In January I set personal goals for strength, weight, and competition with a goal of winning a national age-group championship. So far, so so. I've met two of the three goals but have been backsliding lately, and I come up with new excuses every week.
The national rankings for squash came out last week. I'm not in them, but I have beaten some of the people who are and lost to some others. I haven't seen the top-ranked players so I don't know how strong they are. But I'm assuming I have to get better and fitter before the national tournaments in early 2010. A couple of weeks ago I talked to the older age-group national champions in racquetball after their matches at the Racquet Club of Memphis. Four things stood out: they all play virtually every day; they're free of chronic injuries; they travel all over the country to play tournaments; and they do some form of disciplined cross training such as weight lifting, spinning, yoga, or running.
I'm 0 for 4 on those counts. Arthritic knees and sore feet keep me off the court at least a couple days a week no matter how many ibuprofen I swallow. I can't afford to travel to enough out-of-state tournaments to qualify for a ranking. And I have crummy habits when it comes to doing any exercise that doesn't involve chasing a ball.
What I have going for me, on the other hand, is relatively good health, good fortune, and opponents who are younger and better than I am but willing to play with me anyway. By playing more, eating a little and less, and substituting water for Gatorade, I dropped seven pounds since January to meet my goal, but I put three of them back on in October. By being lighter, I was able to meet my strength goal because I had less weight to lift, but now I'm halfway back to where I was in January. By practicing for about 30 hours over a few months, I was able to master, more or less, a difficult volleying drill called the four-corner butterfly. I finished second in the only tournament I played but regional competition isn't national competition.
So I decided I need some intermediate goals to get me safely past Thanksgiving and Christmas and all that rich food and desserts and wine. My year-end goal, minus 25 percent, is now my end-of-November goal. My colleague Kelli DeWitt told me about 64-calorie drinks that allow you to keep weight off and still indulge a little bit. That's consistent with my "Sandy Koufax diet" that says eat anything you want but leave half of it. I met a yoga instructor, Karen Moss, who seems to understand geezer jocks and their limited abilities and awful flexibility. I have a new playing partner, Mahomed Elmeliegy, who is a former Egyptian junior champion and gives me drills and pointers as well as some gift points. I have a freezer full of healthy frozen salmon from Alaska, compliments of my son the fishing guide. It takes a village.
The problem is I have some excuses that are even better than the ones I had ten months ago. I have learned what a neuroma is — a pain on the bottom of your foot that keeps podiatrists and sellers of shoe inserts in business. (Tip: Don't save on shoes, replace them at least three times a year.) The more you lay off, the stiffer you get. If you can't walk without pain you can't exercise. Karen's yoga studio is 20 minutes away, which is one more reason not to go when I need one more reason why I should go. DVDs leave you on your own without the power of group therapy. The healthier I eat, the hungrier I get. Yesterday's spanish rice and salad is today's Holiday Ham and pimento cheese. I have enough abstinence in my life without giving up beer and wine for more than a few days. So it goes.
But I gave up those growlers of Scottish Ale from Bosco's. Don't tell me about sacrifice.