The guardrail is only about eighteen inches high, a modest barrier dividing a path from a road along one of my favorite running routes. I always leap over the guardrail. It’s more a hop than a leap, since the obstacle is not very tall. No planning required, no lining up the jump, just taking the next stride with a bit higher lift.
Then the other day my toe caught the top of the guardrail and I stumbled but didn’t lose balance or go down. I kept running. No harm. But there it was: yet another reminder of the inevitable physical decline.
Physical activity, sports, athletics–they’ve been an important part of my life from a young age. But I gave up playing organized hockey when I was forty, after a giant defenseman fell on me in front of the net and crushed me between himself and the ice. Competitive basketball ended at fifty, after I broke my finger and messed up my knee.
A year ago at this time I was playing tennis three times a week indoors at a club. That went away with the pandemic, although I got to play outside over the summer with some guys that were good fits in terms of playing level and casual disposition.
I used to train for and run races, and I’ve raced almost every distance, from the one-mile to the marathon.
But as certain sports and activities get left behind, I can’t help but feel the loss. Not for the competition, which isn’t important to me now, but for the pure enjoyment of a game and the ability to participate in it.
Those things I can still do I savor that much more. It’s all about the savoring.
I can still play tennis, although only seasonally now, and I have started looking at pickleball thinking it would be fun. I still run, but not too far and not too fast. I still get on my mountain bike and haven’t lost my riding skills, although I’m no longer searching out those trails with the steep drop-offs, insane log obstacles, grueling climbs, and terrifying speed descents.
I’ve even taken up some new sports—if you can call croquet a sport.
I have a piece of advice I share with everyone as they age: If you love a sport, keep playing it for as long as you can, because once you’re done, you’re done, there’s no going back.
But there is putting up the good fight with what you’ve got left. I’ll look for some tennis partners come spring. And I’ve been trying to increase my mileage when running, thinking I might run a few more races once races come back. I’ll be slower, but I’ll be moving, and that’s the most important thing.
Beyond the guardrail that I now have to pay a little more attention to on my runs, there’s this gate blocking off a closed bridge from cars entering. It wasn’t that long ago I would vault that gate in stride every time—putting one hand on the top bar and launching myself over. And it was a thrill.
Nowadays, I run around the gate, avoiding eye contact with it lest I am tempted, but still fondly remembering my glory days.
Almost everyone knows Dylan Thomas’ poem “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.” I’m not going gentle. I’m going down swinging.