Messages from the gods

When things are moving too fast for us physically, if we are unable to slow our bodies down consciously, we will do the slowing unconsciously, up to and including breaking a body part.

I learned this by continuing to play basketball, semi-competitively (work and league teams), against much younger people into my 40s.

After 20 years of playing with only a broken rib or two - due to someone else's aggression - I began breaking fingers and toes as if they belonged to someone else. No longer able to keep up with 'da yout' on the court with me, I became distracted and stopped protecting my extremities. I ignored the pain, so my body presented me with torn knee ligaments. Finally, after a three-hour surgery and a two-month rehab, I got the message and, at age 50, became a soccer goalie.

Twenty-three years older than anyone else on my team in a Hawaii club league in 2000, at the end of my second competitive year, playing a game whose rules I wasn't sure about (the extent of my "football" knowledge could be summed up as: select a proper angle, cut off man with the ball, stop kick), and relying almost totally on my still decent reflexes, I misjudged the speed of the young former University of Hawaii at Hilo player bearing down on me. I got to the ball too soon, from the wrong angle and, thanks to his foot and the ball combined, detached my right bicep.

I've never been stabbed, but I think I know what it must feel like. A four-hour surgery followed, and that was followed in turn by six weeks in a basket cast and a pithy lecture from my young, Japanese-Hawaiian surgeon.

"You may look early 40s on the outside, but your tendons are 50-plus, brah," he said, smiling (smirking?). "What about swimming? Or golf?"

I didn't acknowledge his advice externally: golf, for God's sake. Instead, I just kept staring through him like he was a bill collector.

But within weeks I'd joined the only health club on our little island and swam every weekday instead of eating lunch. It was relaxing and healthy, swimming in the almost-always empty Olympic-sized pool - everybody else who belonged to the club was inside lifting weights or running the treadmill, leaving the pool to me and a few little local kids being watched by their sunbathing, bikinied mommies.

When I moved back to Seattle four years ago, I shunned indoor swimming and started easing into golf. Now, after a halting start at what I'd always seen as a stupid game for rich old men, I am hooked big time.

I subscribe to Golf Digest and Golf Magazine in alternate years, play every Sunday at Interbay with friends from the P-I and every Thursday at Jefferson with some Thai friends. My handicap is finally under 30 this year, making me officially a hacker instead of a rank neophyte.

Much of my social life is still occupied by younger folk, but my sporting life is often spent with folks my age or older. I've played golf with an 84-year-old woman who almost shot her age, and a chain-smoking, 77-year-old retired cop who did shoot 76 or 77.

I am proud in a perverse way that I finally, however grudgingly, am trying to adjust to my body's inexorable slide into deep middle age. Not proud of my golfing abilities, but proud, even pleased, to have found something I enjoy so much, that other folks think is an age-appropriate activity for me. And the one green place on God's troubled earth I can enjoy myself with Republicans, as long as they don't start talking about Bush and Cheney.

At least in athletics, if nowhere else quite yet, I have stopped rebelling and accepted my fate. It is, for me, a unique and oddly satisfying feeling.

Dennis Wilken is a freelance writer living on Queen Anne. He can be reached at

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