Ted’s essays

being 17 again for an hour

Years before I entered high school, my dad began teaching me the game he LOVED and excelled at. I entered a high school of 3,000 baby boomers (and graduated) as a distinctly small boy of 5’2″, 98 pounds, but was the 3rd best tennis player on the team all three of my high school years.

I was the only one who could beat the coach because the better players followed the muscle-bound pin-head’s instructions while I was not so predictable. Tennis is a fast-paced, thinking, strategy game with an athletic skill set thrown in. I enjoyed the game then, but only found tennis partners once or twice after that.

The last five years has found me teaching quite a few subjects in my little community. Seeing how much the local high school tennis players could benefit from improvements in their form has tempted me to try helping in that area. I still remember how, even if I haven’t excercised that skillset in over 50 years.

A visit from my neice and her son entering high school with some tennis coaching and playing in his background got me on the court yesterday. Amazing things happened that took some consideration to figure out.

All the synapses in my brain that related to tennis were that of a small 17-year-old boy. I am now 6′ tall, weigh 185 pounds with stiff, old muscles and significantly reduced depth-of-field in my vision. Yet the feel of the racket, smell of fresh tennis balls and court environment last visited as a teenager had only THAT long-gone connection for my brain to use.

To serve, forehand, backhand, reach the ball, place the ball, watch for exploitable weakness and everything else that makes up the game, my mind attached to my teenaged brain.

For one hour yesterday I was in an odd meditational mode, a Zen space where my entire being was 17 years old.

However, this 17-year old brain was inexplicably transplanted into a 69-year-old body that was 53% larger than what it was used to operating, and dramatically slower.

Needless to say, this was confusing.

For a long time, the head and shoulders of this hybrid being would sprint to reach a ball only to find that the feet were nearly twelve inches further from the brain, many sizes larger, dragging on the pavement, and moving with inexplicable sluggishness. Put another way, I darn-near ate the pavement face first a bunch of times – without understanding why until much later.

My serve and forehand were not working well. I attributed that to the obviously long-lost muscle memory. Now I think it was more complicated. The brain was operating arms significantly longer than what it had used last time it swung a tennis racket.

As the game progressed and I quit tripping over my feet I began trying to figure out why my backhand was so crummy.
Watch the ball, Ted.
It is crazy blurry.
The dang trajectory is hard to interpret.
Is it rising, falling, when will it get here … ?
Concentrate, darn it.

Looking back, I remember clearly watching the grandson fielding the ball, sending it back, how he handled himself and so on – BUT as the ball came closer the picture clarity would degrade. The ball would move faster than my eyes could change focal planes. I don’t even know if that handicap is surmountable for me, now that I understand it.

My wife watching the show noticed a distinctly youthful exuberance, playfulness in me that she had not witnessed in our 20 years together. My mind had fully transported to its high-school being.

But the old-man body was not up to that kid’s requirements. As fun as it was to be 17 again, the antique support system gave out before the boy inside was done with it. Launching myself for a ball the boy across the net sent to where I wasn’t pulled the heck out of a calf muscle. The invulnerable child operating my brain kept going for a couple more points, but the old man lurking around inside put a stop before doing too much further damage.

Today the old body’s right shoulder area has joined the injured leg to mock any youthful thoughts that may be remaining in my old head. I definitely will be acting my age for a while.

I recommend that any fountain of youth you seek balance mind and body in its transformations.