03
Sep
08

Late Start

One morning recently, I nearly fell over when an intense, sharp, pain shot through my ankle. I was putting on a sock or playing with the cat or something; I don’t remember. But I’m only 31! I’m far too young to be falling apart.

And then it was gone.

Minutes later, when I was walking to the bus, it hit again, but a little less intensely. It stems from a two-year-old rugby injury. I rolled my ankle this summer at a practice. We were in Central Park, and an officious little groundskeeper was busying himself by whizzing by on his little golf cart every 15 minutes to yell at us for running on the open lawn of the North Meadow.

We weren’t wearing spikes, which are verboten by the Central Park Conservancy. And we were taking up very little space in the corner under some trees, far away from the baseball diamonds, where nobody goes anyway. But I guess we’re not allowed to use a ball larger than a softball or to run on the grass. It defies explanation.

So this groundskeeper finally succeeded in chasing us outside of the fenced region to a downward-sloping area of patchy grass, tree roots and the odd broken bottle. We made do with this until I was chasing down someone during a game of touch, missed a step on the side of the hill, and went down hard.

My teammate made his try. I, on the other hand, spent the next 10 minutes on the ground in a quivering heap of agony. As I was contorting myself into various death throes, I considered how my life might change should I need to amputate my right foot. I wouldn’t look that bad with a prosthesis, right? At least not in the winter. With long pants. And boots.

This is the same foot that sent me into physical therapy when I screwed up my plantar fascia the previous season. As a result, my right foot is considerably weaker than the left — and prone to ankle injuries.

The physical therapy got me in the habit of stretching really well. But it’s never been quite the same since. Not three blocks from my apartment, I tripped on a jutting corner of sidewalk while coming to a stop at a red light and rolled the same ankle. Can’t catch a break.

So now I have these recurring pains. And a new season brings new aches. What keeps me sane is the blessing of regenerative tissue.

But I curse this body sometimes. I’ve spent 30 years actively not conditioning my body to take this kind of stress. Coming to athletics so late in my life puts me at particular risk. But I love it, so I keep with it.

This is why kids should play sports. It makes their bodies grow in ways that will help them later. Note to self: When we have a kid of our own, he will play something. I won’t push him to anything in particular. My parents never pushed me to anything, which I have always been thankful for. But I will definitely push him toward choosing something he likes.

Like rugby.

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