Thursday, September 3, 2009

A nasty split

Boston, with autumn in the air.

There is something so remarkably humbling about athletic endeavors, and sports specifically, that I sometimes wonder why they have such an inexorable pull on me. Like the mountain biker who starts feeling cocky, riding the flow train, before getting jettisoned over the handlebars when his front wheel augers into a divot in the trail (yes, that would be me). Or the golfer who, coasting along in a brilliant round shooting several strokes under par, suddenly sends a ball careening deep into the woods, or the drink (that's definitely NOT me, as I've never shot a "brilliant" round in my life!). Or the basketball player who, after a night when every shot hit nothing but net, can't throw the rock in the ocean. No doubt Sisyphus, the Greek god damned to roll a giant rock up a hill for all eternity, would be a sports nut.

Last night was another example, with an "old age" twist. I was in goal, playing with my Monday-Wednesday hockey crew that routinely takes to the ice at the Pingree School. In the past few months, I felt my "game" coming back together, following a long litany of injuries over the past two years. Not that I was always stopping the puck, mind you. But my body was feeling better and better, moving more comfortably. I was tracking the puck, getting into better position, feeling more balanced in my stance, lining up on my angles. I just "felt" right, even if the puck was still getting behind me more often then I'd like.

Finally, last night it all seemed to come together. After giving up an early tally, which was more of a fluke after the forward mishit the puck, I started stopping almost everything that came my way. My feet were underneath me, I was reading the play and moving well to the puck. I wasn't just in the game, I was on top of it (which, believe me, doesn't happen all that often these days!). It's even better when your teammates notice, and start commenting on how well you're playing. That ratchets up the confidence level, and my game almost always follows suit.

And then, an hour into the skate, it all came apart with one mad scramble in front of the net. More specifically, my right groin came apart. I knew immediately that I had hurt it bad (35 years experience gives you a pretty good read on your body). I tried stretching it out, but that only hurt more. I tried soldiering on, because there's nothing worse for a hockey game than playing without a goalie. But my right leg started feeling like a useless appendage, dragging behind me whenever I moved. Once I dropped into the butterfly - on my knees - I had as much mobility as a beached whale. Twice I tried to recover using my right leg, and twice I yelped like a beaten dog. The skate couldn't end fast enough. Finally, my good buddy Paul Erhard, who was playing for the "other guys" on this night, slipped two quick wrist shots past my right leg. After the second, I had to call it quits, knowing I was risking severe damage if I kept playing. And, as the old adage goes, we all "have to go to work in the morning."

So I slumped onto the bench in the locker room. The guys had no idea how bad I was hurt, and I suppose that's a point of pride ... There's no crying in hockey. We may complain ad nauseum, but when you're hurt, you're expected to suck it up. It's one of the game's many unwritten rules that I admire. But I knew full well that I'd have to take at least two weeks off. That might be a tad over-optimistic, but my leagues start in mid-September, and I hope to be ready. I already have a somewhat checkered medical history (though hardly shocking for any Over-50 hockey player), and don't want to give the naysayers any more ammunition. I nursed a beer while I got changed, and then headed straight home for an ice pack. Of course, few things look more ridiculous than a middle-age athlete in his favorite leather recliner, sporting a bag of ice on his groin. But Lauri, my bride, knows her husband well enough not to make any off-color jokes. She know when I'm hurt, and she knows how much I hate it. And she understands how frustrated I get when my body doesn't cooperate with all my unrealistic demands. Plus, she didn't want to add insult to injury. She knew I felt partly responsible, since I don't work enough on my flexibility, which is akin to asking for an injury.

Thirty minutes later, after the groin - and all its neighboring body parts - were sufficiently chilled, I pried myself out of the recliner, popped an Ibuprofen, and shuffled off to bed. The groin will heal, eventually. But not nearly quick enough for my liking.