13 years ago I stepped off the court after playing my last basketball game at Gillespie High School. I was 18 years old (below) and had been fortunate enough to play my entire career without injury (other than a broken nose). My joints never hurt. I almost never got out of breath, and heck...most of the time I could throw down what vaguely resembled a 1-handed slam dunk.
I was young.
My college years went something like this...Every single day I would go to the REC Center where I lifted weights and played pick-up basketball games for 3-4 hours per day.
Then I would come back to my apartment/dorm, eat, take a nap, stay up almost all night studying, and then repeat the process all over again after class the next day. Rinse and repeat every day, 30 weeks a year for 4 years...Still I had no significant feeling of fatigue or injury at all!
I was still young.
Now fast forward 13 years later. I'm in an empty gym with my wife, Liz, and my daughter, Zephy, running around at one end of the court playing a 1 year old's version of Tag. At the other end of the court there is a basketball and a regulation hoop.
I decide to take a break from the madness of the Tag game and head for the basketball. I pick it up. Instantly my hands recognize the soft yet firm feel of the leather and the pattern of the seams.
I start to dribble and mess around shooting some layups. The "messing around" then intensifies into my old routine of practicing spin moves, behind the back dribble moves, and jump shots...Without realizing it, I now have the familiar feeling of being fully drenched in sweat on the court, and the "mess around" dribbling session has now progressed into a full-on game in my mind.
When I was a kid I would practice my shooting and dribbling in my drive way every day, and I would imagine myself playing a game with other players on the court. In my mind I would be driving to the basket, shooting game-winning 3 pointers, and dunking over larger players.
Back to the empty court...I'm now fully engaged in a mental game against other imaginary players and situations just like I used to do back in my driveway. I start with the ball at half court every possession, dribble it up, shoot 3 pointers, and drive in for trick-shot style reverse layups. My shot is feeling really smooth, and I'm starting to get "in the zone" like the good ol' days.
At this point I summon Liz to come down to my end of the court to rebound and pass the ball back out to me so I can really practice my 3 point jump shots (what I'm practicing for I do not know). So she makes her way down to the basket with Zephy in-tow on one of those little scooters with 4 wheels kids sit on in PE.
She is surprised how locked in, serious, and sweaty I am. She gives me a confused look as if I've gone off the deep end, and I say to her firmly, "Pass me the rock honey! I need to get some jumpers in!"
She tells me to calm down and slowly bounces the ball to me. I snatch it out of the air shoot a jump shot, put my palms up again quickly to reload for the next shot, and say to her firmly again "Better pass please! Throw it hard, and hit me in the hands!" Again I get the confused look.
When I was in high school and college, like I mentioned above, I would do this for hours on end. Some nights the only reason I stopped was because they had to close the gym.
After a few "better passes" from Liz, I start to notice something I haven't really felt before...My legs get heavy like I have bricks tied to my feet. My shots start to miss badly. My lungs start to burn, and I start gasping for air...
My body will not do what it did 12 years ago. Worse yet, I look up at the clock, and see that it's only been 15 minutes since I walked down to pick up the basketball!
As we loaded Zephy in the car seat and headed home that night I thought about the whole thing. I thought about how, just for a few minutes, I felt exactly like I did all those years ago. I thought about how much my life has changed since I walked off the court for the last time in high school...
And I thought about how no matter how old we get nobody can take away all the experiences we've be through, and all the good feelings they can still bring back on the inside.
We may get sick, our bodies may get older, but the youth in our hearts will always be there, ready to let us feel the spirit of yesteryear.....ready to let us back in the game just one more time.
"We are all forever young!"
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