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Posts Tagged ‘playing sports’

Running All The Way To The O.R.

In behavior, Health, sports on August 17, 2010 at 6:32 pm
Players in a glass-backed squash court
Image via Wikipedia

For some of us, movement is life. Running, biking, playing competitive sports, winning medals or trophies or beating our personal bests. When my dearly beloved red convertible was stolen, pillaged for parts and ditched on a nearby road, I went to the police lot to retrieve what was left of value — all my sports gear in the trunk: a winch handle for sail racing, softball gear and my squash raquets.

In a country plagued by obesity, it’s hard to remember that for every 350-pound person unable to maneuver easily, or those for whom exercise and sports are anathema, there’s someone eagerly lacing up their sneakers or sliding into their canoe or kayak.

Writes Gina Kolata in The New York Times:

Our behavior, said the expert, Dr. Jon L. Schriner, an osteopath at the Michigan Center for Athletic Medicine, is “compulsive”: we let our egos get in the way, persisting beyond all reason.

But another expert recommended by the college, David B. Coppel, a clinical and sports psychologist at the University of Washington, has another perspective. There are several reasons some people find it hard to switch sports, he told me. Often, their friends do that sport, too; it is how these people identify themselves, part of their social life. And then there is another, more elusive factor.

“There is something about the experience — be it figure skating or running or cycling — that really produces a pleasurable experience,” Dr. Coppel said. “That connection is probably not only at a psychological level but probably also something physiological that potentially makes it harder for these people to transition to other sports.”

Jennifer Davis, a physical chemist who is my cycling, running and weight-lifting partner, adds another reason. Often we stubborn athletes — and Jen, an ultra runner who competes in races longer than marathons, includes herself in that group — have found that we do well, get trophies, win at least our age group in races. That makes it hard to stop.

I think about this a lot. I normally bike, walk, do a jazz dance class, swim, skate, ski, play softball (second base) and almost anything that doesn’t involve heights. I had to give up squash after blowing out both my knees and now, with severe osteoarthritis in one hip, am losing almost all my other sports. In so doing, I’m losing myself.

What people who hate to exercise don’t get are all the many pleasures it provides, from my pals on my softball team to my fistful of fencing medals. Being athletic and strong, flexible and quick, skilled and competent is a core piece of my identity and has been for my entire life.

I don’t have kids or pets or hobbies or any deep political or religious affiliations, some of the things to which many people tie their identity and self-worth. I do live for the pleasure of knowing my body remains strong and flexible.

Today’s doctor, the fifth specialist I’ve seen since March, told me, reassuringly, that after my (eventual) hip replacement, I can play tennis. I appreciated his sentiment — that I’ll regain some of my sports — but we choose our activities for all sorts of reasons.

I hate tennis!

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Why Playing On A Team Can Save You

In behavior, sports on August 4, 2010 at 2:30 pm
Players at the Homeless World Cup 2007 in Cope...
Image via Wikipedia

I’d never heard of the Homeless World Cup. Now, for the first time, a women’s version will be held.

From The New York Times:

Earlier, during the end-of-tournament celebration, a moment of pride engulfed T K Ajiboye of Far Rockaway, N.Y. Ajiboye served 18 months on a drug charge, he said. After his release, he worked at various jobs and eventually joined the Street Soccer New York team and moved into the HELP Supportive Employment Center of Wards Island.

Ajiboye, now working as a waiter, was named to the 12-man player pool from which the eight-player United States team that competes in the 2010 Homeless World Cup in Brazil in September will be selected.

“Being part of this scene means a whole lot,” he said. “No one person has it worse. If you meet the next person and you hear his problems, you’re ‘Oh my God.’ It makes my foundation even stronger.”

For the first time, a women’s Homeless World Cup will be held. Wrightsman was named to the 10-member pool from which the eight-player United States team will be selected. Later in the day, she added the USA Cup’s most valuable player honors.

“I’m honored, shocked, “ she said of making the national team. “I’ve worked harder to do this than anything in my life.”

I’ve been playing team sports competitively since I moved to New York in 1989. It’s deeply ironic to me that, having moved to New York to carve out a place in journalism — a ferociously crowded field in a relentlessly elbows-out city — my sports pals and coaches, (and all that athletic competing), has proven my balm and refuge.

I didn’t grow up playing team sports seriously, but as an adult find them intensely satisfying. If nothing else, and it’s a lot, I find there a level playing field with bells and lights and whistles, rules and yellow cards and umps and judges. The best win, the weaker lose.

I was a nationally ranked saber fencer in the mid 1990s, then took up sailboat racing and now have been playing co-ed softball for eight years. In every sport, in every venue, it is always my team mates and fellow crew who truly know me best.

However cliche, sports competition within the matrix of a good team with a smart coach, can elicit our deepest, most hidden strengths and, sometimes, tame some of our demons.

I hate losing, and it’s inevitable — at least your team shares defeat with you. In victory, each plays a part. Even until very recently, with a severely compromised left hip, I was still playing second base and hitting to the outfield, albeit with a pinch runner. I love the inter-reliance of my team sports, the high fives and long lunches afterward to debrief, celebrate, commiserate. I am in awe of one team-mate, a man in his 60s who had a multiple organ transplant last year, who runs the bases.

I think this experience of being accepted and valued — and coached and pushed — is essential for every young girl and woman, even if briefly or unsuccessfully. Women, especially, are told their bodies are only valuable when thin, pretty, conventionally shaped and/or producing babies. Athletic achievement offers us a clean and potentially powerful place to (also) appreciate our stamina, strength, flexibility, self-discipline.

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