Category Archives: Sports

When the weak become strong we win

Play to your strengths, we say, because that’s how you win.

It’ll win you games, earn you accolades, get you noticed, selected and promoted. And if you can get your opponent to play to your strengths, then you’re golden.

Temporarily. Because favoriting tends to make us lopsided. Have you noticed this, too? When I play to my strong side, my weak side gets left out. Over time, as my strengths get stronger my weaknesses get worse and I have limited my own arsenal. Pretty soon, so my opponent doesn’t discover my weaknesses, I learn to hide them or disguise them in order to diminish their impact.

Unfortunately, the lopsided condition and our self-imposed limitations also leave us prone to injury. Inevitably, we sprain, strain, twist, tear, break or full-on dislocate something. If we’re lucky, after taking time off or perhaps spending some time in repair and/or rehab, we make a come back.

Except now there are left-overs, losses we hope aren’t permanent. Things just don’t feel the same and our bodies know it. They do what they’re used to doing; they compensate. The strong side picks up the slack while the weak side tags along for the ride. It has to — because it’s attached (!) — usually at the expense of form and function, always at the expense of full performance.

Yep. Going with whatever works rather than working on what’s holding us back limits us in the long run. Eventually, there’ll be a painful tip to our stride that’ll only get worse with time. Unless…

… we switch our loyalties and favor our weak side. Humbling though that is. As far behind as that makes us fall. As uncoordinated as that makes us feel. It requires more effort, more intention, more dedication, more practice. It may make us feel like a beginner all over again, but it’ll pay off in the long run because we’re gonna need every part of this whole miraculous body of ours to power us to life’s finish line.

What a race we could run if we stopped playing only to our strengths and gave our weaker parts the respect they deserve. What good advice we’ve been given:

Those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. .. God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 

from 1 Corinthians 12: 22-25

kicking and kicking but going nowhere?

I’ve never been much of a flutter-kicker. More of an arm-stroker. But when the masters swim workout calls for 100m freestyle kick, well, you kick. And it feels like an eternity to the other end.

Some people seem to have the gift of flutter-kicking, propelling themselves along like a speed boat powered by an outboard motor. Me? I’m more of a putterer. Not for want of effort, mind you. I’ll churn up a wake like nobody’s business and go NOWHERE!

Which is a bit embarrassing, especially if the people who share your lane are either piling up behind you or catching you up and tugging on your feet so they can pass.

Fortunately, today I had my very own lane. So when the workout called for a 100 meter kick, I aimed my kick-board dutifully toward the opposite end of the pool and set off with a mighty push from the wall. Momentum is underrated when you’ve an entire pool ahead of you and a kick like mine.

Now, I’d like to say that today I surprised myself with my torpedo-like speed, but I did not. No, I was much more like the Little Engine That Could. In fact, at times it was only the changing colors on the lane rope that convinced me I was moving at all.

Four navy, three black. Four navy, three black. Four, three. Four. Three.

Isn’t that how days feel sometimes? Like we’re kicking and kicking and going nowhere? Funny how something as simple as a friendly lane rope — which really is going nowhere — can reassure us that we’re actually making forward progress. And that, in the end, is all we really need to know.

….kick on, my friends. Before we know it, we’ll be there.

What’s worse than hitting STOP on a moving treadmill?

Years ago, when I was a graduate student doing time in the exercise science laboratory in the depths of the Smith Center at George Washington University, I committed a mistake that nearly turned disastrous.

My lab partner and I were learning how to operate the treadmill in accordance with an exercise stress test protocol. The test started with the treadmill at low speed, shallow incline and low physical demand and progressed gradually by steps to higher speeds, steeper inclines and maximum physical challenge. The test was finished when the participant asked to stop or until they could no longer keep up the pace. The highest level reached provided a measure of their maximal exercise capacity.

On this day, my brave lab partner chose to take the first turn on the treadmill while I, full of A student confidence, deftly operated the treadmill controls. She began walking very slowly on the level belt while I got the hang of adjusting speed and incline at regular intervals. Up she went in speed and incline, easily managing the changes in pace. After several minutes, she, being quite fit, had progressed to very high levels on the test, running at top speed at a steep incline, breathing heavily at a rapid heart rate. She was sweating and near exhaustion when she finally signaled she was ready to stop the test.

Seeing her signal, I did what was natural. Yep, I hit the STOP button. Do you know what happens when you hit the stop button on a treadmill when someone is running at full speed?

For some reason, this event has come alive in my mind in these days when the whole world has lurched to a sudden stop. The corona virus hit the stop button on the treadmill where the very fortunate were mid-run at a steep incline, and all the world has been launched into a free fall.

Now, in my days as a graduate student I was of course not alone in the exercise lab while performing this stress test. Rather, I was doing all this under the watchful eye of my exercise science professor, Dr Paup. He, reacting quickly to what he saw I was about to do, shouted, “Don’t stop the treadmill!” Hearing him and in sudden recognition of what I had just done, I did exactly what one should never do next… Yep, in reflex response, I hit the start button.

Fortunately for me, my lab partner was not only fit but also nimble. Somehow by throwing out her hands for balance, grabbing the handrails and lifting her weight from her now hopelessly entangled running sneakers, she escaped disaster and emerged from my total incompetence completely uninjured.

To this day, I have extra respect and harbor even a bit of trepidation with regard to the OFF button on a treadmill. Please, I beg you, press it only in an emergency and preferably not while someone is running. Isaac Newton was right when he told us that a thing in motion tends to remain in motion.

But please, and in fact this precaution is veritably screaming at me to announce in these days, if one makes the unfortunate mistake of hitting the STOP, which one may do when one is young and this experience is new, do not risk further injury by hitting the START to bring things back up to speed. While treadmills are designed to power down with a bit of grace, they don’t have a safety guard against the reflexive stupidity we are prone to when we go to correct our first error by committing another.

This stoppage time, unwelcome to us all, but especially to those who were just hitting their stride, has given us a marvelous opportunity to power down and assess the reasoning behind our activities and the potential recklessness of our protocols. Surely, it will be tempting and even reflexive to mash the start button to correct our error, but it’s better we didn’t.

What if, in this moment of profound pause and redemptive grace, we took stock of the value that’s been displayed so glowingly before us and decided to honor it by acknowledging its worth? How might that change our protocols?

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