5 Lessons I Learned from My Unconventional Road to the National Senior Olympics
When I was informed that I had qualified to play tennis in this year’s National Senior Olympic Games in Albuquerque, it was a kind of dream come true.
I love tennis, and to be able to play at the National Olympic Games will be a highlight in my life. But my journey to the Games has been entirely unconventional, and I’ve learned a few things along the way.
Lesson #1: Your History Is Not Your Destiny
As a school kid, I was always picked last in sports. Gym was a special kind of nightmare, and I learned that you can only claim to have your period once a month.
I tried everything to get out of the humiliation of changing into those wretched gym clothes with the balloon shorts. Kickball and dodgeball seemed particularly barbaric, and I had a fear the ball would hit me in the face.
And I was too busy reading and drawing. Why are you expected to be good at everything in school? Even now, I can’t do a proper push up. I love the bumper sticker that is anti-running. It boasts the driver’s running mileage: 0.0.
Eventually, though, I did discover that I had a knack for racquet sports. My dad and I played platform tennis in Connecticut for hours at a time when I was in high school. I got great pleasure out of beating him.
His parenting left a bit to be desired, so this was a big incentive. But when I started hitting tennis balls, I was smitten. There’s no way to put into words the beauty and elegance of the game unless you’ve been overcome by its charms.
It’s simple, and impossibly difficult. You can never learn everything about the game. One day you think you’re gaining on it, and the next it shows you how far you still have to go to master it.
Lesson #2: Effort and Enthusiasm Go a Long Way
There’s an absolute serenity that comes over me as I put my daily anxieties aside and just concentrate on the little fuzzy ball. And what I lack in skill, I make up in enthusiasm.
I track that ball down like my life depends on it. I’m surprised I haven’t hurt myself. People have died playing the tennis by falling and hitting their head. Eventually, my occasional recklessness will have to be reined in. But not quite yet.
Lesson #3: Showing Up Counts for a Lot
Before you get too impressed by the honor of qualifying for the Games, the truth is that it wasn’t that difficult.
There wasn’t a very big field of competitors at the New York State Games, which allowed me to earn the silver medal. (That came from a Ziplock bag and might have been made out of recycled soda cans.) But I got there. It was hot. My tennis friends didn’t want to take the day off of work. I showed up.
Lesson #4: I’m Not Worried How Others Are Doing It
There are about 200 days left until the Games in June. My training schedule is as unconventional as my road getting here. I suspect many of the other athletes are going to the gym daily, eating Keto, and making themselves kale protein shakes.
Me? I’m bouncing happily on my rebounder with light weights to classic Elvis Costello. And maybe cutting down on the chocolate a bit. I’ll be more conscious of drinking enough water.
Will I be buff and a “senior Olympic specimen”? Doubtful. But I’ll play my little heart out. And I will enjoy every single minute. That’s the only way I can do this.
I hate the gym because it bores the daylights out of me. And as much as my tennis coach wants me to do reps and lose weight, that’s a recipe for grimness. At this stage in life, fun and pleasure are my focus. And, it turns out, happiness is health promoting.
Lesson #5: Getting to New Mexico Is Expensive, but So Is Regretting Not Choosing Adventure
As the host of my podcast Zestful Aging, I’ve spoken to many talented, amazing women all over the world. I’ve heard countless stories of grit and determination. It’s restored my faith in humankind.
But there is an underlying message I’ve learned from my interviews: You have to take risks, and you may end up looking silly.
Many guests have told me that when they are trying to decide whether or not to pursue something, they project to the end of their lives and ask themselves, “Will I regret not doing it?”
It’s scary, thinking that I might get skunked. I will be disappointed if I get out there and lose every single game. I may freeze and hit every ball long – a common sign of nerves. But I need to take that chance in order to live a vibrant, courageous life.
I know the National Senior Olympic Games are not Wimbledon, and I am not an elite athlete, but it’s a dream come true for me. It’s part skill, park luck, and all hustle. Wish me luck.
What do you do in your life that feels like preparation for the Olympics? Is there a particular sport or activity you enjoy that makes you feel courageous and full of energy? Let’s have a chat about those hurdles and adventures in our lives!