I have the highest regard for athletes. I am someone who has always struggled in that arena so I marvel at those who have honed their motor skills to the point of greatness. Just as with intellect some individuals seem to be born with athleticism but the true giants in any field have dedicated themselves to perfecting their abilities. Great athletes work as hard as someone earning a medical degree. I am in awe of anyone willing to push themselves beyond the ordinary.
The closest I ever came to developing the more activity oriented aspect of my humanity came with running and twirling a baton. The running was something that was easy for me and I loved feeling the wind on my face as I sprinted like a gazelle. It never occurred to me to join a track team because I was such a late bloomer who was far smaller than my peers until my junior year in high school. I nonetheless felt incredibly comfortable whenever I ran. Sadly those days of dashing freely are long gone. My arthritic knees prohibit me from pounding my full weight onto the balls of my feet. I feel a great sadness in no longer being able to use the one physical talent that came so naturally to me. It makes me think of older athletes riddled with pain from the abuses their bodies have endured and I somehow understand the sorrow that they must feel in losing their abilities. It would be like losing my ability to read or write a coherent sentence.
I generally struggled with any motor skills that required me to coordinate my eyes with my limbs. All forms of sports using balls were painfully difficult for me. It was as though my brain refused to connect with my hands and my feet. My lack of motor skills made me a very empathetic mathematics teacher because I fully understood the frustration of being unable to perform a particular task and then being ridiculed for my ineptness. There was only one thing that I somehow managed to do well in the physical realm besides running and that was to twirl a baton. Because I was good at manipulating that metal shaft through my fingers I became passionate about perfecting my craft and spent long hours in my backyard practicing until I was able to toss my baton high into the air and catch it easily. Of course along the way to perfection I received many bumps on the head as the instrument came careening from space like a rocket programed to hit me on the top of my skull. My impish brothers enjoyed laughing at those moments and teasing me that I would surely sustain brain damage, a family joke that endures to this day.
Athletes indeed punish their bodies beyond anything that the rest of us ever endure. The stresses that they place on their bones and organs ultimately end their careers far sooner than they would like. Sports are wonderful until a bone breaks one time too many or a brain takes too many shocks. There is nothing more beautiful to me than an athlete at the peak of his or her career but also nothing more sad than a former great dealing with chronic pain. I do not begrudge the incredible salaries of professionals because the shelf life of an athlete is far shorter than in any other career. If they are wise they invest their income well because it is unlikely to endure past their thirties in most cases.
I have to admit that I prefer high school athletics far more than college or professional teams. Sports at that level have a kind of purity that is missing as the culling process progresses to the best of the best. In high school there are still possibilities for those who enjoy the games that use their talents. There may be that one triumphant moment of greatness that will always be remembered even if the glory ends at graduation. There is a kind of simple joy at that level when hopes and dreams of continuing forward are still alive.
I marvel at the dedication of athletes. They arise in the dark to attend practices before the school day even begins. Every moment of their daily schedules is filled. They not only must attend their academic classes and fulfill all of the demands therein but they also find themselves playing on weekends or during the school week long after their classmates have gone home to study. Their routines are brutal and demand organizational skills and a willingness to work as a member of a team. Little wonder that even athletes who end their sports careers in college go on to excel in their chosen fields of work because of the discipline that they have learned to apply to their lives.
I have to admit that I don’t really follow professional sports. I’ll watch a football game now and again but I’m not a season ticket kind of gal. I like baseball but the game is a bit slow for me and the season a bit too long. I enjoy the pace of basketball and feel most inclined to give my attention to those contests. Golf puts me to sleep but I marvel at swimmers and often feel as though theirs is a highly underrated and under-appreciated skill. To me the most beautiful athlete though is the runner. I love watching someone who has elevated his or her innate ability to flee into a kind of art. A great runner seems to epitomize the perfection of the human body.
I admire anyone who is athletic. I believe in the need to cultivate and exercise every aspect of our human abilities. Being our best selves demands that we develop our bodies, our minds and our souls. Athletics are but one aspect of being human and pushing the envelope of who we are.