There once was a time when, as for any sports-loving young man, school lessons for me were just an unnatural interruption between excursions to the games field. Any games field. I’m not saying I was any good at sport, but I was proficient enough to feel that my destiny was surely to be found on the football pitch, not locked up in some clammy classroom learning stuff.
Decades later – okay now, I admit it – it is depressing, even before I leave my semi-comatose position on my sofa, how low my expectations are about how I shall be able to perform any sport.
I’m not just talking about dimming reflexes and the gradual loosening grip upon rhythm and timing that we all suffer as we get older. I’m taking about nagging sporting injuries.
Take this week, for instance. I’m holidaying with a bunch of people including eight kids of the generation below mine. Inevitably, on a daily basis, thoughts turn towards sporting competition – tournaments have been set up for outdoor table tennis, tennis and now the ‘underwater lengths challenge’ (in which entrants simply have to propel themselves as far as possible in the swimming pool before they are obliged to return to the surface).
I’m not the only ‘ancient’ taking part, but that’s not the issue. The issue is that at our age (sixty-plus) ‘taking part’ is all you’re going to be doing – you don’t have a cat in hell’s chance of lifting any trophy at the victor.
That’s because of the state of your body.
Years ago – when I was around the age of forty – I learned a big lesson by making the mistake of getting involved in two semi-serious sporting contests – my employer’s annual ‘management versus workers’ soccer match and my old school’s inaugural match to launch its ‘old boys’ rugby club.
As regards the former, having been fairly fit in my youth, my sporting vanity meant that I was quietly confident of not only making some sort of impact on the soccer field but demonstrating another side of this particular management executive to his underlings. In the event I did neither. I teamed up with a colleague to warm up by jogging down the side of the pitch and back again, passing the ball to each other. Launching into a short sprint in order to corral an errant pass from my partner in this enterprise, I pulled a hamstring and to withdraw from the game altogether, to my (and presumably the crowd’s) great disappointment.
Thence the rugby game referred to above. Having played as a full back or centre most of my rugby career, I should never have agreed to play as the hooker in my school’s old boys’ XV, but the organiser suggested it might be for the best as – plainly – these days I would be just too slow to play anywhere in the threequarters. As hinted above, at the time I was still kidding myself that, with a few exercises on the touchline as preparation, I would be able to show the young whippersnappers also on display that you cannot keep a good ‘un (why which, of course, I meant good old ‘un) down.
So hooker it was. I endured one scrum, during which thankfully my team secured possession and then, about six minutes into the game, there was a tackle, a breakdown situation and a resulting ruck formed. In that I was taken to the floor and at least two other guys jumped in, right on top of me. Now I was always up for a rough and tumble, but at the age of forty I just wasn’t prepared for this … and as a result had to be helped from the pitch with what turned out to be two cracked ribs. I don’t know if any of my readers have ever suffered a cracked rib, but they’re hugely painfully and especially so when you laugh. Plus, there’s no treatment or cure, you just have to wait for time to take its healing course, which is usually several weeks.
Anyway, back to my current holiday.
As regular Rust readers will know, I’m suffering at the moment from a hip issue which leaves me in different degrees of discomfort at different times and causes me to limp whilst walking and basically unable to run. Not a state of affairs likely to make me able to acquit myself particularly well on a tennis court, even if I was ever any good at the game, which I wasn’t.
Yesterday morning I spent half an hour hitting balls with my daughter in preparation for our doubles match at 5.00pm. Part-way through the session, going for a perfectly standard backhand return, I suddenly felt a sharp pain shooting up my arm to my elbow. Thereafter, every time I made my hand into a fist and clenched it, I could feel a reaction in the elbow.
My diagnosis was that the sensation was very close to that of ‘tennis elbow’, albeit that in my understanding this affliction is a repetitive strain injury that by definition tends to result from repeating certain actions over a period of time. This wasn’t exactly detection on the level of a Sherlock Holmes – the first clue was that the elbow was the site of the pain, and I got that bit right. However, the aspect causing a bit of doubt in my mind was that it was a ‘sudden onset’ injury that occurred upon only the third or fourth time I attempted a backhand.
I then went off to play golf, which took about six hours in all, including the journeys to and from our hotel. Once or twice my elbow screamed, or more-truthfully murmured, in protest when taking a shot, but I was ‘managing’ the issue.
Not long after we had returned to our hotel 5.00pm came around and my daughter and I duly went to the tennis court and knocked up with our opponents. We then lost the toss and our opponents chose to receive serve.
It was down to me. Prefacing my first serve at the beginning of the match with a cheery (hopefully designed to relax everyone) comment that it might be a while before any serve of mine landed in court, I took up my position on the baseline, bounced the ball three times and ‘went for it’ with the opening serve of the match.
… And then uttered a moan of pain, dropped my racquet … and had to retire from playing any further part in the proceedings on the spot. I had ‘done’ my tennis elbow once again, and seriously, not that it had particularly become worse since its first arrival that morning.
Now awake from my overnight slumbers, I feel sore all over from playing what essentially amounts to two 10 minute warm-ups of tennis and then a single serve, plus an enjoyable round of 18 holes of golf in strong heat. My elbow hurts, my hip is protesting and I have not been able to sleep properly.
Physically, life never gets any easier once you’re past the age of thirty-nine, does it?
My father, who is with us, has not been having a great time of it even though (in anticipation) it has dominated his conversation for the past eight months. He cannot swim (a pastime he used to love) because of his legs and balance issues and – it has seemed to some of us, comparing notes behind his back – that he’s been bored and frustrated all week. He is unable to enjoy the physical things he once did because his body now lets him down.
I’m beginning to know how he feels.