Monday, August 20, 2012

Aging Athlete

If you've been to my profile page, then you have discovered that I am a runner, swimmer, golfer, and a few other athletic descriptors.  You could say I have a "Tomboy" side, but I'm more of a "girly Tomboy" (I've been known to play Table Tennis in high heels in the Power & Light District in KC with Matt, and I almost think I play better in them due to being height-challenged)!  Being active and being outdoors are therapeutic to me, hence, my sports of choice.  Upon hitting forty, I have certainly noticed changes in my performance and ability in a few of these sports.  I train much harder and longer now at running than I ever have, and just cannot get the performance results I had in my twenties and early thirties.  For example, at 27 years of age, I got first place in my age division in a 5K race, running it in 22 minutes with absolutely no training prior--I wasn't really even running faithfully at the time, let alone training.  I could train every day of the week now and never hit 22 minutes again (it could have something to do with being 10 pounds heavier now than I was then)!  I really had no idea how blessed I was to be young.  I don't think anyone ever fully realizes the benefits of it at the time.  We're too busy living it to take time to consciously notice how fortunate we are to be able to do pretty much anything we want with little effort and few consequences.  I used to be able to eat 4-6 pieces of pepperoni pizza with no weight gained and no heartburn.  If I did that now, I'd gain 3 pounds overnight, the acid in my stomach would bore holes in my esophagus, and my cholesterol would go up 20 points (and you think I'm exaggerating...oh, I wish).

I also have to stretch before swimming now (which I NEVER had to do) just to keep from pulling something in my back or legs.  They say swimming is an injury-proof sport--I think not.  I swam my typical 50 laps the other day, and swear I pulled something in my back.  It wasn't like I did something atypical while swimming that day--I didn't try to reenact the Olympics or anything.  But I was popping Aleve like candy for a few days afterward.  I also used to be able to do the quick, somersault turnarounds at the end of each lap ("flip turns").  Due to my 40-year old eyesight issues, my vision is bad enough now in water and coupled with sporting goggles, I'm nearly blind while swimming. Since I cut it too close once recently and whacked my head on the edge of the pool, I've decided to let the fancy flip turns go (I'm guessing wearing a helmet instead of a swimmer's cap would probably not be conducive to speed or effective at protecting my thinning, weakening hair, either)!  Touche`.

I am also much more cautious and easily exhausted skiing (water and snow) than I was even a few years ago.  I used to be able to slalom around a lake so long that Matt would try to knock me down by wildly driving the boat so he could have his turn.  Now, I'm always letting go of the rope with shaky legs, tired arms and burning hands, wondering if I can muster up the strength to go again for even a couple minutes.  As I float in the water, stretching out my aching back, I weigh the odds and tell myself, "Come on, ya big wimp.  Get your lazy butt up and go again."  So much for the days of waiting impatiently for the boat to come back for me so I can ski again.  Now I'm wishing he'd drive slower!  Likewise with snow-skiing, changes have occurred.  I used to go to the top of the mountain and ski straight down without ever stopping--and with little inhibition, caution, or being overly winded.  Last time we snow skied, I had to stop three times on the way down just to rest my knees and ankles (having small ankles may be nice for vanity sake, but they do not tolerate the abuse I place upon them anymore).  Matt and Allie sure noticed a difference in my speed, too (they thoroughly enjoyed waiting on me the entire day--not)! In my pathetic defense, I was fighting a serious case of bronchitis at the time and had been coughing up a lung each night.  This didn't help my cause.  But I also noticed I had some fear that I've never had while snow skiing before--just this odd cautiousness that I was going to break a leg or rip a muscle at any minute.  You've heard the saying, "with age comes caution."  So true, so true.  At this rate, in ten more years, I'm going to be skiing the greens alone!

Fortunately, golf is one sport you can pretty much play up until your senior years and not notice much change in your ability or performance (praise God for golf).  My Grandpa, (A.K.A. "Gramps"), encouraged all of us in the family to learn to play golf because it was his sport of choice (and in his true English heritage style, he proudly qualified it as, "the sport for all gentlemen and ladies").  But he also encouraged all of us kids to learn because you don't need a team to play it and if you can walk, you can play it.  So it is truly one of the few lifelong sports.  As a young girl, all I wanted to do was drive the golf cart.  But I learned to play in all the years of tagging along with him, my aunts, and uncles, and I am so grateful that I did.  That sport has brought not only my family great memories, but it has given Matt and I more joy, exercise, and companionship in our marriage than any other sport (and I get to be outside)!  It has also helped me to work on my anger management skills.  If you aren't someone who struggles with four-letter words, this sport will bring them out in you (even if they are deeply buried in your subconscious, and come on, who are we kidding--they're in there).  You may think you don't have anger issues, but play golf and find out the truth! We almost always walk versus getting a cart so that we get good exercise, as well.  It is just an all-around great sport and will help you hone some focus skills, too.  Besides focusing on not saying bad words, you'll learn to put your energy into concentration and positive thinking (or you'll get good at confessing sin to God for your new wicked vocabulary skills)!

It is frustrating to notice these changes in my athletic abilities and find myself babying muscles, joints, and a weary body, in general, to continue to pursue the sports I love.  But I am not a wuss, and if I have to keep the Aspercreme, Aleve and Advil companies in business over the next season of my life in order to stay fit and active, then so be it.  I've decided I'm going to be a fighter versus giving in to these age annoyances.  While laughingly complaining to an older gal about my aches and pains, she replied to me, "Well, it isn't fun, and I don't feel good about the way I look anymore, but you're going to have to just give into it and learn to accept that you cannot do all these athletic ventures at your age, because middle-aged women just naturally gain weight and become less active."  I profusely, vehemently disagree. This is what is wrong with our country and why we are all overweight.  I also believe this mentality is a vehicle for the enemy to use against us as women on several levels:  to create a lack of intimacy in our marriage (because who wants to be intimate when you feel like crap about the way you look); to cause us to doubt our worth and struggle with depression (when we feel bad physically, we start to feel bad mentally); to pit us against each other in comparative ugliness (those who are trying to stay in shape are judged and ridiculed as being, "vain," "in denial," or "trying to be 20 again," by those who have given up, and those who've given up in turn struggle with feeling pressure and having self-esteem issues).  All that is unfruitful and pointless--the Bible speaks clearly that we are to care for our body as the temple of God (1 Cor. 6:19; 1 Cor. 3:16).  I do not believe this should be some obsessive thing motivated by vanity.  However, I think desiring to be desirous by your husband and being an attractive witness for Christ are only good things.  If all Christians were obese and dumpy-looking, would we really be effective for the cause of Christ in a world where image is everything?  I think not.  I know that our husbands should love us unconditionally, but that is no excuse for us to become lazy in our attempt to keep them interested.  Just as we expect and appreciate our husbands to continue to court us and date us in marriage and care for their physical health, we likewise better be willing to keep ourselves up as best as we can for them, (as we did when we dated them and initially tried to win them over).  I do believe that our spiritual health is of even more importance to God (1 Timothy 4:7-9) and is where our real beauty lies (1 Peter 3:3; Proverbs 31:10-31). But accepting poor health, "giving up," and being lazy are clearly not Godly.

As Matt and I have gotten more adventurous in running races for our own accountability and fun together this year, I see women much older than I am running in them (not many, but they are there).  They aren't setting world records or anything, but they are in great shape, have smiles on their faces, and in true athlete form, they aren't giving in to the restrictions and annoyances of age.  At one of the last races I ran, I told one elderly lady who ran the race too, that she was so awesome and such an inspiration.  I asked her if she deals with pain issues in her running.  She replied with a chuckle and a smile, "Oh, honey.  I hurt all the time.  Have for years.  But I've never felt better."  I loved that.  I will never forget her.  Though she has deep wrinkles from all the running she's done outside enjoying the sun over the years of her long life, she seemed decades younger to me than an 80-year old obese lady with less wrinkles sitting her rocking chair, unable to do anything else.  I am certainly not speaking to or condemning those who find themselves forced to a life of sedentary living--my own grandma is in a wheelchair at 82 from massive stroke, and she  is the cutest, most inspirational, loving, kind, precious, happy, viable person on the planet.  She still makes me cinnamon rolls and she is in a wheelchair!  I hope I'm half the woman she is when it's all said and done!  I am speaking to those who could take an Advil and go for a walk instead of being overweight, grouchy, acting 25 years older than they are, and trying to beat down those of us who try to maintain some resemblance of personal health and joy.

My son-in-law's grandmother, who is in her seventies, runs marathons and other races on a constant basis in KC, as well.  She is an amazing believer and woman of God who I have so enjoyed getting to know.  When she came to the wedding of our daughter and her grandson last November, she walked into the hotel wearing a pair of killer, pointy-toed high heels and skinny jeans.  As I watched her with admiration from afar, with her spunky, stylish hair-do and joyful, "feeling-fit attitude," I looked at her and thought, "Man, that woman rocks."  That's how I hope and pray to go out.  I'm not going to "give in" and give up.  I want to go out as a smiling, healthy, pain-pill popping fighter.  It's either that or bad health coupled with a sour, downcast attitude and spirit.  God-willing and with His help and strength, I'm putting on my boxing gloves.  I read a great story in a devotion book I own by a gal who struggled with depression.  She shared how she knows that since depression is an illness of the mind, you have to make a sincere effort to reprogram your mind to think good thoughts and get out of the pattern of old, negative thought (this made me think of Philippians 4:8, "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things).  So she makes a conscious effort to daily ask herself, "It's a new day.  Am I gonna be a 'weenie' or a 'hot dog' today?"  In other words, "Am I going to "wuss out" or embrace life with zeal, strength, and mental positivity in Christ?" 

I've decided to embrace that quote as my battle and rally cry, as well as one that I've loved for years from one of my all-time favorite flicks, "The Shawshank Redemption."  In this movie, Morgan Freeman's character, "Red," says, "Get busy livin' or get busy dyin'." I plan to quote this to myself any morning when my physical pain and age annoyances are attacking me mentally and taunting me to "give in," give up, and be a "weenie."  I can face the facts that my days of amazing performance are over and that I will have to let some things go periodically as I age (like my lap-swimming flip turns).  I also realize God may decide to take my life at any moment, or take me down a path of illness where I am forced to change this mentality to a lesser degree for a while or much earlier than I desire.  So I am fully aware that this health-seeking drive I have isn't giving me the grand control of things.  GOD is in control of my life in every sense of the word.  But I'm not going to go out as a quitter or a wus, and certainly not as long as I am physically able to overcome most of the obstacles (what else are safe pain meds for anyway?! God gave man the wisdom and ability to create them)!  God has made me a steward of my own health and I'm going to give it 100% effort in His name and for His glory in my life.  Get busy livin' or get busy dyin'.