I have been a pretty serious athlete my entire life and addicted to tennis since I was 12. Lucky for me my sports helped me cope with an undiagnosed case of ADHD and two parents who just didn’t quite get me. Tennis was simply the glue that held my life together growing up. Later, as an adolescent, it provided me with a badly needed place where I could feel good about myself. I played on the varsity in high school and then ended up playing #1 singles at UMass. My playing got me into a side career of teaching tennis professionally and for many years, before my sports performance consulting, this was one of the main ways that I supported myself.
After I stopped teaching as much, I returned to low key competitive tennis and for the past 15 years have been totally enjoying the game, just playing for the pure fun of it. One of the things that always brought me joy was my speed and quickness. In fact, it was one of the hallmarks of my game. I had an uncanny ability to anticipate where a ball would go and I would take off after it almost before my opponent had hit it. I didn’t know it back then, but that quickness and anticipation made every aspect of my game work.
About 5 years ago, when I was in my mid 50’s I started noticing something incredibly disturbing. At first, it only came up in doubles. For some reason, I wasn’t putting away as many shots as I used to. For some reason, my signature angle volley winners at the net became fewer and fewer. Initially I didn’t think much about this, but then, over the past three years, what was happening began to dawn on me. I was losing my quickness. I was losing my ability to float around the court the way that I’ve done for years. It was as if it had just quietly gotten up in the middle of the night, packed its bags unobtrusively and slipped out the door without making a sound. In fact, it had done such a good job of leaving, and had done so, so gradually, that by the time I noticed it was gone, it was as if I almost couldn’t even remember it being there. Did I ever used to move that way?
What freaked me out more was the fact that in certain game situations, my quickness and reflexes had slowed down so much that I wouldn’t even register that, “oh, yeah. here’s one of those situations that I would have streaked across the court in anticipation and made an amazing shot.” It’s a sobering and sad realization to be here. The aging process has slowed me down considerably. Most people watching me wouldn’t have clue #1 that this has happened to me. I do not move like a typical 59 year old! But, then again, most people aren’t inside my skin and have the history of movement that I have.
Aging is that great equalizer. It happens to everyone sooner or later. Despite the fact that I play 5 – 6 times a week, I can’t do what no one before me has been able to do since the beginning of time: Slow down or stop the aging process. We always hear about professional athletes who retire (and then come back out of retirement only to retire again and again). But how about what is really going on inside of them that is driving the retirement: AGING! LOSS! And how about the older athlete who continues to work out and play simply because of the pure enjoyment that it brings him/her?
Aging is a bittersweet double edged sword. You learn so much more and hopefully become wiser and a better human being when you get older. But in the process, you go through all of these physical and personal losses. Losing my ability to move the way I used to has been a tough one for me. My reflexes, speed and quickness all dimished! How do you say goodbye to an old, trusted friend when you want no part of this goodbye? Well, I hate to be insensitive to myself about this, but “THAT’S LIFE!”
My attitude these days is “USE IT OR LOSE IT!” I may not like what I’ve lost physically and athletically. However, I’m sure not going to let that stop me from playing to the best of my ability right now, whatever is left of that. I still get untold joy from movement and for me, I’m just going to grab ahold of that sense of appreciation I have for what I CAN do, rather than to continue to lament, what I can’t do! APPRECIATE WHAT YOU HAVE, RATHER THAN FOCUS ON WHAT YOU DON’T!