Running All The Way To The O.R.

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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Here's A Soccer Story You Will (Guaranteed) Enjoy

A football (or soccer ball) icon.
Image via Wikipedia

Loved this story in The New York Times:

About 1:45 p.m. Sunday afternoon, a caravan of luxury cars and sport utility vehicles roared into the park where hundreds of supporters had been waiting. President Jacob Zuma had arrived. The president was in this town, about 260 miles northeast of Johannesburg, to commemorate the life of Peter Mokaba, an antiapartheid activist.

Five days before the start of the World Cup, the stars of the celebration were a soccer team — a group of 35 women ages 49 to 84. After the speeches and ceremonies, the team, Vakhegula Vakhegula (Grannies Grannies), would play an exhibition game.

Beka Ntsanwisi founded Vakhegula Vakhegula five years ago as a way of providing inspiration for older women. The team usually plays its league games on Saturdays, but this was a special day with the president coming. And Ntsanwisi wanted to have a word with the president.

From the team’s meager beginning, Vakhegula Vakhegula have become well known in the region, and news of the team has spread to the United States. The team received an invitation to compete in the Veterans Cup, a tournament for teams with players 30 or older, next month in Lancaster, Mass.

I posted last week a story I wrote for the Times about my suburban adult softball team, with whom I’ve been playing for nine years, a group of men and women whose friendship — and athletic skills — have made my life incomparably more joyful.

Like the Grannies, our games are intergenerational and as much about having fun with people we truly enjoy as competing in a sport. I love knowing that sports, and sports-related friendships, are enjoyed just as much by other women around the world.

For Onica Ndzhovela, the Grannies helped her spirit from being broken. She had 12 children; 8 of them died.

“People were saying I was mad,” Ndzhovela said. “I was not mad; I had a lot of stress. It’s not easy to lose eight.”

The Grannies became her family; the soccer competition became an emotional outlet.

New Baseball History Includes Bloomer Girls, Semi-Pros From the 1890s

Women playing pro baseball — in the 1890s? Check it out, in this NPR report on a new book about baseball, Baseball Americana: Treasures from the Library of Congress, by Susan Reyburn and Phil Michel:

Michel’s favorites from the printed archive include giant panoramic shots and vintage baseball cards from the early 1900s, as well as early photos of female ballplayers, also known as “bloomer girls.”

Teams of women — with a couple of men as ringers — barnstormed the country beginning in the 1890s and into the 1930s, says Reyburn.

Myrtle Rowe, pictured here in 1910, signed to play first base for the Antler Athletic Club at 18.

Enlarge Courtesy of Library of CongressMyrtle Rowe, shown in 1910, signed to play first base for the semiprofessional Antler Athletic Club in New Kensington, Pa., at the age of 18.

Myrtle Rowe, pictured here in 1910, signed to play first base for the Antler Athletic Club at 18.

Courtesy of Library of CongressMyrtle Rowe, shown in 1910, signed to play first base for the semiprofessional Antler Athletic Club in New Kensington, Pa., at the age of 18.

“You can pick out some of the less attractive women, [who] are actually men. And in some cases, they would appear on field in wigs,” she says. “And the idea was to try to pass themselves off. Some very famous players, including Smoky Joe Wood, [Rogers Hornsby] — who went on to great Major League success — got their start as bloomer girls.”

Some of the games tended to have a sideshow-like character, Reyburn says, but as time went on, they developed into more of a “white-knuckle game that was being played, as opposed to a circus-like performance. And it was a huge success across the country.”

In addition, there were women who played on men’s teams — like Myrtle Rowe, an 18-year-old who signed to play first base for the semiprofessional Antler Athletic Club in New Kensington, Pa.

A glass-plate negative from 1910 shows Rowe holding a bat. She played in a blouse and a skirt down to her ankles.

The Library of Congress also has images of Jackie Mitchell, who at 17 years old struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in an exhibition game in the 1930s.

“After this happened, the commissioner of baseball was not pleased, found this to be a very embarrassing thing. [He] banned her and women from the game,” says Reyburn. “That was the end of women in Major League Baseball.”