Why Break the Illusion?
For more years than I can count I’ve loved to play sports. Basketball and football were and are most important to me, but volleyball is a sport I love to get up and charge in to. My appetite for playing sports has always been there, but early on my body and my talent didn’t allow me to compete. I was always smaller than the rest of the guys in class as I passed through middle and high schools. When teams were picked, I was last boy standing. When I was much younger in elementary school, I was a fine athlete of regular size. I boasted the second fastest 600 yard run time during the spring of my fourth grade year. Only Robin Roberts beat me. He ran a 1:59, and I clocked in at 2:04. Two years later, the guys were all growing past me, and I was stuck with a fourth grade body.
I suppose it’s no surprise that when I graduated from college, I found myself teaching and in charge of a group of kids in a fourth grade class that loved to play outside. Every day, we’d head out to the playground and spend joyous minutes playing all sorts of games. I joined every activity they participated in.
Some days, everyone seemed to gravitate to the playground equipment. Back in those days, the equipment that today is considered dangerous and litigious was considered fun and care-free. Hours were spent in reckless enjoyment. I can’t remember how many kids I saw trampled on the merry-go-round and how many kids flew off the rings. Yet we continued to take the chance just so we could all experience the joy.
Old-fashioned swinging was a real adventure back on that playground. The long arcing swings reached to the sky with the standing challenge being to see how high you could go and successfully jump off. Proving my swing skill is when I first realized that I had become some kind of athletic god to my fourth grade class. Gradually building my swing up and up until my feet were practically tickling the power line leading to the ratty old trailer beside the swings, I looked down on kids gathered around to see if I would indeed launch as promised. They cheered me on as I pumped higher and higher, each cheer sealing my resolve to get serious about and go through with my launch. After a final, massive pump that nearly sent me swinging around the bar, I released from the seat and sailed with beauty and grace through the air. It all seemed so effortless. I remember glancing down and seeing sixty wide-open fourth grade eyes and thirty gaping mouths screaming encouragement. As gravity took hold of me, my spirit launched higher. When my body reached the ground some distance from the swing, I tucked and rolled with the impact, popping immediately back to my feet with a grin the size of
The rest of that year, I tossed football, always possessing the most powerful 30 yard arm in the grade, hitting my receivers in stride. On the hoops court, I could drive and score lay-ups at will, even with six or seven kids hanging all over me. I was the Shaq Daddy of the fourth grade. I could also go back to half court and sometimes sink amazing jumpers from great distances. Every time I struck, the crowd gathered around me would “ooooh” and “aaaah.” In kickball, the kids all screamed for me to come to the plate and smash a homerun. Every time up, I cleared the bases. I was so dominating that I required myself to play for both teams, pitching as well as batting. In dodgeball, I could not be knocked out because I was able to move my relatively huge frame spryly from side to side in wood-elf fashion. There was no stopping me or my ego. I was a monster out there on the playground.
For many years, I continued with my private ego-induced trip. Over the course of time, kids I taught had grown up. One boy went off to play football at UVA. Another group of boys ended up winning a state football championship (1991 William Monroe Dragons-Single A) with many of the players being graduates of my private athletic school. My own kids were born and I raised them to play sports in the backyard or on the driveway. I never liked losing a basketball game much less Candyland, Life, or Monopoly to my own kids.
I began playing volleyball against adults, transferring my arrogant, relentless style to that court. Year after year, I dove after balls slamming my body onto the hard concrete or wood floors. Bruised and battered, I’d usually only be sore for a day or so afterwards. As I grew older, I prided myself on being able to play pick-up basketball games with large teens without getting hurt or owned.
My egocentric world came crashing down upon me several years ago. The tube and spirits had made me lazy and out of focus. I had just resolved to begin getting in better shape so that I could continue to enjoy the sports that I loved so dearly when my heart suddenly decided to miss a few beats. The fact that I turned an ashen color along with the dizziness from the skips were enough to get me admitted to the cardiac wing of the local hospital for the extended July 4th weekend in 2004. Trapped in my seventh floor bedroom, I seriously began to contemplate the possibility of death. My youthful invulnerability was stripped away from me leaving me naked and helpless on that most uncomfortable bed with liquid-filled plastic tubes plugged into my arms and sticky wires connected to my chest by spies.
Any residual trace of youthfulness and the associated arrogance all finally left me last year, and it was a stupid thing that did it. I was attending a Virginia Tech vs