Good sports

by Rob Tiller

Last Friday I reached my latest swimming objective: 1500 meters of freestyle without a break. This was for me, a considerable achievement, which not so long ago I found almost impossible to imagine. I’ve been doing a 1500-meter workout for some months, but with 30 second breaks at various intervals. A few weeks back, I decided to work towards doing the distance non-stop. I began gradually reducing the breaks, from 10, to 5, to 3, to 2, and finally to 1. Then, finally, none.

On Saturday morning I did an hour and a half of Vinyasa yoga in an open level class at Blue Lotus with Yvonne. That’s a lot of yoga! I tried very hard not to look at my watch, but once I was well drenched with sweat, I checked to see if we were almost done — and we were only half way through. I still can’t figure out at all why this strange system works, but it does: I felt absolutely wonderful at the end.

That evening Sally and I went out to Zebulon to see the Carolina Mudcats play the Mobile Baybears. It was a warm but not sweltering night, and we had great seats — a few yards beyond first base on the first row, close to the visitor’s bull pen. From this close in view, we could see how fast they run, how hard they throw, and generally how amazing they are. This is AA-level baseball, where the players are serious contenders for the big leagues. The pitchers were throwing fastballs in the mid-90s, and I don’t think I saw any errors. There is something really pleasing about seeing a real life high-quality baseball game on an August evening. The competitive drama is involving, but the whole experience is also relaxing. It’s good to have a beer and slice of pizza, listen to the buzz of the crowd, the organ, the announcer, the crack of the bat. It was a good, close game, which Mobile won 2-1.

When I stop to think about it, it amazes me how much I’ve changed with regard to physical activity and sports in recent years. As a kid, I played the usual sports, and used to imagine that I would play well one day, but in competition I never managed a level much higher than average or worse. And gradually, I came to think of myself as a non-athlete and sports-phobe. Particularly during adolescence, it was annoying to see the social advantages (in particular, success with girls) that accrued to the gifted athletes. I looked forward to adulthood as a time in which sports and athletics would be no longer relevant, and my lack of any particular athletic giftedness would cease to be a liability.

In retrospect, I can see this was partly a problem of lack of time. Part of the problem with athletic skills and kids is the same as with academic skills, which is that kids learn at different rates. This is kind of obvious, but schools are not set up to address accommodate different rates of learning. Instead, a class is given a set time in which everyone must master a set of skills, and those who are slower are shamed and punished. And those slower kids eventually figure out how to avoid the painful activity, perhaps by dropping out. While I was generally one of the quicker kids at mastering schoolwork skills, I was not so in sports. Because of my July birthday, I was always one of the youngest in the class, which was part of the problem. But of course, I had no idea of that issue at the time. I just knew that my relative lack of success in sports was somewhat painful. Like other slow learners, I eventually opted out.

Fortunately, over the years, I’ve found that the level of mastery needed for enjoyment of many activities activity is not impossibly high and with no tight time deadlines I’ve reached that level in some things I really enjoy. This has been the trajectory with swimming, skiing and golf, and I’m starting to see the outlines of that level of accomplishment for yoga. Slow and steady wins the race.