I have always wanted to be an athlete. I was not good at anything as a child. I played games throwing and catching a deflated or inflated bike inner tube. I also practiced throwing javelin with bicycle flags. The closest similarity would be rhythmic gymnastics, but we didn’t have that back then, at least not that I knew of. I was disappointed that skateboarding was so hard. Admittedly we were on asphalt roads with pebbles embedded in them, pulling each other with bicycles.
I got scared off skiing for a couple of years after I sprained my knee on my first outing on my eighth birthday and ended up on crutches for a few weeks. My brother, Tim lured me back onto the slopes, by practicing on the snow plow hills behind the Phillips 76 gas station. Eventually I got to be a competent, although cautious skier. I gave it up during college, when I realized that it would be dangerous for me to ski every few years, without being in shape for it.
As a kid, I practiced basketball on my driveway, but there were cracks, so that made dribbling difficult. I think the basket was too low, so my practice did not translate well to playing in the gym. In Petoskey, there was no organized basketball until the 7th grade girls team. I was average for that team, but was the 8th of 10 players in my 8th grade team in Owosso, where organized school ball started in 5th grade. I got some playing time when 2 of those ahead of me were out sick. It was a bummer when my sister was pulled up from the 7th grade team for the tournament.
I played youth league softball for a year or two in Petoskey, and then let my mother bribe me out of it with tennis lessons. While more expensive, the tennis courts were within bike riding distance, so Chris and I could take ourselves. Once we moved to Owosso, I played in the school yard at St. Paul with Tim and Pat and BJ Bannon, during summers. One game was “home run derby” which involved playing with a tennis ball, and trying to hit the ball over the house, or garage, or fence. In high school, I tried out and made the JV softball team in high school. I was competent, but never the starting 1st baseman, until my Junior Year on the JV team. I tended to hit it to the first base side, and was not fast enough to beat the throw, so my average was not great. I made the varsity team my senior year, but rode the bench, warmed up pitchers and kept statistics.
Swimming happened somewhat by accident. I took lessons and did well getting to the Junior lifesaver level before moving to Owosso. I tried out for and was quickly cut from the high school basketball team my freshman year. There was still time to join the swim team after that. The team was small. I did well swimming the 500, 200, and freestyle and medley relays. By my junior year, I could complete 100 butterfly. I lettered the first three years, in part from getting points for finishing 5th, last with an empty lane. I was heartbroken when there was no girls swim team my senior year, but swam with the boys, and beat some in the butterfly and IM events.
Bicycling was for sport and transportation. One of my jobs, during my 7th to 8th grade summer was to ride my brothers from Conway, down the highway to their baseball practice in Bay View, past the strip mall. It is amazing that my 9 and 7 year old brothers were good enough on their bikes, and minded well enough that we all survived that summer unscathed.
Riding bikes was a favorite pastime amongst the kids. Primarily transportation. We would end up driving riding on Trails, I recall a trip to the apple orchard as a family.
In Owosso, bicycles were for transportation. There was one summer when there was a bike race in town. I participated, but don’t think that I did very well. In college, bicycling was for transportation.
I found rugby in college. I was at the rec center to swim and saw a sign advertising the rugby club. It was 3 years before I saw another sign put up by someone other than myself. I knew about rugby because of my uncle’s experience as a college exchange student in Great Britain. Since I enjoyed watching high school and college football, it seemed worth a try. As a skinny, 120 lb freshman, I had very few attributes useful on a rugby field. I was slow. I was not very strong. There was a toughness about me. I kept coming back even though I couldn’t do a push-up at first. Our rugby coach, Bryn, taught us an British technique of training for running while getting us in shape. It involved a lap of skipping and then a lap of running with knees high, then one with heels back, and then one with long strides. Eventually I could do push-ups. And by my senior year, I could actually run halfway decently. I actually scored a number of tries, as number 8, or scrum-half. I played a great number of positions, just because I was willing to. I did not really enjoy playing hooker. I became good at kicking. In rugby that is a leadership position. I never kicked a goal on the run but made some field goals and conversions.
On the rugby team, I quickly worked my way up to being team captain, which involved everything from borrowing my parents truck or van for road trips, to filling out paperwork, to keeping the team gas card, to ordering jerseys. I learned a lot about myself, had to grow up quickly, and learned a lot about how organizations, teams, leagues work by doing that. There were a few dicey moments, traveling to Chicago in the winter for league meetings. Once Laura and I had to sleep overnight in a church on the west side of the state, after we could not see the road during a blizzard. The trips to Florida, for a spring tournament there were enlightening and eventful.
Once I was in medical school in DC, I was able to stay active. In DC, I rode my bike to and from work, the first two years. It was just a couple of miles, but beat walking to the subway, in good weather. There was a group of us who would hacky sack in the courtyard on our lunch breaks.
I played softball right across from the Lincoln Memorial, with planes landing and taking off over our heads. I played softball with Jenn Kohout, which is how I met Michelle, one of my roommates at the cathedral house my 4th year of Med School. Michelle invited me to live with her and 4 others at the apartment across the street from the National Cathedral.
The league was a social fast pitch, which means none of the pitchers, including myself were fast enough that anyone could not hit them. It also meant that we could steal bases and try to throw someone out at second base.
My senior year I found a soccer league, and I enjoyed that until I dislocated my kneecap.
One day, I watched Jenn run the Marine Corps Marathon, while riding my bike one legged with my other leg in a knee immobilizer.
While I was in residency I belonged to LAMM, Lesbian Alliance of Metro Milwaukee. I played softball with them. We trained for and went to the gay games in 1994. We marched past the Twin Towers, as a part of the anniversary of Stonewall, and heard Liza Minnelli speak, in Central Park. Her mother, Judy Garland was a favorite of the drag queens, and her funeral may have filled the Stonewall bar the night of the riot in 1969, It was amazing to be a part of 10000 athletes roaming streets of New York. It was a busy, chaotic time, with teams in the NBA, and NHL playoffs, and Men’s World Cup soccer tournament in the area at the same time. I was so proud of myself for figuring out how to make my own Gatorade from Kool-Aid sugar and Nu-salt. My plan was somewhat thwarted as there was also a boil water advisory on in New York, so I had to buy water to make my own Gatorade.
We played reasonably well. Dawn got cleated in the leg. It was amazing to be in a situation where there was a gay and lesbian majority, for the first time.
Some young tough kids came on to the subway car, about to harass some flaming and effeminate male cheerleaders, only to look around and see if they were outnumbered strong gay athletes, in addition to the cheerleaders, all of us proud in our gay regalia.
The summer training for the gay games was tough on me as a first baseman. In our league we played with a standard size softball, but the gay games were played with a smaller ball. Because we switched back and forth, my shortstop and third baseman were constantly throwing the ball in the dirt to me. It was so bad that I actually wore shin guards, after getting nasty bruises on my shins.⁸
I believe that team was probably the apex of my softball career. I was the starting first baseman. Dawn played outfield and catcher. Luann and Gale had adopted me from the minute I made contact with LAMM, before I even moved to Milwaukee.
It really was great to belong somewhere, to LAMM, to feel so useful. Softball was just part of it. Writing for the newsletter, working on the gay and lesbian community response to the discovery of Jeffrey Dahmer, being able to have a wedding in front of friends and family
So, going forward, what do I want to accomplish. Better overall Fitness, get my body weight down, have the assurance that I can bicycle long distances and play a better golf game. I would love to get back to that 14 handicap.
So much to gain, and not much to ask for, other than the the need to find the time and energy to keep up the exercise routine. It should not be that hard to find 30 minutes on an exercise bike 3 times per week. I plan to go swimming tomorrow. Oh yeah, did I mention that I would like to do triathlons and Open Water swims. I need to do enough of those and maybe one indoor swim event per year, just to keep me going to the pool. I so look forward to getting into some of the swimsuits, bike shorts, only to find that they don’t fit. I’m also already making some progress it feels like the process of adding muscle makes all of this a little easier. Working the muscles speeds up metabolism, making it easier to walk up the stairs.
I would love to go back to the gay games. Which means I also have to talk about the gay games in Amsterdam. And playing club soccer in Michigan. It would be wonderful to get back into soccer shape. It would be tough to accomplish that, though the year that I did tai chi with Elaine, I would get on the treadmill, and do some walk running. I’m ambivalent about joining the Y here in Flushing. On the one hand it’s easier to think about going to the pool on the way home from work than to get up early and go on the way to work. Oh and I have access to a gym in my building and can work on equipment there.
One of the legacies that Grandpa Emil passed down in addition to the BRCA mutation is sports craziness. I have 3 cousins, Brenda, Ann, and Mary who have run marathons. All of us played high school sports, which in the 80s and 90s was impressive for 14 cousins, 8 female and 6 male. It was a different era, you had to make the team, but there were enough teams to make.
As kids, my siblings and I grew up listening to stories of my Dad’s sporting efforts, and my Uncle Tom’s successes. We watched Jim play high school hockey.
We watched my Dad, Grandpa and uncles watch golf, and bet on golfers, and talk about which tree was lost to Dutch elm disease on which hole in Flint. There were also stories about Grandpa and Dad caddying at the Buick Open.
Once I got to go with Grandma to watch Uncle Jim play in the Michigan Amateur at Harbor Springs. Another time I got to ride along when Dad, Grandpa and my uncles played at Belvedere in Charlevoix. I was amazed at how nice the fairways were. I was also amazed that Grandpa could score at all with his way of lining up as though he would miss the ball completely, and then get a big banana slice to land in the fairway.
Dad told me about caddying for Charlie Sifford. He made a mistake after Mr. Sifford asked him for a distance on one hole in the practice round. Dad told him it was a 6 iron. Mr. Sifford promptly took 5, 6, and 7 irons and hit 3 shots up onto the green. After that Dad gave him distances rather than “clubbing him.” The lesson for me was to learn different ways to hit the club, and be able to approach the green with high or low shots.
I am “snow slow.” This is my brother-in-law, Ben’s term for our family propensity to take a long time to get anywhere. The counterpoint to that is that we can go forever, and will eventually get where ever we decide to go. Think of it as a preference for slow-twitch fibers.
That slow twitch endurance has served me well in swimming the 500 yard freestyle and the butterfly which is an endurance event for amateurs.
My ability to keep going has served me well on the High School bike trip with Dad, Pat, Jim and Kelly Szilagyi. Ultimately, it serve me well in rugby matches, where I did better than average in the second half of the 90 minute matches. We generally played without subs. And serves me well, working 12-hour shifts. I can just keep going.
This summer, (2018) it served me well while exercising, and training for a long bike ride. I got talked into doing a triathlon, on no training by my sister in law. (Who knew there was a super-sprint category)
Ultimately, I was able to ride 77 miles from Grayling to Cheboygan in one day. That was exhilarating. 15 miles in the rain did not drop my spirits much. I was pretty sore by the end of the day. I opted for the 25 mile ride Sunday, in part because of my work commitment in the afternoon Sunday and in part, because I was nervous about my ability to go farther. Once I was done, I felt reassured to know that I could have done another 25 miles after that.
I did better with training, because of having a purpose last summer. I do better when I have to be accountable. It was good to be seeing my body changing in positive ways. It felt nice to take time for myself. To reclaim this role that I used to love so much.
It is hard to edit this chapter in August of 2019, knowing that I let my fitness gains of 2018 fade away, and now am starting to rehab from a knee injury. I sprained my knee kneeling to hook up garden hoses and have been on crutches for a month. My MRI says 3 compartment arthritis. My PA states that the plan is cortisone shot then therapy, and if that does not work, then knee replacement is the best option.
Unfortunately, I don’t want to have to take 4 weeks off work for a knee replacement and am very much overweight, making me a less than ideal candidate for the procedure. As a physiatrist, I know exactly everything that can go wrong with them. I even met a patient’s wife this week who is an above knee amputee, because of failed knee replacement and infections.
I am hopeful that the rehab should work, and I can get back on track with training and getting fit. I hope I can put off a knee replacement for a long while.