Posts Tagged ‘Sports’

One Last Shot

June 12, 2011

Louisa Thomas’s elegant synopsis in the Paris Review of the 2011 French Open final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, got me thinking about sports and age.

I’m a big Rafael Nadal fan, and was happy he won. It was, for the most part, an exciting match. But I also love Federer’s game. It has been hard to watch him these last few years as he has fallen from invincibility. Federer still has plenty of beautiful tennis left, and still has what it takes to beat most of the guys on tour. Against Nadal, though, he can’t quite get it done. You can sense his frustration as mentally, he knows what to do, but his body refuses to fully cooperate.

The 2011 NBA Finals have featured the team everyone expected to be there – the Miami Heat – and a team not many expected to see in the finals – the Dallas Mavericks. Both are teams of seasoned veterans. LeBron James famously left Cleveland this year to join Dwyane Wade in Miami for the purpose of winning another NBA Championship for the Heat.

In contrast, the Mavericks feature a bunch of guys who are nearing their “sell by” dates, including Jason Kidd and Peja Stojakovic, alongside the brilliant Dirk Nowitzki. Although Miami is down in the series 3-2, there are those who still believe Miami will achieve its goal by pushing the series to a Game 7 and then winning it all.

For my part, just as I did watching Federer-Nadal, I’m pulling for the old guys. You get the sense that this is Kidd’s and Nowitzki’s last best hope for an NBA Championship ring. Nowitzki is playing with a level of heart and soul that some, after his previous championship losses, claimed he didn’t have. After all those cringe-worthy shots Kidd took in New Jersey, he has finally developed a reliable open jumper. Both Kidd and Nowitzki have sealed their NBA legacies with their playoff performances this year. But you don’t get the sense that either one has another championship run left in him.

So let’s hope 2011 is the year of the legends in basketball and tennis. LeBron and D. Wade will have many more opportunities. For Kidd and Nowitzki, this probably is it.

In tennis, although Federer lost to Nadal at the French, Wimbledon is right around the corner. The Williams Sisters, who have been plagued by injuries and out of tennis since last year, are due to return to the tour for Wimbledon. They, too, are no longer young phenoms. One hopes at least one of the Williams Sisters can recapture a bit of tennis magic and close out the year with a victory in at least one major. It would be great if the clock rolled back at Wimbledon this year, with Federer and one of the Williams Sisters raising the championship trophy yet again.

We fans don’t want our legends to age and leave the sport, but we accept that it happens, just as it happens for all of us. It is painful to watch the greats weaken and get slower, because it reminds us of our own aging process. We pull for the legends to fight back against age just as we fight with our own faulty memories, our aches and pains, our slower reflexes. We fantasize that every great player, no matter what sport, will leave like Pete Sampras did – retiring after winning his last US Open title in 2002.

But even when the legends don’t pull off a Sampras, it’s still great to see them out there, still competing, still giving it their all.

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Leave Me Alone

July 19, 2009

Most days, I love Harlem. 

I love seeing the historic Apollo Theater every morning as I go to work.  I love passing it on my way to the gym. 

I love that the Magic Johnson Theater on 124th & Frederick Douglass Blvd. is still thriving.  When it opened, Magic wanted to prove that multiplexes in black neighborhoods could profit without attracting undue gang violence.  (Now, of course, he reps for Rent-a-Center, helping them bilk our communities out of millions of dollars.) 

I love that in Harlem, 6th, 7th and 8th Avenues are named for important black historical figures — Malcolm X (6th Avenue), Adam Clayton Powell Jr. (7th Avenue) and Frederick Douglass (8th Avenue). 

I love that there are two Starbucks on 125th Street, within a block of each other — one on 125th & Malcolm X Blvd., the other on 125th and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. 

But when it comes to exercising outdoors, I really, really hate being in Harlem. (more…)

Running – In the Moment

April 6, 2009

For the last several months, I have been trying to finish Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose.  I have found the book enlightening on several levels; I have no idea why I can’t finish it.  Tolle’s explanation of ego is unparalleled.  His discussion of aligning with and living in the now resonates with me intellectually, but I have had a hard time putting it into practice in my own life. 

Years ago, I used to meditate.  It was a Taoist meditation based on circulating energy, or chi, throughout the body’s main meridians, or chakras.  I can’t meditate that way anymore.  I read Eat, Pray, Love, and tried to meditate on a word, on breath, on nothing, on everything.  That didn’t work, either.  I was starting to feel like I’d never get to experience what Tolle describes as “inner space” ever again.

A wise friend told me not to worry about “failing” at meditation.  “You will find the perfect way to meditate for yourself as you are now,” he told me.  I loved the thought, but I didn’t believe him.   I kept focusing on breath.  I kept falling asleep, or stopping to check my Blackberry.

Then, on Sunday, April 5, I ran the City Parks’ Foundation Run for the Parks 4-mile run, in Central Park.  As I lined up in the starting corral with the other runners in my group, making small talk with a woman from my New York Road Runners classes, my mind was completely clear.  Unlike previous races, I made no attempt to imagine how the race would go, or map out in my head a strategy for the course.   I simply moved when I was supposed to move, noted the sensations of wind and chill and the small twinges of discomfort in my tendinitis-challenged right ankle, and waited for the race to begin. 

As we inched closer to and then crossed the starting line, I started my watch timer, wished my classmate good luck, and picked up my feet in accordance with the rhythm of my breathing.  I was conscious of nothing but the movement of my feet and some intermittent but minor pains shooting through my ankle.  I was aware of the runners ahead of me, but didn’t focus on any of them.

Early in the race, my breathing felt labored.  I adjusted my pace, wondering if I was already overheating.  Then I saw we were going up a hill.  I recalled the advice of my instructors, and began pumping my arms to propel myself up the hill.  It was only as we neared the apex of the hill that I realized this was, of course, Cat Hill — the hill we used for training runs in class, the hill everyone dreaded.  The dreadful and dreaded Cat Hill didn’t seem so dreadful anymore.  Somehow, by not thinking about it, by not battling an image of how hard it was, I ascended the hill without too much trouble. 

As other runners passed me, I kept my own pace.  I looked around a few times for other people I might know; seeing none, I kept going.  As I began to pass other runners, I asked myself whether it was my pace or my ego that was driving me to pass.  If it was my pace, I kept moving forward.  If I determined my ego wanted me to pass someone that my pace wasn’t ready for me to pass, someone my ego decided was inferior somehow — whether because of weight, age or some other characteristic — I held myself back and waited until pace, not ego, propelled me to pass.

A race volunteer announced a water station at Mile 3. I dutifully stopped for water.  At Mile 3.5, my stomach reminded me I hadn’t had breakfast.  I acknowledged being hungry, and kept running.  Soon thereafter, I saw another NYRR classmate.  We spoke, and she introduced me to her friend.  For a moment, I thought of slowing my pace to run with them, but decided not to.  I had a good pace, the finish line was near, and my ankle was no longer throwing off warning signals.  It was fine.  I was fine.  I kept going.

Finally, with the finish line in sight, I pushed myself to go faster, to run harder, no longer concerned about running out of steam.  I finished strong, faster than my previous fastest race time.  I enjoyed another drink of water, considered and then reconsidered taking a bagel or apple from the boxes and boxes of post-race carbs, and then just decided to go home.

And on my way home, it occurred to me: during the race, I experienced inner space.  My friend was right.  I had found my perfect way to meditate.  Running was my meditation.  When I run, I focus on nothing other than finishing the workout.  As soon as I find myself comparing myself with other runners, I start to falter.  When I return to focusing on absolutely nothing at all, I achieve my goal.  Sometimes I’m last, never first, but I finish.

I’ve decided to work on remaining in the moment.  To resist the temptation to check Facebook repeatedly throughout the day and night, to watch television while the kids are telling me a story about their day in school, to feel as if I’m idle if I’m not attempting to do three or four things at the same time. 

I’ve already seen some benefits.  Today at work, I got through a backlog of old emails for which responses were long overdue.  At home, I finished two blog posts in time for the start of the NCAA Championship Game.  I don’t expect perfection.  The effort itself is worthwhile.