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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Racquetball and Fishing

Awhile back, when I was younger and better looking, I could play racquetball fairly well. In tournament play, for my age division I was second in the state championships one year. (Almost first. Not quite. One point away.) Playing the game is still a very fond memory for me. I loved the cat and mouse and the strategy. Like any sport, racquetball is physical, and like any sport, it is part mental and emotional. To play the game competitively I had to stay in shape. I made decisions about what I would do, along with what I would eat and drink, based on how it would effect my competitive edge on the racquetball court. I loved the very fast pace of the game and I loved being rewarded for quick reflexes, smart play and stamina. (Occasionally I was able to actually play well.)

The game requires players to run; at least if you want to play moderately well it does. I used to run (we called it jogging back then) to be prepared for the running in racquetball.

Racquetball helped keep me in good shape and it helped me make other life decisions that were healthy. After my last state tournament, the year I came in second in my age division, scar tissue was building up in my arm. One of the tendons in my right arm was partially detached. Begrudgingly I had to step away from the game for awhile to let my arm heal. Splinting, a cast, and months of inactivity helped start the healing process. Additional months of physical therapy finally brought my arm back. I had been away from the game for over a year. The physical therapist was anxious to see if I could still play. I went and practiced some of my old drills like I had done for years. The slight echo of my footsteps on the floor, the smell of the court, the snap of the ball coming off the strings, the distinctive "ping" of the ball hitting the wall, were so familiar and comfortable.

After a few weeks of practice I made a decision to not attempt to play competitively. In fact I decided to not play at all. During the preceding years, I ran and lifted weights so I would be in shape to play well in the third game of a championship match. I drilled constantly so I could overcome my almost complete lack of natural athletic gifts. I visualized serves and return of service. I squeezed rubber balls to increase my grip strength. In any match I would dive on the floor several times to dig up a shot.

Today, after finishing a workout at the "Y" occasionally two players will see me standing behind the court watching. And remembering. They don't know what I'm thinking. Or remembering. I nod and smile when they look out. Remembering diving on the floor... If I did it now I would have to be scraped up with a snow shovel and taken to the E.R.

During my racquetball years I had made decisions based on how they would effect my game. Finally, I gave up racquetball because of how it would effect my fishing. Thirteen years have passed since I last hit a racquetball. The chance that my casting arm would never quite work right again was enough to make me stop playing a game I had loved so much.

My racquet rests on the floor behind a book shelf in my fly tying room; I don't know why I won't get rid of it. Noticing it sitting there this morning, I smiled and remembered. Waiting patiently on the floor I wonder if my racquet still holds on to a fleeting hope that it will be put to work again one day. Does it remember like I do? Does it close its eyes and smile? Has it aged well? What does it think about aging? I was glad for all the years I played. And I was glad I stepped away from the game.

Last week I had planned to fish for three days. Katy and I were going to go to the Carp Lodge for a week. We had to change our plans again; we left later in the week and returned sooner than we planned. I had to cancel a Friday outing.

Two days provided me enjoyable and satisfying time on my river. I could wade, I could cast; it's good that I gave up the game I loved. Some days, like this past week, I savor and appreciate how fortunate I am just to be able to step in the river and stalk fish.

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