This I Believe

Kenneth - Greenville, South Carolina
Entered on June 12, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: setbacks, work
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“An Aging Baby Boomer Believes It’s the Last Time”

I believe I have thrown a baseball for the last time. Similarly, I believe I will no longer raise a tennis racket with hope of an ace. I believe I have tossed my last perfect spiral to a receiver on a post pattern, and hit my final spike from a teammate’s timely set-up.

I’ve come to these conclusions through a rotator cuff injury suffered during a championship game. It prevents me from completing the smooth and easy arm rotation necessary to propel a bat, ball, or racket. But I’m not a professional athlete. No, I’m just one of millions of aging baby boomers learning that today’s injuries were a long time in coming.

I believe our middle-aged maladies have their roots in the fabulous fifties and go-go sixties, when post-war parents such as mine afforded their male offspring the activities that weren’t part of their childhoods. As a kid I played Little League baseball and Pop Warner football, and swam endlessly at the county pool. Then came high school football, basketball, tennis and volleyball. College offered an endless schedule of intramurals, followed by years of softball and touch football with the guys after the 5 o’clock whistle.

Like my peers, I dove into each activity with an eagerness and intensity that blinded me to long-term consequences. I was driven by coaches who, for all their good intentions, may not have understood the ramifications of long practices and minor injuries on young athletes. I was rewarded by parents living vicariously through my achievements, although they likely did not comprehend the sport at hand. I was captivated by a wide world of sports media that heralded new gods and goddesses as never before.

I was young, naïve and impressionable, with nary a glance toward tomorrow.

Now I’m paying the price, a harsh reality for a boomer who enjoys absolutely the simple act of tossing a clean, white baseball across a brilliant green field under an impossibly blue sky. It’s not that we want to repeat what was achieved years ago; we just want to remember. And with each throw, we do. Balding heads across the country nod in agreement.

So we trudge to our doctors’ offices to repair, or at least soothe, the pains we’ve acquired, however valiantly we acquired them. (Mine came at a neighborhood Whiffle ball tournament.) With each ailing boomer who signs in at the window, the medical community knows that there’s gold in them there ills. I tell my undergraduate son to follow his interest in orthopedics. Work on that degree, I implore, so you can one day work on my shoulder.

In the meantime, I believe I’ll just sit and watch the baseballs and tennis balls and footballs sail across fields and courts, rather than launch any more of them myself. And like millions of my peers I will, as my arm and shoulder allow, raise a toast to bygone days.