The agony and ecstasy of athletics

Every person’s life is worthy of a book. I hope you are writing yours, or saving and collecting the material to one day write it.

I am in the midst of mine.

For those of you who just tuned in, this is the next installment of my memoirs currently in production. The previous installments are available on my web I hope you find it interesting.

The book is titled, Live Long*,  Learn a Little, Laugh a Lot.

My school sports career was a mixed bag. I won every race in grade school until the fourth grade. Then Calvin Gleaves, a lanky boy from West Mountain whipped us all even in his farming shoes. I have never again from hundred yard dashes to four marathons felt the thrill of breaking the tape first in a race. My present goal is to keep up my daily running and exercise program, outlive my peers and win my age group in something.

In high school I joined my friend Dick Davis to make a doubles tennis team against our rival Spanish Fork. Dick was a good tennis player. With my contribution we were not exactly a doubles team, more like one and three eighths. I found I was good at doubles. I doubled them up with hysterics when I accidentally clubbed the ball with the handle instead of the strings. It wobbled over the net and won us a point. We may have also got another one during the match. Mercifully I can’t remember.

I had more success in football and basketball. I was captain of the football team and made the all district team. But basketball was my true love. I was co-captain of the basketball team my junior and senior years, and second team all state. We won our region and went to the state tournament. This was big stuff for us. It didn’t happen often at Payson. But we lost the first two games and came home disappointed. In sports I have found as they say the ecstasy of victory does not compensate for the agony of defeat, but I loved to play anyway.

Like every other red blooded American boy with a basketball in his hands, I dreamed of someday being in the NBA. I would have made it too, except that reality set in. I was pretty good, but not that good. I played on the freshman team for BYU. My best game was 22 points against Snow College. I got cut the next year then went on my mission to the Tonga Islands. I tried out when I got back. Didn’t get cut that time, but looked ahead and decided to spend my scarce extracurricular hours performing with the BYU program bureau instead of the basketball team. It was the right choice.

But athletics has taught me some valuable life lessons, including these.

“He said it seemed like a good idea at the time.” (Steve McQueen in the movie The Magnificent Seven, explaining why his flakey uncle jumped into a big tangle of cactus naked.)

I was considered, at least by myself, an all around athlete in my youth. I believed that all the way through fall and winter of the seventh grade. On the football field I was tall enough to catch passes over the defense. On the basketball court I was in my native habitat. For years my favorite pass time had been shooting hoops by myself or joining pick up games wherever I found them. I had some fairly good moves for a twelve year old.

Then spring came and with it a stunning shock to my all-American-athlete self image. The phys ed teacher introduced us to gymnastics. My long, smooth graceful (in my mind) body was now supposed to tuck into a tight ball and roll across the mat or fly through the air. Tucking for me was like trying to turn a grass hopper into a roll up potato bug. My tight tuck was a bent spine with elbows and knees sticking out in several directions.

Jay Brown, Mr. Cool in our class, was not built for football or basketball, but he was Bolshoi Ballet material on the tumbling mat.

Track and field, tennis, and other field events were more of the same for me. Even baseball where I had sometimes had modest success in the sand lot leagues despite my skinny arms and wide strike zone. These challenges convinced me I could succeed in any sport, as long as it included bouncing a big round ball and throwing it through a hoop on the wall. I longed for autumn, winter and what I considered the real big time sports.

My new hard won humility brought with it a small shaft of insight. People have different gifts and talents. The key to happy relationships is to notice what others do well, encourage them in it, and find joy in their success as well as your own. Nobody is good at everything, but everybody is good at something. I believe that if you could design your own Olympics competition, you could capture the gold. In my case it would be a cross country race up the mountain behind our house where I jog most mornings, and know the trails well. In my Olympic run you would get additional points for each year of your age, how many children and grand children you had, if you took size 14 shoes and your left foot was longer than your right. If I needed to I would award more points if you could write left handed, and flip your left thumb out of joint. I think I would have a good chance of taking home the trophy in that race.

“That’s a stupid race,” you might legitimately say. True, but is it more stupid than hitting a boxing glove with a broom, throwing a ball into a fruit basket, or madly sweeping a broom ahead of a rock sliding on the ice? (The beginnings of baseball, basketball and present procedure in the sport of curling.)

But back to the point of this diatribe if there is one. Sports can be entertaining, participating can be healthful, but contrary to my seventh grade perspective they are no measure of the importance of one person over another.

Beyond the enjoyment and the health benefits of sports, are the skills one learns of any practical value? What is the real life usefulness of throwing a ball into a net nailed up on a wall when the net has a hole in the bottom? How about running with an inflated pigskin across grass while being pursued, then pummeled by a stampede of panting gorillas hungry for your head. How about hitting various kinds and sizes of balls with various shapes of bats, clubs, or rackets, only to have to retrieve the balls or have someone else hurl or swat them back to or at you? Except for fighting through a Black Friday Christmas shopping crowd like a fullback driving for yardage, or sweeping your house clean in 23 seconds if you are a champion curler, most athletic skills don’t seem that practical.

But there is one sport that can be very useful in certain situations. The sport is gymnastics. The situation is when a car with a total idiot at the wheel (a.k.a. an 18 year old male driver) is accelerating like a drag racer down the straight away so the people hanging on to the side of the car will be afraid to jump off.

Fortunately the sport of car hanging has attracted only a small following. To participate you need fingernails of steel, white knuckles, skill in judging speed, and the intelligence of a retarded mealworm. Who would do this and why? Who? Jay Brown and me. Why? See Steve McQueen observation above.

This is gymnastics on steroids. Procrastinating your jump a nanosecond too late as we did incurs a penalty. Jay hit the ground, took two giant steps across a field, snapped into a tight front roll, spun like a tumbleweed in the wind, and jumped up dusty with only a scratch on his nose. I flew off the driver’s side, took one launching leap, made a five point landing on the pavement and skidded to a stop. I picked gravel and tar out of my hands, elbows and one hip bone for weeks.

As every athlete knows, it’s hard to win on the road.

Everybody I know is busy, including me.  Where are those golden years I was planning on of sitting on the back porch picking my guitar? So I will send just one little part of the book at a time. You can give it a quick read and tell me what you think if you would like.

I’ve slimmed that process down to two questions, and four strokes on the key board (six if you count “Reply” and “Send.”)

The questions are these:“A” How much did you enjoy this?

“B” How much do you think a person who doesn’t know Duane Hiatt would enjoy this?

The rating is:1. Glanced at it, printed it out and lined the bottom of the bird cage with it.

2. Sped-read it and filed it with my tax return receipts

3. Thought it was about as interesting as a well written obituary

4. Could have put it down, but didn’t want to

5. Couldn’t put it down. Put it in a magnetic frame and stuck it onto the fridge door

So your response would perhaps be A-4, B-3, (Or maybe A-5, B-5, I’m expecting a minimum number of those.)

Also feel free to add comments if you like.

Also, also, feel free to forward this material to anyone you want to.

Your next installment is: The saga of the gooseberry