The Yoga Chronicles: Sweatiest Yoga Mat Ever

Email: richretyi@gmail.com

The Yoga Chronicles: Sweatiest Yoga Mat Ever

Bikram yoga is like eating at Denny’s. Sweatpants, mesh tank tops and shoulder hair are all tolerated and acceptable. It smells pretty bad in those classes and the instructor generally looks like they sleep in a van with curtains.

The place I’m doing yoga now is more like Red Lobster, where you can wear sweatpants, mesh tank tops and let your shoulder hair fly, but you’re gonna get the stink eye from the waiter and the stuffed sailfish on the wall. The rooms smell fine and the people there generally have pretty decent hygiene. You’re going to stand out if you look like a schlub.

WONDERS OF YOGA TECHNOLOGY

I brought my ratty blue yoga mat and beach towel combo to the first few classes in my new yoga studio, just like I did at bikram. Nobody looked at me funny, but I felt a little out of place surrounded by new high-tech rubber yoga mats and towels that looked custom made. Being out of the yoga game for a few years, I decided to see what changed and went right to the top—Lulufuckinglemon. Far from being intimidating, the new lululemon was warm, inviting and managed by a former volleyball player who I used to media relate for. She ordered a young man to climb a tall ladder and fetch me a black fancy yoga mat that boasted dual-use for hot or normal yoga and sweat absorbency. $400 well spent.

The next class I busted out my lululemon mat, unfurling it like a mighty yoga god in front of a packed house of 30 or so students who each had slightly used versions of my wonder of modern fitness technology. Class began and my new grippy absorbent best friend and I did some serious frickin’ stretching.

HERE’S WHEN THINGS GO BAD

When the yoga mat touts its absorbency, it doesn’t differentiate between normal sweating and man-bear sweating. Normal female perspiration is light, loose and smells like Lily of the Valley. Normal guys sweat slightly more and its often accompanied by the aroma of taco meat. Lululemon mats can handle both. But when I sweat, it also smells like Lily of the Valley, but if you took the whole valley and filled it with clear liquid, mostly from my face, back and ass. Did that make sense? I sweat a lot when I do yoga. You happy? And guess what? The mat and its science were no match for my body and its chemistry.

I started slipping around the 30-minute mark in some warrior something pose. My back foot slid about two inches and I had to catch myself with a free hand. It was scary for everyone involved because the last thing the girl next to me wants or expects is for the guy in the sweat-soaked Tigers t-shirt to slam into her while she’s trying to stretch her psoas. I tried wiping my hands on my shirt for traction, but it was my feet that were the issue, slipping and sliding out from under me during each torqued pose. See, I left my beach towel at home because I thought this mat could soak up all my sweat and keep my laundry bills down. Nope.

CHILD’S POSE IS FOR QUITTERS

Slip. Slip. Tweak. The class kept moving fast and the temperature rose and as my muscles weakened and my balance deteriorated, I knew a torn ACL was in the offing if I kept going. I flipped my mat over so it was sweat side down and rubber side up and it made it way, way worse. I flipped my mat right side up and dropped into child’s pose. For those uninitiated, during hard classes the instructor always says, “Don’t forget, child’s pose is available for you if you need it.”

What they mean is child’s pose is for quitters.

I was in child’s pose like a big, baby, quitter. I figured there was at least 20 minutes left in class and the last thing I wanted was for a class full of yogis to judge the pudgy guy smooshing his gut into the mat in quitter’s pose. I stood up and carefully tip toed through rows of arms and legs until I exited the room. Twenty minutes of standing in the hallway hoping no one talked to me was rewarded with the class being over and me slinking back in to get my disgustingly sweat-soaked mat.

To this day, I have not forgotten my towel.

Which is now one of those custom yoga jobbers.

Because I’m fancy.

Sting Does Yoga

The Yoga Chronicles: Bad Yoga Teacher

“Don’t let anything stop you. Not your priest or your rabbi or your mother asking you to dig up long lost treasure.”

Those sentences were whispered with 100% sincerity within the first three minutes of a recent yoga class—the worst I’ve ever experienced. I’m a pleaser, and when it comes to yoga I put all my trust in the instructor and do my best to follow every word and try every pose. I never thought a yoga instructor was bad before. Lame, sometimes. Insane, a few times. But not bad. This class was bad.

Bad music
Ridiculous motivational stream of consciousness
Poor instructions
Poorer corrections

How do you deal with a bad yoga class? I had the urge to roll up my mat and leave, but it was too late to go for a run and I didn’t want to make a weird scene. It just kept getting worse and worse.

I forgot my towel (which stressed me out because of the debacle the last time I forgot my towel) and they offered to sell me one for $65. Someone came into the class 10 minutes late and it was way more distracting than I thought it would be. It never really got hot in the room. The instructor didn’t turn the clock to the wall so instead it lit up the whole front of the room where I was practicing and I kept begging those red numbers to move faster. I was in a spot where no one near me was really on point either, so I had no one to mimic. All around terrible.

“Only you can continue on your journey with the unreadable compass.”
“Let the wind power your dreams.”
“Pull your hand into your power bone and open the right side of your heart.”

What the hell is a power bone? Stop talking about unreadable compasses! I’ve taken about 10 classes at this place now and I’m starting to recognize the names of poses and figure out what flows into what. In all the other classes, after the instructor calls out what the name of the pose you’re going to do, they explain what’s supposed to happen. It’s not anything complicated. Take your right hand and put it beside your right foot, then lift your left leg. Simple.

This instructor called out the poses, some pretty quickly, then just walked around the class talking gibberish about opening kidneys and spleens. Just tell me where to put my damn power bone. A bunch of times when she explained what to do, she used vague descriptions or said left when she meant right and vice versa. Every time I looked at my water bottle I wished it was full with whiskey. I sighed loudly in frustration a few times because I’m an overprivileged passive aggressive spoiled idiot, but I bet everybody just thought I was doing some awesome yoga breaths. Next time I sense a class is going south, I’m going to roll up my mat and kick over some water bottles on the way out.

I’ve never left a yoga class wanting a drink or a giant burger like that before. I usually leave feeling sweaty, gross but weirdly clean. A good tired. I left this class frustrated and not all that tired (it was a pretty shitty workout).

There’s a seldom-used comment section below here. Use it to tell me how you deal with a bad yoga class or just text me, because chances are if you’re reading this you already have my number.

Namaste for your words. Ugh.

Sweaty

The Yoga Chronicles: The Yoga Touch

I was raised to respect my elders and people in positions of authority—teachers, police officers, magistrates. Yoga instructors have managed to work their way into that bubble of inherent respect and reverence. I’ll do what they want me to do, try what they want me to try and question nothing.

I assume everything the instructor has us do is based on thousands of years of yogi knowledge, not whim. I assume all the instructions and corrections are correct. And a few weeks ago when a yoga teacher touched my sweaty back, I knew it was part of the program, but I had no idea how to feel about it.

TOUCHING MY SWEATY BACK

The room was dark and hot and my t-shirt was completely soaked through with salty sweat and toxins. It was about halfway through the class, leaning forward for some pose when I felt a hand on my middle back. My first thought was, “NO! My back is disgusting! Why would you want to touch me?” The hand pushed down with a little bit of pressure and moved up and down with a reassuring rub. It didn’t feel like a correction, it felt like a “Hey there sweaty guy. Keep it up.”

I rolled the whole thing around in my mind the rest of the class. I felt bad that she had to touch me. I thought of witty things to tell my friend Jordan after class about my little internal dilemma. And then she touched me again. Same thing. A little briefer. And it was kinda nice. It was a reassuring pat from my teacher to let me know that I was doing okay. (I have no idea what the touch actually meant. It probably meant, “Are you okay, sir? You don’t seem to be able to bend nearly as far as the rest of the class. How old are you? Do you need me to call a specialist?”)

NOT TOUCHING MY SWEATY BACK

My next class was taught by someone else and it had an observer who also walked around the room with the instructor. I was near the wall, which was a perfect spot for the instructor and the observer to crouch and spend time watching us pose. The previous touches were still fresh in my mind and I felt myself thinking something strange—where were my touches this time? Where was that hand on my back? Where was that reassuring pressure? I actually got a little offended at one point when the observer just sat there staring at my trembling hamstrings without a single pat.

I’ve since had one instructor touch me for a proper correction, pulling my arm firmly into a place where it should be rather than a place where it shouldn’t. I haven’t had the reassuring yoga touch since and I kind of miss it.

bikram

The Yoga Chronicles: Chapter One

For a past his prime former linebacker, lacrosse enforcer and ball tag enthusiast—vocations not necessarily associated with limberness—I’m still pretty flexible. Back, hamstrings, quads, pretty much anything but my shoulders, which are shot from those aforementioned activities. It’s 2013 and not surprising or even really that interesting when guys do yoga, but lucky you I’m going to write about it anyway.

There are 900 yoga studios in Ann Arbor (I’m only slightly exaggerating). Everything from schools, rooms, spaces and centers offering Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Pranga, Pre-Natal and Bikram. I live within three blocks of four yoga places. There are a lot of options.

Prior to my most recent foray (bear with me), I was a regular at Bikram Yoga on Washtenaw Ave. It was the first yoga I ever tried and I loved the routine, repetition and the extra hot room. I stopped going partly because I got lazy and partly because it was expensive and other than a few classes at the Ypsi Studio (two of them with just me and the instructor – not awkward at all) I took a few years off.

But I’m tightening up. I need limbering again. So I signed up for a two-month at a local yoga studio, figuring it was cheaper than the YMCA and a lot more bendy. I picked this particular place because every time I drive by it, the people coming out look normal. Young professionals. Dressed in regular yoga gear. Yoga mats, not what look like rolled up mats made of old t-shirts. Non-threatening. Not that the people coming out of the places near my home look threatening. But a lot of them seem off. They have bags under their eyes. They smell kind of funny. Most of them are old and look like they don’t wash their hair. I’m painting with a wide brush, but the Ann Arbor Center for Yoga gives off a good vibe. Plus friend Jordan also recommended it. I was sold.

It’s been three weeks or so and I’ve been to about six classes and there are some things I need to get off my chest. Hence the Yoga Chronicles series where I’ll write about what it’s like to be a guy who doesn’t take his shirt off in a yoga class doing yoga. What it’s like to hold in farts. Try not to pass out or sweat on people. Try not to laugh when the yoga instructor plays a five minute speech by Deepak Chopra.

Namaste, won’t you?

nintendo-world-cup-screenshot

Soccer For Old People

I’m not as young as I smell. I have broken feet, bad ankles, busted knees, tender hamstrings, a petulant lower back, popping hips, creaky shoulders and poor eyesight. There’s no reason, other than some sort of Space Jam interplanetary showdown to decide Earth’s fate, that I should be playing soccer. On a full field. With 45 minute periods. With people who know advanced soccer terminology.

How did I find myself in this predicament? I blame television.

You always see episodes of TV shows where coworkers form teams and play sports outside of work and learn lessons and have fun. Like the Cheers gang playing basketball or Jim and Darryl on The Office playing basketball or the doctors on ER playing basketball. Why aren’t we playing basketball? Because basketball would allow me to guard the stocky guy and not to look like a complete idiot. Or have to plan three days in advance for how I’m going to heal my body after the second game of the season.

Following the first game (July 2 for you bettors out there) my body was so sore and tight from mid-spine to my feet that I barely made it into work. The next day it was even worse. I called every massage place in Ann Arbor on the Fourth of July and every single one of those lazy patriots was closed. Today is July 8 – six days after I butchered my body in the name of really shoddy soccer playing – and I’m still not back to normal.

Back to normal, for my aged body, means low levels of constant aches and pains. If I run a few miles, something gives a little. If I do it a few days in a row, some part of my body noticeably breaks down. It could be a foot bone. It could be a tendon. It could be my will to live.

With soccer, it’s more explosive. There’s not deterioration. Just destruction. I move 225lbs-plus of fat, muscle and half-digested chicken wings forward, backward, sideways, other sideways – stopping and starting on uneven grass in brand new cleats with the idea that I’m still eight years-old playing for the Welland Realty Warriors like some auburn haired kid who knows that if he shows enough effort his mom will take him to McDonald’s after the game and let him order a Big Mac and fries and she’ll pay extra for the toy. I was never any good back then, and let me tell you, age does not improve your fitness or ability to plant a foot and change direction quickly.

I wasn’t kidding about the body prep. I’ve Googled “How to Treat Soccer Injuries” and taken myself down a lot of rabbit holes so I can walk the day after our next game – which just so happens to be tomorrow.

I’ve stretched. I’ve paid for one massage and came REALLY close to booking a second a few hours after the first. I’m icing for the first time in years. I took a cold bath today after a warm-up jog, and decided that it wasn’t cold enough.

Tomorrow, I’m going to warm-up for 20 minutes before the game, even though it will burn 80% of my total stamina. Then I’m going to play conservatively, taking extra care when doing anything but brushing hair out of my eyes and farting near the opposing goaltender. After the game, I’ll immediately drive to the store to purchase two large bottles of sport drink and a bag of ice. I will fill my tub with cold water and ice, put on my Stephen King audiobook, pop some Ibuprofen, climb into cold hell and sit there refueling with electrolytes until the paramedics bust down the door two days later and find a half-eaten corpse and some very sleepy cats.

Just kidding. That’s why I got married – so it’s not the paramedics that find my extra-cold dead body, but my wife. Who will proceed to eat me because I haven’t gone grocery shopping in a little while and I taste exactly like chicken wings.

My only consolation in this whole thing (other than great times sweating profusely, tearing knee ligaments and swearing in front of coworkers, amirite!?) is that once I die and my mostly new cleats and mostly new shin guards are donated to Play it Again Sports, I will have some lucky sap to haunt for the rest of his rec league soccer days. Or her rec league soccer days, if she has very big feet. I’m an equal opportunity poltergeist.

I’ll let you know how it goes tomorrow. But I’m guessing not well. But thanks for asking.

EPILOGUE
I completely forgot about this two-part article I wrote for MGoBlue.com where I challenged Michigan soccer players to their own sport. This was in 2008, so I was five years more flexible. Enjoy (if you’ve read this far). Part One is here, but Part Two appears lost to the Internet gremlins for all time. Oh MGoBlue, why you gotta kill my legacy?

Join the League of Extraordinary Shame

extraordinary shameThe most difficult goals are reached through support groups and shame. Weight Watchers. Alcoholics Anonymous. Pie Club.

It’s not all about fitness, weight and not chasing the white dragon. There are goals like saving money, volunteering more, caring about your kids, writing letters, doing art, etc. Some of these goals are tough to achieve alone. That’s why there are running groups and Weight Watchers and AA and Pie Club. I give you a 43rd option – The League of Extraordinary Shame. Think of it like personal fantasy sports for your life. Head to head showdowns with friends and strangers to see who has the best willpower and stick-to-it-ness.

Here’s how The League of Extraordinary Shame works:

1. Each person chooses three things they’d like to improve – anything previously mentioned or something unique but it needs to be something you can work incrementally towards but that won’t expire in a week or two.

For instance, “Assemble That IKEA Bookshelf That’s Been in the Closet Since Christmas” or “Finally Eat the Unlimited Pasta Bowl at Olive Garden” won’t work. I’d also counsel against goals that celebrate the finish line and don’t focus on the process. For instance:

Good = Eat better                                 Good: Work out more

Not so Good = Lose 15 pounds       Not so Good: Bench press 250 pounds

I care about the process.

2. These don’t need to be major goals. Some should be fairly attainable and some should be a little more difficult. But “wake up in the morning” shouldn’t be something you choose unless you really, really have trouble waking up. Neither should you choose “walk 45 miles each day.”

3. You don’t need to tell me what you’d like to improve on. That can be your secret. But you need to abide by the honor system, for The League of Extraordinary Shame doesn’t truck with cheats.

4. Once six or more people contact me about joining the league, a head-to-head schedule will be created to match people up against each other each week. From Monday through Sunday, each person will track how well they’ve progressed towards their goal and at the end of seven days either add a checkmark or red X next to each goal. The person with the more checkmarks wins the week. Ties count as well. Honor system rules.

5. The shame comes each Monday when the new League of Extraordinary Shame standings come out. Everyone won’t know what you’re working towards, but they will know if you had a good or bad week. And so will you. So when you’re matched up against the jerk who’s been nailing all their goals each week, it will either motivate you to do better in your quest or stay in bed all week. Or if you’re against someone who’s had a bad week, wipe the floor with their sorry ass! It’s your time to shine.

6. At the end of a predetermined number of weeks, playoffs will begin where we’ll work together to push your goals a little bit further for a three to four week period. If you want to get more exercise and you work out three times a week, maybe you stretch that to four. If you’re trying to read more, maybe you set aside a little extra time those weeks to be a real bookworm. This is the part of the league that’s tougher to workshop. It’s a league in progress. Baseball rules took 400 years to semi-perfect. We’ll get there.

7. As teams advance or are sent into consolation brackets in the playoffs, two people will emerge in the finals. The winner will receive a nice little prize from my coffers and the runner-up will get something slightly less impressive. And hopefully all of you will feel a slight sense of accomplishment.

Again, your personal goals can be secret, as can your name. Only I’ll know your identity and I won’t tell anyone you’re playing unless you’re okay with that. Here’s what my team will look like.

The Canadian Bacons

Goals:
Work out more (goal is five times a week)
Eat better (quantity and quality of food)
Write my book (10 pages per week)
Sleep more (seven hours a night) OR spend less ($XX total discretionary spending per week)

Now who wants to play? Email me at richretyi@gmail.com with your acceptance, ideas or questions. I don’t even need to know you personally for you to participate. I’ll gather names for a week or so and when I think we’re ready to go I’ll email everyone and kick things off.

Join the first season of The League of Extraordinary Shame!

forksknives

Forks Over Knives Plus Fish Minus Motivation

The documentary Forks Over Knives is changing lives all around me. I’ve had two sets of friends celebrate the thesis of this film, which is that a whole-food plant-based diet can prevent and reverse disease better than any surgery or medication. It’s not a terrible argument. Don’t eat garbage and your body will be better off. But subsequent articles have shown that the documentary skews data to present its own point of view, leaving out the benefits of fish, ignoring moderation, etc.

I don’t want to get into any semantic debate about Forks Over Knives, and the documentary affected me a lot less than reading Fast Food Nation, The Omnivore’s Dilemma or Eating Animals. At the same time, I decided to see how long I could go without eating meat. At first I wanted to go the entire month of August with no meat, but that seemed pretty ambitious and, as you can see from the title of this post, I lack motivation to withhold pleasure, especially chicken wings and burgers.

On Saturday I ate chicken and chicken at Mr. Spot’s (that’s chicken fingers and chicken wings, a personal favorite) and started Sunday on my vegetarian odyssey. I lasted until Thursday around 12:45pm when, overloaded at work and unable to slip out to get food, I ate a frozen Trader Joe’s meal that had been chilling in the freezer for weeks. Lamb Vindaloo. Vegetarian experiment over. Later that night I had a hot dog from a street vendor. The next day I had a turkey and ham sub.

It wasn’t hard not to eat meat, but it was hard to find things that didn’t contain it. Most frozen meals I’d pack for work that are worth a shit have some form of meat in them. Maybe I’m not looking hard enough. I did start craving steak around Wednesday, but I always crave steak.

Go watch the documentary and see if it changes your life. I decided to try and eat more fish (for the 46th time in my life) and eat more beans. Because I don’t care how my breath or shit smells. That’s your problem, world.

10k

The Toughest 10K in Michigan

Liz Smith called it the toughest 10K in Michigan. The Indian River Summerfest 10K. Eighty-five percent uphill, through rolling country roads and dirt trails ending in (historic?) Indian River. When plotting the Liz Smith Immemorial 10K, I had no intention of running an organized 10K. It’s not the $20 (though paying money to run seems absurd) but the idea of pitting myself in a contest of fitness against anyone. This is why I don’t try to race people in my Honda Civic or have push-up contests against men with large pectoral muscles. I don’t feel like setting myself up for failure.

Me and Rachel following the Indian River 10K. (Not pictured: my shame)

The field for the Indian River 10K was 40 deep. Broken into age categories, I was among the eight male competitors in their 30s to test their legs over 6.2 miles (it was actually closer to 6.4 according to a handy app I had on my phone, but who’s quibbling). The decision to run was a rash one, my preparation non-existent. Sure, I run two to three miles per gym visit and then do the elliptical, but that’s a lot different than running outdoors. Treadmill running is bouncing. Outdoor running is actual locomotion. Big difference.

I drank a free Monster energy drink (PLUG!), signed up for the 10K and immediately had some ice cream. Which I followed with a number of Miller Chills (PLUG!), a Budweiser (PLUG!) and hotdogs for dinner. I woke at 6:45am, drank two cups of coffee, ate a peanut butter sandwich and two more hot dogs. At 8am I queued up my running playlist and bounded down the backroads of Indian River (are there any other kind in Indian River) to the indifference of the cottagers walking down their front walks to grab the morning paper.

I started strong, my friends. I disrecall the songs I listened to for the first mile and a quarter, but the tunes, coupled with my hotdog strength, kept me below a 10-minute mile, keeping pace with Ms. Liz Smith. Her boyfriend Donnie was near the head of the 10K pack battling for an actual medal. He would finish in third place overall, averaging a 6:30 mile. That’s obscene. I don’t even want to get into it.

I stuck on Liz’s hip until the 10K and the 5K split off. The 10K went left and up a giant hill and the 5K split right, down a gentle slope, through a Wendy’s and a Dairy Queen and a full-service massage parlor. Liz pulled away from me and then the shin cramps started. It serves me right. I betrayed my body (beer, hotdogs, nail biting) so it struck back by making it impossible to plantar-flex my left foot. I sagged. People passed me. The pain increased but more than anything it was the inability to bend my foot that made me stop. And walk. At mile two.

I was angry. Like throw rocks into the woods angry (I didn’t actually do that, but I wanted to). I flexed my leg and watched one, then another person pass me and felt shame and embarrassment and little bit of fear. What if I had to walk the rest of the four miles on a bum leg? My time was climbing past 20 minutes and I knew that Donnie (showoff), Liz, Rachel (running the 5K) and her parents would be waiting for me at the finish line. And waiting. And waiting. A little kid and her dad passed me. I swatted at a fly buzzing around my head and slapped myself in the face.

I won’t drag this out. The shin relaxed. I started kicking back into gear and eventually I hunted down a grizzled woman a half-mile in front of me (it turned out she was 50+ – still, VICTORY!) and then I spotted the kid and her father. The little girl would run, then stop, run, then stop, while her dad chugged along at a slow pace, looking back to make sure his daughter didn’t wander into the woods or get hit by a jet ski on a trailer.

I zeroed in on the little girl. She was 10 years old cholesterol levels of an eight-year-old. Showoff x 2. I caught her on the final hill, then turned onto Main Street for the final 75 yards. I saw Rachel and her family and Donnie (not even sweating by now, psh!) and they were all cheering. I removed my headphones. I heard their happy, encouraging cries. Their cheers rang in my ears. For the little girl. The little girl gaining on me. Sprinting hard in her little running shoes and gaining on the tubby man from Canada. She crossed the finish a few steps in front of me to finish 37th overall. I took the popsicle stick with a 38 written on it (no microchips here) and high fived my little competitor. Maybe I threw the finish – maybe not. Atlantic City will never know. But her father will. SHE DIDN’T BEAT ME MR. CROFOOT! YOUR DAUGHTER IS THE 37th FASTEST 10K RUNNER IN INDIAN RIVER IN 2012. GOOD LUCK GETTING THAT CROSS-COUNTRY SCHOLARSHIP TO CENTRAL MICHIGAN NOW!

Other than a big blister on my foot, I was no worse for wear. My shin was relaxed, my nipples unbloodied and it wasn’t until the next day that my quadriceps felt the thousands of micro-tears I’d inflicted on them. I conquered the toughest 10K in Michigan and didn’t puke. And lost to a little girl. Allegedly.

Who wants to race in my Honda Civic? I’ve got nothing to lose.

calfs

The Little Things

The little things have gotten me to where I am today. For good and bad. The little things rule (rue?) my life. Or contribute to larger successes – it’s not all bad. My calf muscles: product of little things. When I was a high school freshman trying to gain muscle mass to compete in sports against all the kids older, more talented and physically more gifted than me, I frequented the school weight room. Well, a small portion of the school weight room.

It was a dingy, smelly, poorly lit hole in the ground accessible by a single door from the parking lot. In the deep recesses of the weight room were the real weights. The benches and the free weights and most of the things that would help me gain core strength and gridiron glory. Near the entrance was the calf machine.

The older students – 15, 16, 17, 18 and even 19 year-olds (this was Ontario during our now-defunct five-year high school program) – crowded the best machines, sweating and grunting and punching each other in the arm while throwing around casual homophobia. I didn’t dare venture amongst them. I stuck to the periphery. To the entrance. The calf machine.

I used that calf machine every trip to the weight room, which was a few times a week. Occasionally I got brave enough to do biceps curls. The little things built my calf muscles. Day after day, season after season. Today they are large and, though  not in their prime, still near-mint.

Positive little things. Green dots. Like my writing skill. See above for that example. Boom.

But the little things also sink me. Food. Productivity. Oral hygiene. Red dots. Like my fat ass and three pages of a novel I’ve been working on for three years.

A few weeks ago I committed myself to tackling the little things. Yoking them and making them drag me to victory. For every little thing I did right/well, I got a green dot. For every little thing I let slide or did poorly, I got a red dot. Spoiler alert – this lasted about two weeks. But I am more conscious of the little things now, even if I don’t use markers to prove it.

What little things do you do well? What little things slip through your fingers and cling to your thighs?

retro basketball

Sports Dynasties and Sports Failures

I have a long history of athletic participation covering sports from softball, soccer and swimming to judo, basketball and lacrosse. I played on some great teams and I played on some terrible teams. Mostly the former.

I’ve raised trophies, ducked my head for medals to be placed around my neck, and earned Most Valuable and Most Improved awards while avoiding the ever-crappy Sportsmanship award. Who wants that dead weight?

My son or daughter, should they have a knack for sport and games, will no doubt test my feelings about athletics and my history of such. I was one of those kids who liked to have fun, liked to play hard and more than anything, preferred not to lose. Winning was almost secondary. It felt far worse to lose than it felt good to win. I’m sure this has manifest itself somehow in my everyday life. Take all the guesses you want in the comments below.

The first athletic setback I recall was not getting chosen for the Welland Realty travel soccer team despite my belief that I was one of the three best players on the team. I might have been, but they only picked two kids and rather than go with the chubby kid with the Beatles haircut they went with Dean Smith and the fat but donkey-legged Damian LaPlante. This may have helped shove me off the soccer pitch and onto the basketball court where I started playing for Volcanos Pizza with my best friend Mark. Mark was the Larry Bird of Welland house league basketball and since we were pals and his dad sort of ran the league, I got to be on his team and thus our team was pretty dominant year in and year out. Lots of trophies there, kids.

Thanks also to this little bit of nepotism (and my aggressive defense, probably) I was also selected to  be a part of the Welland Warrior all-star traveling basketball team, where I rode far down the bench for two years until I finally learned how to shoot the basketball with one hand. The coach, a great hairy-armed guy named Tony Rao, was my coaching idol. He always referred to me as his emotional support, which somehow made it okay for me when he never put me in games. Mostly because I sucked.

But I practiced hard. I practiced all year, in the winter in gloves and in the summer in short shorts, and by my third or fourth year (who keeps track?) I was actually pretty good. I was playing regularly. I was a valuable member of a team that was one of the best in Ontario and we kicked some ass. Kicked so much ass that one time when we didn’t win a big tournament and finished second to a squad of genetic freaks from Blessed Sacrament in Hamilton, Mark threw his second place medal across the locker room where it shattered into a million second-rate pieces and then burst out crying. A few teammates followed suit. I clutched my medal tight to my meaty fist, eyes dry, hoping to add it to a growing trophy collection at home. Daddy, will you love me more if I add another cheap piece of plastic to the wall in the den?

Eventually I hit high school, stopped growing vertically and started getting bulkier for football. I went out for ninth grade football and mostly got beaten up, then did fairly well my sophomore year, prompting a choice: basketball or football. Football won out and I proceeded to be a captain on some of the most mediocre football teams in my high school’s history. No championships for us. Lots of middling 5-5 records or 6-4 campaigns with mid-round exits in the playoffs. I capped things off with a wonderful one-win season my senior year (the worst season in something like 80 years of Notre Dame High School football), getting kicked off the team in the final game of my career because I used the word “fuck” in a sentence with my coach. Hard times.

Our lacrosse teams were a little better, and I served them well, though we never won any big championships only a minor tournament here or there. In college my athletic career ground down, sputtering to a stop with some flag football seasons where my team would make it to the semifinals and lose to either the med school team, the alumni team or the team made up of former college football players.

The closest I’ve come to a championship since those old days of hoop with Mark was an Ann Arbor Rec League kickball season a few years back where we made it to the championship game but lost handily to the evil opponents and their cursed legs. I still got a shirt (ugly) but by then losing didn’t feel so bad. I think I got used to it.

When my kid decides to start playing soccer or softball or take karate or play quidditch, I’m going to take them aside, tie up their shoes tight and tell them first and foremost to have a good time. And don’t forget. Second place is first loser. No Fear.