When I was a kid, sports was my life.
I played them all – baseball, football, basketball, ran track. There was no soccer back then (that I know of), or I would have played that, too.
It was a year-round thing, pretty much. I loved anything sports, and I was good at it. I always had to work hard, but I also had a natural athletic ability that allowed me to become an all-Star pitcher in baseball, quarterback in football, district-champion relay runner.
Sports was my life, from the time I was eight years old until my sophomore year in high school. By that time, I had developed an increasingly lousy attitude. I was arrogant and insecure at the same time. A crummy baseball coach when I was 14 in Pony League, and then a sort of sadistic, old-school type football coach that same year both rocked my self-confidence – for the first time ever, really.
I was starting quarterback on that football team, and I quit before the first game of the season. My dad was horrified, and he had good reason to be. Quitting is never a good thing, because it can quickly become a habit. And that’s exactly what happened.
The next year in school, I was on the JV basketball team at school, and I injured both Achilles tendons. We had some pretty questionable coaches at my high school, too, and the basketball coach gave me a hard time because he apparently thought I was just slacking off during practice, when, in fact, I couldn’t run. Long story short, I wound up quitting basketball that year, too.
I walked into his office one day, tossed my uniform on his desk, and told him I quit. He just looked up at me. Didn’t say a word. Baseball and track soon followed.
I never played organized sports again, except for some city league slow-pitch softball, and some rec league basketball.
Then, decades later, I discovered Masters track and field – and pole vaulting.
I felt reborn, in a way.
It was my chance to train, and compete, again. To let go of that haunting regret for quitting athletics in the first place.
When I first started learning to pole vault, it was not pretty. I was 40 pounds overweight, in terrible shape, physically and mentally. It was really difficult, and I suffered through a number of minor and major injuries during the first 14 months or so – strained elbows, sore knee, torn groin muscles, pulled quadriceps, strained calf muscle.
Finally, I seem to be getting in pretty good shape, pretty much pain-free, and I’ve come a long way since that first lesson on a Sunday afternoon, when I sat for two hours and watched a bunch of high-school vaulters, before getting out there and making a half-dozen clumsy attempts at running and jumping with a borrowed pole.
I’ve jumped in the Texas Senior Games, the Oklahoma Senior Games – where I qualified for this year’s National Senior Games – the Expo Explosion, and the National Pole Vault Summit in Reno. I’m not anywhere near where I want to be yet, but I’m getting there.
A once somewhat dismal future looks bright again, and one of my goals now is to inspire others and spread the message about the benefits of physical fitness.
It has changed my life, and I dare say it can change yours, too.