once an athlete

Cyclers in their bright regalia whiz past us. I spot them out of the corner of my eye as Calvin stumbles around trees, careens into bushes, stares up at the sun, teeters and tips. When we are on the grass I let him fall with minimal support since it is soft and he needs to learn, though he may never, that when he looks at the sun he’ll tumble. His balance is for shit to begin with—you know, the seizure drugs and all—and the sun adds another vexing element to his complicated equation.

I think to myself, I’d be kicking some ass out there, as scores of toned athletes hunched over their bikes take me back to my days as an athlete. As a collegiate swimmer, in some circles I was pretty good while in others, like the PAC-10 conference, I was mediocre at best. Regardless, I’d have the advantage as a triathlete, something I’ve toyed with doing over the years since I’m also a decent runner and I know I’d do well at cycling if I had the right bike. But the four hours of training every day for years on end has soured me on the idea and has curbed my desire for getting back into the pool on a regular basis. And though my body has softened and my brain could use the regular dose of endorphins that swimming offers and, despite my age, I know my muscle memory will help get me back into shape quickly, I still find myself in a prolonged rut, making all sorts of excuses not to get back into the pool:

it’s too cold it’s too sunny i don’t feel good i’m too tired i have a headache i want to lose five pounds before i get into a swimsuit i think i'm coming down with something i want to garden instead i want to write instead i don’t feel like it i have too much to do today

And so it has been the same for nine years ... since Calvin was born. And I try to motivate myself by thinking of my glory days, of my once svelte body, of the ribbons and medals and trophies I’ve won and since given away, of the Most Inspirational and Team Captain honors which my teammates lovingly bestowed upon me in summer league and high school and AAU and college, of my All-American state championship relay in high school, of our men’s and women’s NAIA National Championship titles. Still, none of it rouses my desire.

So for now, instead of athlete, I’ll be coach and captain to my son Calvin. I’ll commit to his development and praise his triumphs and guide his progress and critique his mistakes and inspire his perseverance and set his goals and celebrate his victories and tend to his bumps and bruises, even as the colorful blur of athletes unknowingly speed past us and until one day I try again for myself.

circa 1971 when I was a couple of years younger than Calvin is today

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