[This is my column in The Commercial Review from today.]
I’m definitely not as young as I used to be.
Gone are the days where I can run around outside with friends for hours on end playing sport after sport without ever getting hurt, let alone exhausted.
If there ever was a time when I was hurt, Mom was there to stop the bleeding, put a bandage on it, kiss my forehead and send me back outside with my friends.
Or my older brothers were around to tell me to be a big kid and stop whining or crying and get back outside.
Countless times I jammed my finger trying to catch a football playing “touchdown” with the Darks, the family with three boys down the street. Touchdown was a game we created in the road where we’d try to make diving catches and still keep our feet in the street — which was in bounds — much like the corner of an end zone.
If the injury sustained was from playing tackle football in the “back 40,” my brothers would tell me to hit the other kid harder than he hit me. The person getting hit is usually hurt far more than the person doing the hitting.
There were also many scrapes from jumping off our bikes, getting hit with tennis balls while playing baseball or any injury that came with playing street hockey.
I can’t forget the sprained ankles or even more jammed fingers from playing basketball across the street with fellow neighborhood kids Brittany and Kaihla Szunko. Or even Britt’s fluke accident playing basketball near the end of winter, when she slipped on ice and broke her ankle.
A childhood full of sporting injuries gives us stories to tell as adults.
Thankfully, none of my injuries were serious like my brother’s. John took a sinker to the eye as an early teenager. There’s a laundry list of injuries he sustained from football too: partially-torn MCL and a ruptured bursa sac his freshman year; partially-torn rotator cuff his junior year; and in the Michigan High School Coaches Association All-Star Game as a senior he aggravated his MCL injury in addition to tearing his ACL and meniscus.
The only major injury I have from playing sports is winding up with a pretty serious staph infection on my leg from sliding during a softball game five years ago.
“You shouldn’t play softball anymore,” my mother told me as I lay in a hospital bed months before my 23rd birthday.
I probably should have listened. Instead I told her I was going to keep playing but that I would wear baseball pants from then on. Wearing pants while playing softball is something I still do to this day. Not only to prevent me from ending up hospitalized again, but also because I told my mother I would.
As kids, we’re fearless. Nothing can stop us.
Years pass and reality begins to set in.
We’re mortal. We’re (getting) old. We don’t heal like we used to.
As a youngster, I was always one to keep my playing stats.
I always wanted to see how I improved (or declined) from one year to the next and always tried to make those numbers better. Having better stats was always my motivation.
Success on the diamond or field was always measured by wins, batting average, RBIs, rushing yards, tackles and so on.
The higher the number, the better.
Today, at 27 years old, those statistics no longer define my success or failure on the (softball) field.
Now, success is measured by how many (or how few) milligrams of Ibuprofen I have to take after partaking in sporting events.
The lower the number, the better.
My ankles, one of which is braced when I play, hurt. My shoulder feels like it’s been ripped off with most throws during the game, yet when I warm up my arm feels fine.
And no matter what position I play, a ground ball tends to take a bad hop and hit my body somewhere.
I have a bruise on my right leg from three weeks ago that hasn’t fully healed yet.
I now understand why professional athletes decide to hang up their cleats, shoes or skates because of injuries.
But I’m not ready to call it quits just yet.
I love being on the ball field. It still feels like home, no matter how much medication I have to take the next day.
And it’s given me the opportunity to meet people since moving to Portland.
The pain — although it lingers longer than it used to — is worth every pill.
And for the record, I didn’t take any meds last night after practice. That’s what I consider a success.