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George Ferguson Column: A quest and a reality check becomes quite painful

 


You've all seen the movies where an older athlete comes back for one more shot at glory — and it always seems to work out.

Two football movies come to mind, Scott Backula did it in "Necessary Roughness" and Keanu Reeves did it in "The Replacements".

Both characters were considered washed up, out of shape quarterbacks who came back to lead their respective teams to glory.

I found out the hard way recently that real life, painfully doesn't imitate the movies.

Talk about visions of grandeur, well I have them on occasion, probably not unlike most people who used to compete on sports on an almost daily basis.

I'm a competitive person and at age 37 I have little outside of watching sports that fuels my competitive instincts.

Golf does it in short spurts, but for the most part, you spend most of your time competing and fighting yourself in golf, as well as fighting courses that are designed to drive you insane. And for a time, fastpitch softball curbed that desire to compete as well.

But earlier this spring I made a decision to revive my competitive drive in the sport I was best at when I was younger, and the one I coach now — tennis.

For those of you who don't know, tennis is one of the most physically demanding sports there is. It's right there with soccer and swimming as far as total muscle usage, and while you don't get your head ripped off by someone else, it's every bit as challenging to your own body as the sport of football and much more physically taxing than basketball or baseball, or a leisurely round of golf.

And here I am deciding to dive back into that after not playing a truly competitive tennis match since 1995.

My quest is over now as I played in the men's open division of the Meadowlark Open this past weekend in Great Falls, and it was so painful that it literally hurts my fingers to type this column telling you all about how real life refuses to imitate the movies.

My quest began on Friday night when I played a 17-year-old singles player from C.M. Russel High School. And because I am in nowhere the physical condition that most competitive tennis players are, my game plan was simple. I either had to get out to a big lead, or I was going to get beaten quickly. There was just no way I could last in a long match in 80 degree, sunny weather.

Those days and wars on the tennis court are way behind me now, and I would rather watch my high school players engage in those battle then do them myself.

Well, I accomplished the first part, jumping out to a really big lead, and my thoughts were quickly turning to how I would have enough in the tank for my second day of competition if I could just keep this up.

Those thoughts were my biggest and ultimately my most fatal mistake.

Tennis is a very mentally challenging sport and I let myself look too far ahead. The result was, I didn't end the match quickly enough.

Instead, the secure my first competitive victory in 17 years, it would take exactly three hours and one minute – something I never thought I was capable of doing.

But this was my quest and as the third set wore on, I decided I needed to win this particular tennis match. I threw everything I had into it, which wasn't much as I'm not exactly in Greek God shape these days. But, it was just enough to win and I won't lie, for a brief moment, I felt like a conquering hero. I felt like I had done what the "old athletes" do in the movies.

I had secured one last moment of glory in an otherwise athletic career that was well in my past.

However, as the aches and pains started to set in as fast as my euphoria of winning wore off, something hit me, and while I've thought it before, I never had it hit me like this: I'm older now and I just can't do what I used to do know matter how much my mind wants to.

I walked off the court with my victory in hand and thinking, "wow, I'm still a pretty good tennis player." My body however, was screaming "why in the hell are you doing this to me? What did I do to deserve this punishment?"

Yes, victory came with a heavy price tag and that was pain. Pain that I felt that night, pain that wouldn't let me go to sleep and pain that made me play so poorly on Saturday morning, that I did not walk off the court with thoughts of glory any longer.

I'm sure some of you out there know exactly what I'm talking about.

I know we're all told at some point we can't play children's games any longer, but on this one particular weekend, my mind didn't listen. Instead, I tortured myself in order to prove that I could still compete.

And well mentally it felt good to know I still could, what I really proved is that my body is not the temple I once thought it was and I'm not the athlete I once was either – not even close.

But, I still saw my quest through and that's just as important as accepting the heavy dose of reality I was also slapped in this face with this weekend.

So, in the end, what wins out? Is it the reality of getting older and not being able to compete like I once did? Or is it the age old lesson that, if you want something bad enough, then go for it?

I think every one should follow the second thought in life. No one should ever be afraid to chase dreams and quests, and no one should ever let anyone tell them they can't do anything. Those are important parts of enjoying life, and those lessons go way beyond sports.

But because it's Sunday afternoon and I'm in more pain then I was on Saturday night, because I spent five to six hours under the hot sun on a tennis court chasing a past I know I can never get back, for now, I'll call it a tie.

It hurts too much to decide which thought, which lesson won out this weekend.

 

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