Sunday, November 4, 2012

"Chariots of Fire" This is Not

My recent workouts have been less Chariots of Fire than relaxed Beethoven, less Rocky and its training montage than a punchless 12 round split decision.  The month has been heavy on stationary bike at the gym, while very light on the boring and intense runs throughout the city and on the beach.  The reasons for this sea change?
There is something comforting in the objectivity of the red numbers on the stationary bike, featuring the number of calories burned per hour (414 at the "3" resistance level, and 333 at the "2" resistance level).
There is also something comforting in the objectivity of the scale.  The ten pounds lost in the last month have shown me that if it ain't broke, don't fix it.  
My routine for the last month has been heavy on stationary biking and devoid of any running, save for a few twenty-foot sprints as I refereed scrimmages for my high school team.  I have not yet played basketball with any anaerobic seriousness, though I now live in a complex that features a rudimentary outdoor basketball court.
There is a healthy (pun intended) guilt associated with this recent training regimen.  There is negligible lactic acid buildup, no cramps, infinitesimal shortness of breath.  Only a healthy amount of sweat on my back and left behind on the backrest show any evidence of a workout.
When I run, even for my amateurish high of twenty-five minutes, there is much chugging/trudging along, much shortness of breath, multiple cramps, and a constant awareness that I'd rather be watching Flo and her Progressive Insurance commercials than running.  A constant awareness that I'd rather be reading Fifty Shades of Grey, eating paint, attending one of those meetings that set up meetings, doing, well, anything else besides running.
When I bike (even the verb is ill-fitting here), I read (Kindle or otherwise), follow NFL and NBA games on the TVs, cast a omnipotent eye over the length and width of the gym, seeking out both attractive women and gym regulars who seem to be working so much harder than me.  I even check my phone for texts an average of seven to thirty-seven times, send e-mails (from a bike!), and check for both received e-mails and phone numbers of movie theaters to which I want to go after I complete my supposedly-rigorous one hour "bike ride."  Let's just say that the number of visits to Fandango.com from a sitting position at the gym have far outnumbered my number of internal pep-talks in which I tell myself that I have to work through the fatigue.
The lesson here?  Maybe that hard work comes in different forms?  Maybe that slow and steady wins the race?  Or maybe it's that vanity--these ten dropped pounds have definitely made my former six-pack at least worthy of the ridges of a mattress covered by a bedsheet--wins out over performance.  After all, I am trying to get to a point where my body's form and function allow me to dunk a basketball.
Naw.  You know what I learned, having hit the stationary bike for at least 90% of the days in the past month?  Sometimes the reward goes to the one who shows up, then shows up the next day.  And the next.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Ugly

Four minutes in, and I know today is going to be a struggle. It’s gonna be ugly.


The climb up the stairs is exceedingly brutal, the sweat starts earlier, and the second wind ain’t coming. I think about quitting at ten minutes, twelve minutes, fifteen minutes. Those are nice round times, and a man can’t be faulted for one “easy day,” right?

But I keep going. I trod through leafy streets, around dollies used to bring in beer to the convenience store, over dried dog crap (doh!), and by lecherous fifty-year-olds at the bus stop. I keep going, at speeds perhaps approximating those of bronze-medal race walkers, if I’m being generous.

Three minutes to go, ok, I can do this. Three minutes is nothing. That’s only ninety seconds, I mean, 180. It’s nothing. Then I see that I’m off a minute somehow. Four minutes left.

Those last four minutes? Nothing pretty. Sweat in eyes, shadows seeming to disappear in favor of more direct sunlight, cracks in sidewalk seeming to crop up out of nowhere. But I get to the finish line, my apartment gate at 22:50. I do ten seconds of hardcore running in place and finish at 23:00.

Now that’s a round number.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

22:19


The brilliant teacher of writing, Ann Lamott, writes in the book of the same name about the importance of writing “bird by bird.” She uses the example of the blank page being so daunting for the writer, and therefore, the key is to just start by describing some birds. Start by doing something.

For the aspiring dunker and recovering Achilles tendon-er, the advice rings so true. After watching (and watching, and watching) the pitiful first leaps towards the rim since my injury, hope does not seem to be easy to find. With so much room to make up—I barely touched net—it is easy to convince myself that dunking is as likely as Lil’Wayne being named “Best Rapper Alive.” Wait, bad example…

So what to do? Lamott has her birds, and I have my seconds. Though I would eschew running long-distance in a second for sprints and basketball running, I know that all I have at this point is my stopwatch and my word—sorry, Tony Montana.

My stopwatch usually runs to 15 or 20 minutes before I stop, but two nights ago, I ran for 22:18. Do not forget the 18 seconds.

And last night? I had to show some improvement, some Northeast movement on the graph, so I decided that I would, come hell or high temperatures, run at least 22:19.

It’s one of those nights. You know the type. There is no reason that I should already be tired after (what!) four minutes. 18 minutes, 19 seconds to go, and I’ve already approximated that slouchy, head and shoulders not above the knees, posture of the struggling long-distance runner.

I slept well last night, though I maybe lost 15 minutes here and there with that early morning text—stupid Eastern Standard Time. I have been eating well, and not too heavily, for the last few days. Yes, it’s a few degrees hotter than usual, but still, enough to make me want to quit after four minutes?

I take my usual trek across the street and down the level cement to the park that is as close to my “usual” as exists. Running the bike path, I make sure to not look behind me after I pass up walkers—it’s a little embarrassing to see people who should have been left in the dust still shuffling along, not too far behind, in my rearview.

My breathing is fairly regular, and I get a bit of that fabled “second wind.”

At just before 11 minutes, I decide to double back, as the stairs I’m about to climb will delay me enough to break my run into almost-perfect halves.

Oh, man, the stairs. There are three sections, each with about ten steps, and there are times on the stairs that I feel like a stalled car, wondering if I’m making any forward momentum even though my legs are moving. The stairs are my toughest test, even tougher than the last minute of my runs.

Except for today. Today, I feel good, despite the heat, despite the shoulder/upper chest cramps, and sweat that makes me squint like I’m continually winking. I feel good because I have taken myself to my limit, and I even lose track of the stopwatch for a minute.

I see the gate to my apartment that signals the end of my run. I look hopefully at my stopwatch, hoping I have crossed the 22:18 threshold.

22:38. Yep, now I guess the bar has been raised. So much for going at least a second more each successive run. So, tomorrow?

22:58, it is.

August 15, 2012: Chillin with The Bees


I went to the gym yesterday, knowing full well that I wasn’t ready to play with the college ballers yet, but hoping to shoot around a little bit. With the gym floor being redone, I decided to hit the weight room to maybe make an incremental improvement in leg strength. Little did I know I would be entering the World of the Bees.

The name “Bee” was invented by my friend Jay, and it was derived from the fact that these guys are, act like, or want to be, “swoll,” “ripped,” “cut,” etc. They are swollen like a finger after a bee sting.

There are many species of bees, including The Gregarious Bee—the guy who knows everyone at the gym, especially the cute girls. There is the Top-Heavy Bee, the one who has neglected his lower body in favor of his upper body, making him look like those body builders in SNL’s “How Much ya Bench?” skit with Jay Mohr.

There is also that unique Bee, The Bee who is Involved in Pursuing a University Degree—i.e., a College Bee. I was surrounded by these Bees as used the weight room at the college rec center. They are an impressive lot, with their pinkish/brownish liquids drunk out of Nalgene bottles, their endless strutting, and fraternity t-shirts.

Man, it’s amazing how good of shape we are in, or can be, as college students. The same “bros” who drink to excess on weekends and many times on week nights (remember those random Wednesday night trips to the bars?), are the same guys who have the juicehead physiques. While there is that subset of Bees who eats very well, minds their minerals and vitamins, and drinks at or above the recommended level of water each day, many TBwiIiPaUD’s gorge themselves on greasy cafeteria food and cartons of whatever cereal, popcorn, and ice cream can be bought on the cheap at the campus grocery store.

It was during my senior year of college, when I regularly ate grilled, boneless and skinless chicken breast, rice, and sourdough bread (carbs are no biggie when you’re 22!), followed by a fresh-fruit smoothie for dessert, that I was at my peak conditioning. My thin arms rippled a bit with veins and muscle, my chest had gone from concave to pec-worthy, and my abs, while not washboard, were at least rough cement-wall quality.

The fact that I was drinking a good, but not unhealthy, amount—senior year, braghh!—seemingly had no bearing on my physical conditioning, as I played full-court regular basketball games and put myself through long weight workouts with minimal fuss.

And to think that I thought that it would always be this easy. This easy to recover from workouts. This easy to stay in aesthetically-pleasing shape. This. Easy.

As I stare at my slightly-protruding gut sideways in the mirror, I wonder if somewhere inside the gut, and somewhere inside me, is that Wannabe Bee of nine years ago.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Anniversary

video video
Where the great Toni Tony Tone when you need 'em to sing a little "Anniversary?"  Yesterday was the one-year anniversary of my injury, and in a slighty-weird homage, I found that I needed to take a shot from The Spot.  The free throw line where I jumped and landed so horribly seemed not to have shed any tears from the accident, and there was something about the gym and its ecletic mix of surfer dudes, legit ballers, and men of and indeterminate age above 35 that made me think of cycles. 
I was once the legit baller (maybe I will be again), and now am some ten or twelve years older than the youngest guys out there.  I received a hearty greeting from Brad, a guy I used to play against, and before he could get the words out, "What up, man?  Haven't seen you since..." I told him the short story of my post-injury recovery, and had a notion that it seemed like I'd just been talking to him, but at the same time, it had been ages since I'd talked to him.  Brad was the one who remarked that my shoes were "Mr. Rogers-style" and not basketball ready, just a few minutes before my Achilles cracked like a Kit Kat commercial.
We were both a year older, and I hadn't played a single competitive minute in 365 days.  Brad, being That Guy that You Always See (in this case, at that gym), must have played tens or hundreds of times in that stretch.
Was this a well-needed rest for an aging athlete, or a missed opportunity where my vertical and chances of dunking took a nosedive that is impossible to regain?
As I took that jump shot from the spot of my injury, I felt a chill that was dwarfed by the chill I get when I think of the fact that if I fastforward a year, the same guys will be there, and I'll be a year older.  And I know that all of the days in-between, the calf raises, the weight lifting, the (hopefully) pickup games, will seem like nothing more than a breath.
It's up to me, though, how much better, how much fitter, how much stronger I get in the meantime. 

*See above video for the jump shot and my first rim jumps in a year-with me barely able to touch rim...err...net.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

With Age Comes Reinvention

I have always admired those who have maintained their greatness for so many years, largely due to reinvention.  Examples of this include Andre Agassi, Sophia Loren, Michael Jordan, and Betty White.
(I'm sorry, I don't mean that last one.  So she cusses and talks about sex.  And, she's old.  So what's so groundbreaking about that?  I say, good for you, Betty, you were great on "Golden Girls."  Get that paper, player!)
Agassi was a hot shot with hair extensions, a huge talent who did well for a few years, lost his motivation, and then reinvented himself as a well-conditioned, baldheaded workhorse who won multiple majors at an age considered ancient in the Bizarro World that is tennis.
Sophia?  Well, she was a bombshell who made young men and old men salivate, then she aged gracefully and made old men salivate (and some young men, too).
Michael Jordan came into the NBA as "Air Jordan," a guy who seemed to jump into the air, and then decide what he wanted to do, a guy who made the jawdropping dunk, spin move, or steal his Normal. 
He exited the league a still-athletic 35-year-old whose last shot was a perfect-form free-throw line jumper to win the 1998 NBA Finals.*
Though Jordan's "reinvention" did not coincide perfectly with his return to the NBA from minor league baseball in 1995, this time is a good jumping off spot for his relaunching, MJ 2.0. 
Realizing that a basketball player's shelf life is fairly short (just ask Kobe: only 33, but hearing whispers turn into chatter about how effective he will be in this year's Olympics and beyond), MJ turned to the weight room, strength coach Tim Grover, and an improved post game to prolong the prime of his career. 1980s MJ, he of the little patch of hair, cursive Chicago jersey, and butthuggers, looked to drive, drive, drive.  Mid-90s MJ looked to post up, hit turnaround J's, and drive to the hoop when available. 
Can you, then, teach an old dog new tricks?  R.A. Dickey is having by far his best baseball season at the ripe age of 37, reinvigorated by so much success and being held up as such a role model for his courage.
Can Jamie, dunk at age 32 or 33 with more force than the rim-spinner dunk of high school?  Can the teenager who aged too quickly, with a bad back and creaky joints, emerge energetic and limber?
Maybe I should talk to Betty White about how she did it...



*You may choose to include MJ's time with the Washington Wizards as part of his playing career; I just choose not to do so.

Narcissism? (Um, yeah)

Hitting the weight room as a teenager and a twentysomething, as discussed earlier, was a more straightforward endeavor-get stronger and in better shape.  And, get girls' attention.
Now, as a 31-year-old who's seriously training for no varsity team, no starting spot, I ask myself why I still hit the weight room pretty regularly?
Umm, to get attention from the opposite sex.
And, to like stay healthy and stuff.
A friend, using a tone of voice reserved for denunciations of philandering politicians and the type of people who win annual Darwin Awards, scoffed at my regular workouts, calling them "needless narcissism." 
Yeah, it's clearly narcissism, and...?
As I get older, and even now, I am aware that things that were of no concern just a few years ago will rear their ugly heads soon enough-obesity, diabetes, etc.--if not hit with a George W. preemptive strike. 
But I am narcisstic enough to dismiss narcissism as a motivating (the) motivating factor behind my exercise routine?  No way. 
But maybe there is a fundamental difference between the motivations of 18-year-old and present-day Jaime?  It is this: though I've never been an Adonis, I work out now to avoid looking like a slob, while I worked out then with a more optimistic idea that I could soon be that Hulk on the posters?
You could say  that I playing not to lose (pun intended) now, and then, I was playing to win.

Competition

video
A few days shy of a year since my injury, I played tennis.  This was the first time I hit the court since a day or two before my injury, and I will say that in many ways, the tennis stroke is like riding a bike.  If the ball was hit to me by my patient partner (shout out to JP), then I could easily return it, even with a decent amount of pace.  The lateral movement (obvi!) was the tough part, a bit more difficult even than the arduous forward run. 
How to qualify this return to the court?  A competitive match?  Besides a well-placed lob over my head as I "rushed" the net, my partner was very helpful in hitting returns that allowed me to move just a few feet in whatever direction in order to return the ball.  His shots were more or less prescribed, and on a few, I even told him exactly where to hit it.  We rarely served, and when we did, we both seemed to have an unspoken agreement that made us go for a winner down a line that would eliminate any needless rallies if successful or not.  We ended our play with a best of three match ("Sets?" I said incredulously); the winner getting two games.  I'm proud to say that I lost a three game thriller, winning on serve in game two.  Let it be known that the great majority of my points were on semi-long rallies where my opponent could have easily moved me around with a well-placed drop shot, but chose not to take candy from this baby. 
So, all in all, I would say our match was analogous to the "simulated game" a recovering pitcher will use to get himself back to professional baseball shape.
Do you think then, that my pumped fist at the end of my winning game was in some way "simulated" or not genuine?
Hell no.

(See above for some practice footage)

Monday, July 30, 2012

Baby Steps

video
The video above shows you, Dear Reader, my relative strength in doing calf raises.  You will notice that I still don't have the strength to do the calf raises without holding on to a chair or bench for support.  Thankfully, though, my left calf has returned to chicken leg status after having a I-can-make-a-circle-with-my-thumb-and-index-finger-that-is-bigger-than-your-lower-calf-status for many months.
My jumps today?  You won't mistake me for Blake Griffin or Kyle Lee Watson, but now you may be able to get two encyclopedias under my feet...

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Jumping In

So, now that I've officially jumped (not high, and not many times, but jumped nonetheless), when is the right time to "jump in?"  I'm wondering how to best go about ramping up my training, getting back on the tennis court and basketball court a few days shy of a year since my injury.  It reminds me of watching my classmates do Double Dutch jump roping, and figuring out the right time to jump in...I mean, so I've heard...(clearing throat)
When do I jump in?  How do I jump in?  At the risk of being too minimalistic, I guess I just jump in before I freeze from indecision and the jump rope ends up wrapped around my waist.

Bring on the Gymnastics Vault!

video
The above video-shout out to my videographer, Abraham Zapruder?-chronicles my first real jumps since August 9, 2011.  Whoa.  Nothing special, and you would definitely have had trouble slipping an encyclopedia under my feet, but I'm semi-proud to leave my feet in such a way.  The video quality being poor and off-center, it may be hard to determine, but my afflicted left Achilles tendon left and arrived on the mat in a peaceful manner.  My calf and foot did not break apart like last time...small victories!
A Google search for "US Gymnast Achilles" led me to Alicia Sacramone, as well as my primary Google target, John Orozco.  My mom had told me about Orozco's story, and I saw him yesterday competing at the London Olympics, at the world's highest level. I vaguely remember Sacramone from Beijing 2008.
Both Sacramone and Orozco suffered Achilles tendon tears, Orozco at the 2010 US National Visa Championships, and Sacramone in 2011, as she prepped for the World Championships.  Sacramone didn't make the Olympic team this year, while Orozco has been competing well in early gymnastics qualifying.
I cannot imagine competing at the top of the sport, doing jumps and vaults and dismounts at such high speed and such high intensity.  A big reason, I guess, why we don't see 36-year-old gymnasts.
Good for Sacramone and Orozco.  Guess who I'll be rooting for in men's gymnastics?

Monday, May 28, 2012

Sensitivity, A Man like Me...

I feel like the man who is robbed once and is hypervigilant from then on about robberies wherever they happen.  As I write tonight, I see LeBron in his best Steve Urkel postgame uniform.  The ESPN anchor points to his partner Scott Van Pelt, saying, "Scott, you've got the height and the glasses to play LeBron."
Scott responds, "No way, man.  My Achilles would rip and I'm skinny fat."
Everywhere I go, I'm sensitive like Ralph Tresvant, as it seems to always hit my ears that someone has ruptured or partially torn his Achilles-Ryan Howard, Lee Suggs, Sir Chauncey Billups...
Has the incidence of these injuries spiked greatly, or is it just that my antennae is up?

It's Just like Chicken Pox

"How's the leg?" is the question from caring friends and family members (and acquaintances who are co-passengers in elevators--you know how awkward those rides can be). 
My answer varies from "Good," to "Getting better," to "Not bad."  Why the variation?  Because I am in a kind of awkward time where I am not yet healed but definitely not struggling down stairs or carefully negotiating street curbs as before.  Brittney Spears could write (lipsynch) a great song about me.
My running has reached an apex of 20 minutes and has hovered around the 17-20 minute mark for two weeks now.  The plan is to ramp it up to 22, 25 minutes in the next week.  I might even run a 5K in five days.
Then What?
My physical therapist, who I haven't seen in two-plus months, even gave me the thumbs-up to do sprints, tennis, basketball when you feel like it.
Do feel like it?  YEAH.  Yeah.  Yeah, I think. 
With the Master Plan being a full return to fairly-frequent (yes, purposely vague) tennis and basketball-playing, I wonder about the next, ahem, step.
Jump rope?  It'll be a pretty soft landing.
Tennis rallying while jogging to balls?  I'll need a patient partner.
Shooting around?  Can someone shag for me like I'm Jesus Shuttlesworth and his impeccable elbow-positioning before a game?
Half-speed game until I find a groove?  In the words of Tom Jackson: "C'mon, man!"
Who ever heard of half-speed games? 
As for the voice in my head that has been planted by my friend who insists that I hang up the basketball shoes lest I suffer another dehabiliting injury...
I tell myself, and anyone who deigns to ask, that my injury was like chicken pox.  C'mon, man, they only happen once.
Famous last words?

Sunday, May 27, 2012

No, not Me!

We drive our cars way too fast. We tell ourselves that we can take that turn at 60 mph. That we can drink that much. Eat that much sugar, that much fat. That we can smoke that much.


We tell ourselves that one more day spent at the beach with the purposeful intent of burning one's skin will not give us skin cancer.

Ernest Hemingway, in a masterpiece among masterpieces, wrote a short, short story called "Indian Camp" in which the main character, young Nick Adams, a central figure in many of Hemingway's short stories, determines that he will never die. Nick has earlier accompanied his father, a country doctor to a remote American Indian camp, where a young woman struggles to give birth. The woman's husband, temporarily crippled by an axe injury, sits in a nearby bunk in emotional agony as his wife goes through physical agony. As Nick watches and listens, his father performs an improvised Caesaerean section, using a jackknife and Nick as his assistant. The new father, strangely quiet for the last part of the Caesarean, is soon found to have sliced his throat with a razor--Nick's father speculates that he killed himself because his wife's pain was too much for him to take.

One reason why this story speaks to me is that Nick, in trying to comprehend one of life's greatest mysteries, fools himself like we do. He asks his father the unknowable--Why did the man commit suicide? Do men often commit suicide?--and twists the answers into the answer he wanted: the way to avoid death was to avoid it, to make a concerted effort not to believe that death will one day get you.

The more you say something, the truer it becomes, right?

Nick Adams sees his life stretching ahead interminably, his childhood but a wisp in the unfolding life story. We have this same selective blindness as Nick every time we eat that extra couple of donuts, drink to excess, smoke that cigarette (even the tobacco industry tells us that we are ingesting tar and other potentially-deadly materials!), or bathe in the sun with the intention of singing our skin.

I was always taught (and I always teach in my classes) that actions speak louder than words, and when it comes to mortality, our actions shout. While we pay lip service to our fragility, to the impermenance of this life, our actions are often right in line with the final line of Hemingway's short story, a description of Nick's thoughts: "...he felt certain that he would never die."

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Surrender!

The white flag is raised when the fanny pack seat belt is clicked.  The flip flops are bad enough, but then they eventualy morph into Birkenstocks, with or without socks, and often show off a terrible sock tan.  The outright surrender continues with the butt huggers that would make Daisy Duke proud.  If pants are worn, they are clearly high waters with a tucked-in shirt.
Nothing, says Kanye West, makes a bad hip like a fanny pack.
A recent trip to a school festival led me to come into contact with many members of this species; that is, The Man Who Doesn't Care Anymore.  It is to me a sign of capitulation when the belly falls over the belt, the sneakers become a shoe or sandal without laces and with velcro, and when style gives in to substance.
Maturity, maybe?  A maturity that leads one to eschew the trappings of narcissism? 
Perhaps.  But maybe these men should not be seen as ome sort of heroes of Zen simplicity.  As I see the man in a faded yellow tank top and crusty purple sweatpants approach, my gaze fixes on the vanilla ice cream sundae in his hand, cherries, caramel sauce, and crushed Oreo cookies. 
Sometimes, I think, surrender is pretty sweet.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Into the Gray

In my dad's wedding photo-he was 25, almost 26, at the time-it had started to creep.  The gray hairs, while not prominent, stand out enough that they are visible to the trained eye, even interspersed in dirty-blond hair and in a yellowed, grainy photo. 
While not a curse (many men pull off the salt or salt-and-pepper look: we all know a few), the dawning of the gray hair is a harbinger of the adult puberty that turns temples, eyebrows, and long goatee hairs gray.  It's the Batsign that lets the world know it is soon (or not so soon) to see a more even ratio of nose/ear hair to head hair, crow lines to tan lines. 
My older sister, four years older than me, noticed the increase in gray the other day, and with a slightly-lowered voice, asked me, "When are you gonna start getting it dyed?  It's a family thing-we start to go gray around 30, 31."
Her observation, although not proven through a double-blind study, seems to be true enough, as pictures of her in her early 30s show a wisp of gray in her raven hair.
"Mr. Flaco," Jenni says today in class, not having seen me for about a week, "Did you dye your hair?"
Silence as my internal voice registers 8.0 on the Richter Scale..."Dang, those gray hairs I saw in the mirror today, the ones that seem to have sprouted overnight-they're that noticeable?"
"Yeah," Jenni says, "It looks darker."
Crisis averted.
For a few days, at least...

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Injury Update

Somewhere, USA--Flaco still is on the "PUP" (physically unable to perform) list, but inside sources say that he is gradually getting into playing shape.
In a heartening development, I ran twenty minutes yesterday, at a clip slightly behind that of my glory days-when exactly these years were, I don't know.  I didn't feel drop-to-the-floor tired, as I did during my first few forays into running after my injury.  After about five instances of running fifteen minutes at a time, I moved up to sixteen minutes two days ago before jumping (pun semi-intended) to twenty minutes (and a few extra seconds, but who's counting?) yesterday. 
"Painful?" my dad asked me.  "How's it feel, does it sting or hurt?"
It doesn't necessarily hurt, except on occasions on which I'm on my feet for extended periods of time, or I'm wearing flimsy dress shoes.  It does, though, feel frozen.  To wit, I'm still not able to do calf raises on my left foot--whether in tandem with the right, or by itself--without grabbing on to a shelf or something about waist to shoulder-level.  The tendon is still quite weak.
Pain, it is said, is weakness leaving the body.  Then bring on the pain...

Rejuvenation or Preservation?

As the NBA regular season winds down, veterans with legitimate hopes of a playoff run--see Bryant, Kobe, and Boston's Big Three--watch most of the final games from the bench, dressed to the nines in the latest and/or costliest fashions.  Tim Duncan was held out of a few of the last regular-season games, with "Old" listed as the reason for his absence.  In my quest to dunk, to get my Brittney Griner on, I picture myself sitting the bench, resting my Achilles tendon, hoping that the doctor, without my permission, made me a guinea pig.  Maybe he wanted to test the latest technology which allowed for me to receive a "boosted" Achilles tendon, one that automatically propels its domain owner to sky in the air, no matter his previous athletic genes and pedigree.  (Although, wouldn't that make it so the receiver of the tendon was only athletically explosive in one leg?)  Ok, end of fantasy...
As I slowly work my way up the mountain that is recovery, I see the glass backboard as half-built and half -destroyed.  Have I been preserved, like a jar of pickles, pungent and acrid upon release, or have I been rejuvenated, like stale bread made new with water and a baking oven?
Have these (almost) nine months since my injury set me back nine months towards my goal of dunking a basketball?  Or has my particular chemistry, my vertical leap, my athleticism, been rejuvenated, an iPhone plugged in and refreshed up to full capacity?
A friend of mine and I argue--too strong of a word, I guess:"argue"--about whether or not someone can "make up" for lost sleep.  A 3:30 am bedtime before a 8:00 am wakeup call-can those three or four hours lost in the pursuit of the golden seven/eight hours be recovered?  Are those hours lost to the sands of time, or can they be recovered by sleeping, say, eleven hours the next night?
Will Kobe come out swinging when his playoff series starts?  Will the games he sat out help him to be a mite quicker, a mite more explosive?  Being that he has played the great majority of the NBA schedule since he was an Afro-sporting, first-step dominating, Brandy Norwood-dating tyke in 1996, one wonders if his knees have grinded a bit too much, if his body has deteriorated a bit more than say someone who has never played in The Summer Olympics-Kobe has played in one Olympics and plans to play in 2012--or 208 playoff games.
Can I get these nine/ten months back?  Has my athleticism been preserved, leaving me just as athletic, but nine months older, or have I been in some propped up by this athletic spinach, giving me a second wind like Popeye?
Is my dunk nine months away, or have I given away nine months and my best chance to dunk?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Evolution?

A seeming contradiction in mankind's (and, yes, I do use the gender-specific on purpose) world view is that things seem to get better and worse as the years go on. In the same way as "things ain't the way they used to be" with regards to the behavior of youth, the quality of music, the amount of crime, the amount of criminals, the audacity of criminals, the breakdown of manners among the youth, the breakdown among manners among the general population, so too are things somehow assumed to be better, faster, more efficient.
We look at the butt-hugger wearing, set-shot hoisting, three-man-weave in the halfcourt running players of the black-and-white days, and we see a much inferior product than what came with the days of frighteningly fast-twitch fueled athletes like Kobe, Dominique Wilkins, Shaq, Scottie Pippen, Michael Jordan, Blake Griffin, and LeBron James.
There is, then, an assumption of a positive correlation between the x and y axes that are time and level of athleticism. If Bob Cousy is the Homo Erectus, then LeBron is the Homo Sapiens Sapiens.
This linear evolution seems completely reasonable to the reasonable person (I'm not talking about the people who claim that "hand-eye coordination" is as significant as jumping ability, or that creating on the typewriter is in some way more pleasurable than creating on the PC). The linear evolution goes from room-sized IBM to the home PC to the iPad, from "Pong" to "Super Mario Bros." to "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare." It goes from Mikan to Wilt to Shaq...wait a minute.
There is your oxymoronic regression, as Wilt, a man who was "ahead of his time" by seemingly millenia, would have to stack up against any athlete from today's modern NBA. Here was a man who forced the NBA to outlaw the dunk for a time to limit his dominance. A man who could run the floor like a guard at 84" plus. A man who defied statisticians by catching, rather than blocking opponents' shots-was this a rebound or a blocked shot?
Wilt averaged plus points in one season, 29+ rebounds for his career, and did all this despite an absymal free throw shooting percentage that would have put his career scoring average into the heavens. It was almost if a man so dominant didn't deign be good at such a pedestrian pursuit as free-throw shooting, because, c'mon, anybody can shoot a decent percentage at the free throw line.
I don't think the NBA will see an appreciable spike in free-throw percentage now, or maybe ever, as that evolutionary scale seems to have come to its logical end.
Can you imagine, though, someone being more athletically dominant than Wilt? Will they be able to best his feat of grabbing a penny from the top of the backboard?
I prefer to watch the black-and-white footage of Wilt, rather than the color footage that followed him into the end of his career in the '70s. In black- and- white, Wilt looks both ancient and modern. A contradiction?
Makes perfect (sort of) sense to me.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Students versus Faculty

The Internet blogosphere was buzzing (not really) about the status of Jaime Flaco for the annual student/faculty basketball game. My August 9 injury and August 12 surgery put the game at about seven and a half months after my last basketball game. As I began running in early March, I harbored crazy fantasies of a Willis Reed-type comeback, of playing a few meaningful minutes (I was at least realistic enough to realize that conditioning, or lack thereof, would be a huge obstacle to my stardom) and leading my team to victory.

But, even with my gradual improvement in conditioning through my consistent running, I knew categorically that it would not be happening.

About a week before the game, with my players seemingly forgetting my fall and winter of wheelchair coaching, crutches, casts and walking boots, I fielded a series of questions probing my status for the upcoming game. The optimist in me says that they were scouting their tough competition, but the realist in me says they were just making conversation.
Game night arrived this past Thursday, and, dressed in slacks and shirt and tie, there was no chance I could make a gametime decision to play. The scene was incredibly ripe for a huge victory for the players: the team won its league, got to the second round of the playoffs, and faced a teachers' team without four or so of its best players. Two top players were out of town, and a talented coworker felt my injury hit close to home and sat out the game. As he watched me agonize through my recovery, he made a firm decision-one that softened as game day approached-to not get injured and therefore not play in the game.
As the game progressed, I found myself sitting first on the bench, serving as a sort of coach for the faculty, jumping up when the teachers scored a big basket or made a key defensive play, to eventually sitting a few rows behind the bench, laughing and joking with friends, and even cheering a bit for the student team.
The students took an early lead, up about seven after five minutes, and went into halftime with a fourteen-point lead. With the teachers living and dying-mostly dying-by the long range jumper (set shot?), the game was over very early. The final score was 67-41.
The bad? It was rough watching others carry the burden I know I could have eased. The trash talk between teams was vague and boring, since I couldn't back up my words on the court. I felt like there was a big party, and I wasn't invited. And I wouldn't be invited for a whole year.
The good? Without my participation, I know that it's impossible to prove that we would have won had I played.
But it's also impossible to prove that we still would have lost had I played...

Teachers versus Students Bball-A Personal History

2005--Students won, by about seven points; I think I can be forgiven for my lack of specific memory. On the first two possessions, I dribbled around a bit before hitting two three-pointers to lead to a palpable buzz in the crowd. A few minutes after my second jumper, I got a long defensive rebound and headed up the right side of the floor on a sprint with a lefthanded dribble. Seeing a defender a few feet in back of the three-point line and maintaining a good rhythm with my dribble, I pulled up from NBA three-point range for a "Why the Heck Not?" shot. All net! My legend had been secured, and the rest of the game was fairly unremarkable. I probably ended up with about 15 points and five or six rebounds.
2006--I had just been hired at the school, and with some stellar players on the teachers' team, including my brother, my playing team was fairly limited. There were no standout moments, but my seven points and three assists helped the teachers solidify a ten point win.
2007--A new school brought with it the most talented student team I've faced in all my games. This team ended up making it to the city semifinals, and their twenty-point win over the teachers was easily earned. In an unofficial vote, I was named MVP of the Teacher Team for my 15+ points, three or four steals, and five or so assists.
2008--The school did not hold a Student versus Teacher game. :(
2009--I truly believe my credibility as basketball coach was strengthened by my 15 or so points, block of a breakaway layup, and no-look pass for a game-changing three-pointer. Teachers won by eight.
2010--Part of this game can be found on Youtube; namely, the end sequence in which the teachers fail to score at the buzzer to overcome a one-point deficit. I scored a ridiculous 16 points in the first-half, including two long three-pointers on the fast break. My second half totals were unimpressive, as I finished with 20 points. The first-half barrage, though, was enough to secure my legend at school, as students I knew and didn't know regaled me with, "Flaco for threeeee!" for weeks after the game.
2011--See May 15, 2011 post

Passing of the Torch?

Two nights ago, the Oklahoma City Thunder came to LA and easily handled the Los Angeles Lakers-102-93. The younger, quicker Thunder wore out the aging Lake Show with 12 fast break points in the third quarter, pretty much ending the game there. The young legs of Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Kevin Durant were too much against the Lakers Big Three of young Andrew Bynum, aging but still quite effective Pau Gasol, and aging but still All-NBA First Team Kobe Bryant.
Yes, this was just one game. Yes, the Lakers just got younger and quicker with the acquistion of point guard Ramon Sessions. Yes, the Thunder just got a bit older with the recent signing of former Laker Derek Fisher.
Still, one couldn't help but see this game as a passing of the torch, a changing of the guard. The Lakers huffed and puffed with Ron Artest/Metta World Peace, Kobe, and Gasol, while the Thunder sprinted past them with Westbrook, Harden, Durant, and their youthful legs. While Kobe struggled to even get a shot, going an ugly 7-25 in the process, Westbrook and Durant made it look too easy in scoring a combined and smooth 57 points.
It looks to this observer that the Thunder, with an average age of 26.2, have paid their dues in losing to the Lakers two years back in the playoffs and to the Mavericks last year, with both the Lakers and Mavs going on to win the NBA Championship. Even the 26. 2 average age is a bit misleading, as 34 year Nazr Mohammed barely plays, and the team's "Big Four," which includes athletic big man Serge Ibaka, has an average age of 22.5.
Youth has been served so far in the regular season. Look for it to win out in the postseason, too.
Then again, with Kobe Bryant a slightly-different player than a few years ago, but arguably almost as productive, is it lack of talent or aging that has brought the Lakers down? Or are the two qualities one and the same?

"Talkin' Bout My Generation..."

Who were The Who talking about in the song title above? You know and I know that they were referring to those born within three to five years of the band members. I may be a little conservative with my three to five year estimate, but you get the point. When we speak of "my generation" or "our generation," when does this generation end? It seems that when we speak of our generations, we mean the time of our childhood, up through our teenager years, and perhaps into our early twenties. Why do we stop there? In yesterday's class lecture about the impact of America's "Roaring 20s" on the world at large, I began speaking about the classic "Saved by the Bell" episode in which Jessie Spano freaks out with too much studying to do and starts taking speed pills. "I'm so excited...I'm so...SCARED!" (C'mon, you know you remember this episode...) It's a logical connection to make, right, between a formulaic 90s teen sitcom and an American cultural movement of excess?
While this episode aired often in rerun form during my early teenage years, a surprising number of my students, most of whom were born in 1995 and 1996, were familiar with this episode, thanks to TBS and Nick at Nite. The episode aired for the first time in 1990, when I was nine, so can I even claim this Jessie Spano soundbite as part of My Generation?
Well, even those who cannot expand their minds enough to see this connection can see a big reason why we think of Our Generation as that time when we were "young" (what a loaded word). Was the rise of hip hop in the 80s and 90s my generation? Partly, as I was born in 1981 and came of age during the days of NWA, Nas, and the Wu-Tang Clan. But the question is, when did music stop being of my generation? Did the rise of 50 Cent and Kanye West, which took place starting around 2001-2003, coincide with My Generation, or did it come slightly after? Was 9/11 (I was a 20-year-old college sophomore when it happened) the defining event of My Generation? When does another generation wrest control of this event from the preceding generation, in the same way as the Baby Boomers claim November 22, 1963, and April 4, 1968? In our world, youth is king and queen, and the fact that between the forty-year-old and the eighteen-year-old transfixed by the horrific events of September 11, only the latter seems to claim the event as of his generation, tells me enough. Youth is one's entree into generation ownership; the others are just jealous.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

If I Could Turn Back Time...

One of the greatest moments, one of my crowning achievements as a person, was the day-I was probably fourteen or so-that I figured out how to freeze time on Sonic the Hedgehog for Sega Genesis. The idea that I could continue playing, continue racking up points with no advancement of time made be positively giddy with adolescent nerdiness.
Many of us, perhaps more males than females (though I have no empirical data to support my thesis), live in this world. This is particularly true as we advance in age, as we move away from the Year Zero that was our last in competitive sports, or last year in college, and on and on.
The team we played in our football playoffs would have beaten anyone that plays today. Today's players aren't as fundamentally sound as they were in my day. These high school freshmen are much smaller than we were as freshmen...
Or the best-the vaguely arrogant, vaguely accusatory towards that "society" that doesn't seem to include the speaker-"You never know about people these days."
In fact, that team from the football playoffs started three linemen who weighed 180, 170, and 160, and would have been killed by many of today's behemoth teams.
Today's players may not be as fundamentally sound, but is it entirely their fault? Who taught them, or didn't teach them, these fundamentals? Who packs the sports highlight shows with dunks and crossovers, pays Allen Iverson to hawk Reeboks through his "fundamental" jukes and ridiculous athleticism?
In fact, the freshmen of today are more or less the freshmen of your day-some tall, some short, some physically mature, some not.
And, in fact, as Hemingway and others have repeated throughout the years, borrowing from Ecclesiastes, "There is nothing new under the sun."
But, man, wasn't it a great feeling to suspend time on the Sega, and isn't it a great feeling, a comforting feeling, albeit temporary, to live like it's 1995 when it's 2012?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Get Up, Stand Up

A few nights back, I went running for the fourth time since my August injury. My PT gave me the go-ahead to start running some three weeks back, and I waited another two weeks or so before attempting to run. The first strides were incredibly awkward, the successive strides slightly so. A sort of stiffness made my strides stilted, though not painful. The feeling is one hard to describe, though I did manage to compare it to running with the left leg being an on-the-ground version of a stilt in a phone conversation with my dad.
My PT has had me doing daily sets of ten of a stretch in which I flex the left foot forward to regain the natural flexion that has been missing since that fateful day some seven months ago. The need to continue with this exercise becomes very apparent as I run like Hop Along Cassidy, the left leg slightly frozen in its flexing.
The first time I ran for about five minutes, and the pain was minimal, the awkwardness more than minimal. As expected, my conditioning was way down, and a few minutes in, I was already feeling cramps. All right, gotta crawl before you can walk (metaphorically).
The second time I ran, I logged about seven minutes, with my left foor still stiff. The third time, seven minutes, and the fourth...well, about twelve minutes combined.
Moving easily that night, I finished a weight workout and decided to run home. Seven minutes into the run, an uneven sidewalk put me onto the asphalt, my phone skittering some twenty feet ahead. Embarassed to say the least, I was at least relieved to see that no one seemed to see my fall, as I had ducked onto a quiet side street.
The fall was in uber slow-motion, and a grunt escaped my throat as I sprawled on the ground. Aw, man, this sucked. The running, the conditioning, was starting to improve, and now a microscopic lift in the sidewalk planted me on my belly.
My phone (those protective cases do work!) was fine, my keys a bit dirty from laying in a quasi-garden on the side of the road. My phone's timer was still running at ten minutes-I figured about two minutes since I fell--and I too decided to, after a minute of walking with my head down, take my licking and keep on ticking. Crossing the street, sure that no one had seen me fall, I quickened my pace.
I lifted my legs-the left one weighed down by a stiff Achilles tendon, the right one soon-to-be scabbed from an unceremonious fall-a bit higher with each step. I started running.
I kept running. The clock was stopped in unison with my running stopping. Fourteen minutes, of which about twelve were running minutes.
I got up. Kept running.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

I am 99% (well, maybe like 76%...)

Yesterday was my first physical therapy appointment in a month and a half, and I was initially surprised by the physical therapist's surprise. It took me a moment to remember that there had been such a gap in time since she'd seen me. You don't notice a pot boiling until it's boiling--did I just make up this metaphor? Do you understand it, Dear Reader?
Perhaps some subconscious part of me dressed up for the occasion, as much as a new, fresh Puma tracksuit (red with silver trim, if you're scoring at home) with new brick red Filas can be called "dressing up." As I marched into her examination room with an almost imperceptible hitch in my gait, I remembered the first time I even took one step on that same starkly white floor, and how tried to look at the floor's lines to see if my left foot scraped forward an inch even.
I guess I'm at 75% percent now. 75ish...I have been cleared by my PT to jog. Her go-ahead was tempered with a "Make sure you work on long walks first, then progress maybe in a week or two to jogging." This seems reasonable, a dipping of a toe into the pool.
I have, in some ways, had a sort of plateau in the last few weeks. I walk strongly, with a limp that even those who know my recent history don't notice or barely notice. I have been working out steadily, four or times a week, getting that invigorating before-work workout, doing at least 3/4 of my assigned stretches and exercises.
Now, what? The little things. Balance exercises (standing on my left leg for thirty seconds, doing ten reps). A reverse Fat Joe exercise designed to loosen up the crease in front of the ankle (I lean forward, putting pressure on my left foot until the foot almost comes up off the ground).
My PT ended the appointment by telling me exactly how these stretches and exercises would help me to cut to the hoop, stop on the dead run after chasing down the offensive player, and explode up on a jump shot ("explode" being relative for a guy who is trying to dunk).
Me? Basketball. Playing, not watching. Running the lane and not sitting on the bench, coaching while trying to keep my left side turned away from anyone chasing down a loose ball?
Music to this coach's (and reborn baller's) ears...