Sunday, February 28, 2010

Injured Reserve List

Just coming off a nasty bicep strain that’s been going on for a few weeks. Got it trying to heave up a particularly large, round heavy bag in boxing class three Sundays ago. I felt it immediately, like in high school when some rough-housing jackass twists your arm too hard. Finished the class, but later found that little things like turning door knobs and buttoning my shirt were groan inducing.

Felt a little better last Sunday after blowing off two weeks of workouts, so I went back to the same class, lifting same bag, and the same fucking thing happened again! So on top of the horrible weather we’ve been having, blizzards and such, I get this. Past week has been a slow rebirth. Shoveling 20 inches of snow on Friday went a long ways towards rehabbing the bicep. And I took the class again today, letting someone else heave up that lousy, cursed bag. Made out all right, a little rusty, have to lay off really wailing on the bag until I’m 100%, but it was a joy to do a strenuous workout and not walk away in agony.

A bad feeling to be out of it physically during the Winter Olympics. It’s one of those odd things that I feel I have to tag along physically with the games and have really hard workouts … like I’m going to qualify for something down the road, or feel inspired to turn things up a notch. But I have such mixed feelings watching this stuff now that I’m older. What we all see is the end result of a ton of training and outright luck in a lot of cases.

We don’t see the 6-8 hours a day spent training in relatively nowhere locations, econo-apartments, no life outside of training unless one purposely stops along the road to have a kid or two. A lucky few becoming marketing sensations and make a ton of money. But I think most just quietly go back to their lives of constant training and fade out by their early 30s at the latest, hopefully with a solid Plan B. And we’re talking sports where the difference between 10th place and first is often determined in less than a second, or one minor error in a routine.

I guess on some level I’m recognizing the futility of competitive sports as one goes through adulthood. This shit is meant for kids, people in their 20s in the latter stages. Winning or losing has never really mattered to me – of course, I’d rather win. But losing is part of life; everyone does it. That’s not a defeatist attitude – simply recognizing how the world works. Much of life has nothing to do with winning or losing – you just live it. Feel like a winner? You’re probably not. The same goes for the “losers.” You’re doing both at various times and in many ways, whether you can recognize this or not.

It just seems like such a childish way of seeing the world. And when you run into adults still grasping on to that win/lose mentality … ugh. Either mentality is just too much dead weight to carry. You see yourself as a winner, that attitude and mentality become the main focus, and everything surrounding it just the decorations that go with the image. You see yourself as a loser, everything turns to bullshit, nothing matters, and you live life with a sullen 19-year-old’s slow-burning rage.

I think I do boxing training because it was something I always wanted to do as a kid, but was simply in the wrong place to work on it. There were no boxing teams at school, no programs in the various towns. You had to shoe-horn yourself into key sports (football/baseball/basketball mainly), which I did, but got tired of them all eventually. Didn’t get into it out of some desperate urge to kick everyone’s ass. I haven’t done that at all. Probably have picked up a lot of physical confidence, but also recognize there’s no end to the “tough guy” routine, the quest to find someone tougher than you, and you probably will, much sooner than later. So at some point you just drop that stance all together.

What I thought about boxing before I did it turned out to be true: the act of physically hitting something is simply a great release of frustration. It’s a minor soul cleanser, really empties you out physically and emotionally for a little while. Of course, the well of problems and issues we all pull from never runs dry, so I find it’s always worthwhile to check in routinely and beat a few of those things out. Better than weightlifting. Better than running. And it’s a test of physical endurance, which makes sense to me.

Every now and then in gyms, you run into people on a whole different level physically, the kind who are in Olympian-style physical condition. Always in their 20s. If you talk to them, you understand that they work out hours every day. Unlike Olympians, most aren’t in any competitive training – this is just how they live. Most either are or want to be physical trainers, and are in phenomenal physical condition. I get along well with people like this, because I’m there to bust it out, too. But only to a certain level – some of these guys, you can tell, there’s something more at stake for them.

Exactly what, I’m never sure, but I suspect if you come back in a decade, their stories will be different. Life, marriage, work, kids, what have you. Very few people over 30 want to work out over three hours a day for any reason – one is more than enough. But I think you also see reality when you stop pushing yourself like that. You shouldn’t be working out that hard unless it is for some physical goal like the Olympics or a professional sport. Otherwise, it’s just overkill. There was a guy I used to work with who used to use his age (then late 30s) as an excuse for not working out. Why bother, he’d say, people lose so much as they age, I could never be very good at anything.

That’s one of the bigger fallacies of working out. I’d say that’s true on an elite level of most sports – you’re probably shot or well on your way there by your early 30s. But an average guy working out? And I mean working out hard, like these boxing classes, or any other type of hard-assed training gyms provide? You’ll find you can maintain a pretty solid level of physical fitness all your days, comparable to any other time in your life. Which is to point out you were never really in that great of shape to begin with! A shocker to most, but as with my previous basketball post, at some point in your chosen sport, it dawns on you that you’re not the chosen one – could happen in high school. Could happen after a year or two into the pros, and simply realizing the best you can hope for is warming a bench.

But you go on from there with that knowledge, and if you’re halfway sane and don’t hate yourself, you do well physically. Try different things, but always keep moving. I think the cool part about gyms is meeting people like this, who are in good physical condition, but obviously not uber-competitors, just people who want to gun it to the best of their abilities and maintain some recognizable level of fitness. You’re only in competition with yourself in a situation like that, and that’s a greater reality of life that makes more sense as you watch people pass on around you. There are no winners or losers in coffins, only the dead.

Are we having fun yet? I don’t mean to get too heavy, but these are the things you think about when laid up with a painful injury, knowing that you are not being held back from any grand public display of your talents, but you are being barred from doing something worthwhile you enjoy doing, that you’re actually paying to do if you’re in a gym, and you miss doing it. After all this, I’m even more serious about getting into some type of flexibility-based workout like pilates or yoga, simply because I recognize a body's range of motion is the main difference between youth and senility. Probably pilates because I got no use for the spiritual malarkey associated with yoga. I want flexibility, not a third eye in my forehead.

So, I’m watching the closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics, which always seem as if they were conceived by a flamboyantly gay man on magic mushrooms. The one moment that stuck with me these games was the young speed skater from Denmark, Holland, one of those places where people wear wooden shoes and smoke hash. But the guy was obviously late teens/early 20s, on his way to skating for a gold medal, when his coach inexplicably got on the edge of the track and waved him into the wrong lane, thus disqualifying him and losing the chance for any medal.

The kid was beyond distraught. Cursing violently. You could see his head jerk with each word. Fellow team-mates tried to console him, but he brushed them away, and not in any sort of friendly or polite manner. He was a real sore loser: a shithead. But then I thought about it. This guy had probably spent the past decade of his life living, breathing and eating every moment of his life to lead up to that moment where he could win an Olympic metal. No wooden shoes. No hash. No pussy. Just a drab training facility in the middle of a gravel parking lot where he’d go every day, like a thankless job, and work at this thing for upwards of 50 hours a week.

Should he have held his head up and been more stoic? Maybe. But we’re talking a 20-year-old kid who’s done nothing to raise his maturity level past that of a 14-year-old, has had no life experiences to balance this failure with, and is giving a pretty honest reaction to being screwed over. (To which I’d reply, get used to it, kid, this won’t be the last time.) I should have disliked this guy for being such a little brat, but his reaction was just as honest and even more human than someone exploding in triumph at the end of a perfect run. It touched me more than the winners.

Jesus Christ, now Neil Young is singing. I’m getting out of here.

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