I recently picked up my tennis racket for the first time in years. I like to think that I used to be decent at the game; I was at least mostly competitive. I lettered in varsity three of my years at Collierville High School in the early 1990s. And then I went to college, worked for a living, got married, had a kid, etc. Didn't see many tennis courts for the last decade and a half.
When I picked up my racket again this June, it was Gabriela I pulled from the scabbard. Literally. That's my racket's name. Gabriela. I'm not joking.
I've had Gabriela — a Prince "Graphite COMP XB Oversize" — since 1993. I named her after Gabriela Sabatini, the Argentinean women's tennis player, one of my favorite players ever.
In fact, while we're talking about it: My three favorite players of all time are, in quite certain order: 1. Steffi Graf, 2. Michael Chang, and 3. Gabriela Sabatini. It's no coincidence that all three were at their peak in the same era — the exact time I hit sports puberty. (It's the same reason my favorite hockey team remains the Calgary Flames; right place, right time.)
Sandy Koufax was a Hall of Fame baseball player, but you probably know that. He has been retired for decades but has stayed in amazingly good shape.
He doesn't really push a diet with his name on it, as far as I know at least, but he once told an interviewer how he stayed so fit. He orders anything he wants to eat but leaves half of it.
Pete Maravich could spin a basketball on his finger, keep it spinning while he walked around the block, and then bounce it off his head into the basket. Tiger Woods, everyone knows, can bounce a golf ball on a sand wedge then swat it down the fairway with a baseball swing.
A stupid sports trick is incredibly hard but looks easy. It is genius at work.
Charles Gerber is 53 years old. He had two total knee replacements in February of 2007. And last weekend he played in the finals of the University Club tennis tournament.
In other words, there is hope for injured lifetime athletes who think they might never play again.
Tom Watson's near win at the British Open at the age of 59 will inspire lots of interesting articles and books about sports performance and aging. He's an outlier's outlier, but will be a sports "everyman" for the rest of us fantasy athletes.
But the best over-50 athlete in the world is not Watson. I'd give that title to a woman who played tennis several times in Memphis.
The first time I came across the word "farb" was in Tony Horwitz's book "Confederates in the Attic" about Civil War reenactors. Hardcore reenactors make their own clothes, sleep in the mud, and march barefoot. Farbs buy their clothes, sleep in tents from Wal-Mart, and eat store-bought food.
Farb can be a noun or a verb, and it can apply to any human enterprise including sports.
Fitness instructor Stacy Chick will lead a free, one-hour workout Saturday at 8 a.m. at Greenbelt Park, across from HarborTown on the Mississippi River.
Stacy Chick is known for leading rigorous boot-camp style workouts, but don't let that scare you away. If the Least Flexible Man in Memphis (me) and his wife can do this, you can too. Plus there will be free water, sports drinks, camaraderie, and some other stuff.
In team and individual sports, the ideal recipe for improvement is a few easy wins, lots of hard wins, and a few tough losses.
But what if you're the best by a long shot? Then you have a problem.
If you’re headed to the beach or “hiking the Appalachian Trail” this summer and want a good sports read, here are some of the best books ever written.
My advisory panel includes some former jocks and book lovers. Read on, leave your cell phone at home, and do not under any circumstances talk to the press at the airport.
I went to a high school reunion back in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a few weeks ago and talked to a classmate who teaches high school and coaches tennis outside Detroit.
That weekend, her current school and our old school were competing 75 miles away for the girl’s state tennis championships. Which led us to a conversation about how things have changed in 40 years.
Roger Federer aced Andy Roddick 50 times in the finals of Wimbledon last week, and Roddick returned the favor 27 times at speeds up to 140 miles an hour.
There are good college tennis players and teaching pros in Memphis who can consistently hit a 120-mile-an-hour serve. Or hit a racquetball 150 miles an hour. Or put so much slice on a serve in ping pong that points are over in a few seconds.
This is what happens when players who are already bigger, stronger, and more skilled get the benefits of better equipment too.
All athletes fail at some level. Some of us just do it sooner than others and in front of smaller crowds, or no crowds at all.
Professional and college athletes are (unfairly) famous for their failures — Bill Buckner for the ground ball that went through his legs, Rick Ankiel and his inability to throw strikes, Darius Washington and his missed free throws against Louisville that would have sent Memphis to the NCAA Tournament. The rest of us fail privately and ingloriously, but are haunted just the same.
It's a small sport, but it's a big nation.
My goal is to win the national squash championship in the over-60 division next year. Easier said than done, I know.
What's your sport and what's your athletic quest? And what are you doing about it?
This column is about playing sports and probably not the ones we grew up playing in school. It's about competition, failure, and redemption, getting worse and then getting better, getting fat and getting fit — all in pursuit of a higher level of mediocrity.
I'm not a sportswriter, but I've played sports almost my whole life. So have my wife and children. As I look at my phone and e-mail contacts, I'm struck by how many of them I got to know through sports. Our sports keep us healthy, sane, and connected.
If this column helps Get Memphis Moving, that's fine, but plenty of Memphians are moving already, like the thousand or so who run past my house every year in the Memphis marathon. Incredible.
Many of us get daily reminders in our knees, hips, and shoulders that we might not have that many shopping days until Christmas.
My strategy is part athletic and part actuarial. One of the secrets of age-group competition is playing your division the first year you are eligible, taking on your elders before your betters can catch up to you. If you can't beat them, outlast them or outlive them.
Whatever sport you're passionate about, I am that rare person who really does want to hear your war stories, training tips, and setbacks. Ever rolled a four-foot putt three feet past the hole, double-faulted on set point, clanged a clutch free throw, or finished last by half a lap? Did you try again and succeed at something else? Would you rather play a sport, any sport, than watch pros or shamateurs? I want your story and comments.
Be warned that I'll be telling you mine. Just don't tell me that I'm unfit to carry so-and-so's jock. I know. I tried.
John Branston writes the "City Beat" column and is working on a book about ordinary people who become extraordinary age-group athletes. He will play any sport, except soccer, that involves a ball.