIFE
James was right. Even though Brazil is still better than Korea he was right about the 50-year-old thing. And I proved it at only 45.
He had it all figured out at 18. As college freshmen while living in the “jock” dorm we were about as far away as you could get from the athletic-type. James always resented the good-looking sports guys in high school with their cheerleader girl friends. He was smart enough to figure that by the time we were fifty, the jocks would have potbellies. His long range plan was to keep up basic physical exercise and then increase attention to a fitness program in middle age so he could be a good looking fifty-year-old and show himself off at high school reunions.
And James was smart. Somehow I got assigned to a floor in the BYU dorm with a bunch of Honors Program guys. We thought it was to try and balance out the perception that John Hall, famous for toilet sculptures in the winter snow (among other things), was only for jocks. It’s still unclear to us all how I ended up there, as I was neither an athlete nor an honors student. James, however, was one of the top scorers on intelligence and he worked hard at it too. He wasn’t content to get straight A’s. He had to get the highest score in any class. He eventually dropped his scholarship by taking fewer hours so he could concentrate on his GPA and go to a good law school. He excelled through Columbia Law and landed in a big firm in Dallas making his heaps of money representing and serving on the Board of Directors for a gaming device manufacturer (translation: slot machines). I’m sure he beats his former jock rivals from high school on income.
One season in Little League proved that I would never be a ballplayer. I was traded from the Islanders to the Seals because the practices were at my own grade school and my mom didn’t have to drive me across town. Right field was usually quiet. The hits occasionally flew by and I made a valiant effort to chase after them hoping that the play would be over before I could get to the ball and have to do something with it. I actually got on base once – on a walk, and then advanced when Reed Byron hit the next pitch. I stopped at second like the assistant coach behind third base was signaling. Reed rounded first then someone on the opposing team, maybe the short stop or somebody, bobbled a catch. Satisfied with my instructions from the assistant coach, I stayed put and watched Reed round second going past me. We were both out. And that was the highlight of my baseball career.
I dreaded field day at the end of the school year. I just couldn’t throw that softball far enough to get close to winning a ribbon. There was this kid who was big and athletic and could throw that softball farther than any sixth grader. If I had known at the time that he would grow up and play ball for the San Diego Padres maybe I might have felt better but I don’t think so.
The rope climb in junior high was my biggest nightmare. I did get better with practice at making myself sick at PE time. The pinnacle of success was the regular fever I could create at gym class as a sophomore in high school. That was fortunately the last year of required PE. Once I tried the pulled muscle trick with the PE coach when we were supposed to be doing gymnastics. (Like I was going to get on that parallel bar and actually hold myself up.) Something did actually hurt but the coach told me that meant my muscle was growing. It was also that sophomore year we were playing a rough game of soccer and the kid playing goalie got kneed in the groin so badly, well, I didn’t see any gain to that pain.
In college we were normal red-blooded American boys if not athletes. We played intramural sports and were thoroughly thrashed by the “jock” teams we played. I spent a lot of breath running around the soccer field but was relegated to scorekeeper in basketball. My activity card was lent to a much better non-dorm student player who assumed my identity to qualify for intramural dorm sports. I kept score snickering all the time with my roommates calling out my name to the guy playing me on the court.
One summer James and I actually registered for a weight-training class. We went a few times until the day I saw a girl from my German class bench pressing more than I could even imagine. James and I decided to drop the class and we went out for pizza. I generally signed up for social dance classes to fill my P.E. requirements. I was not any luckier with the girls than I was with the athletics. Of course James always thought there was a connection.
I haven’t seen James since about 1980. We had a 20-year reunion of the S.O.S. Club in 1995 but he didn’t show. Wes, Paul and I, the remaining members of our freshman secret society took the best picture we had of James to the copy center, framed his head and blew it up to life size. We used that blown-up photo as a stand-in for James around campus. We would ask innocent passers-by to hold it up in front of them so they could pose as James. It was a picture of him brushing his teeth with froth at the mouth and the blue toothbrush sticking out. He did have the advantage of looking more youthful than the rest of us in our reunion photos. The only clue I have to what he looks like now is a picture on the internet from his law firm profile. He looks like a prosperous, middle-aged corporate lawyer. At least his theory worked for me.
After my first marathon at age 45, I was checking out the web site for the race results. I typed in my bib number, clicked the mouse and up came my results below a notice that my search had returned “1 athlete(s).” Athlete. No one had ever called me that before. And I looked good too.
Continue to Part 2
Continue to Part 2