A Long Jump in Time
Two years ago I barely exercised. I had always kept reasonably fit but I had fallen into a lull with little motivation for any sport. Passing by a running track one day, I thought, why not go back to what I was once good at - athletics?
I began running and sprinting as I had done for many hours at school and university. The going was haphazard as you can expect when combining the muscle memory of a twenty year old and the physique of a fifty year old. Soon the call of the athletics track and my old specialty, the long jump, became stronger. I entered the arena of Masters Athletics.
The first burst of newfound enthusiasm totally overtook my actual fitness level. Sprains and pulled muscles had me out of action at times. In time I learned to go easy and work it up gradually. Warming up longer and taking time to go through the paces. Now I practice every second day, not six days a week as once long ago was the routine.
By the time the summer season started I was in reasonable shape again. I had lost weight, gained strength and could keep sustain effort for two hours – the duration of the typical long jump event from warm-up to finishing six leaps. I won two provincial championships and took second place at the South African Masters Championships. By then the bug had really bitten so I kept training in the off season.
Keeping up regular training is not always easy. Practicing in the evening after work, temperatures in winter are close to freezing point outside. Then, the track is empty. Just me crazy enough train at that time of day. I knew though that you have to keep at it as fitness improvement is slow and incremental.
Some days after work, I really do not feel up to an hour and more of intense training. I trick myself – sort of. I undertake to exercise for only fifteen minutes. If by then I really don’t feel like it anymore, I can pack up and go home. It works every time. Once outdoors and the energizing effects of exercise kick in, it feels too good to stop.
I had to laugh at myself. Many times. Miss-timing a leap at a competition, I somersaulted headlong into the sand in front of a full pavilion. Nothing injured except a badly bruised ego. Competing among a group of junior athletes, a young spectator derisively exclaimed: “Hey, this old fart must be at least forty!” I turned to him and replied: “Well actually, this old fart is already fifty”. We both laughed and for the rest of the competition he was my most vocal supporter.
I experienced anew how invigorating it is to go outdoors for exercise. My typical work day is filled with numbers and abstractions. One needs to get back to basic elements and awareness of open space, the smell of grass and a setting sun to get outside your mind and restore inner equilibrium. Running hard and leaping in the air is a pure existential pleasure. Yes, I still have enormous fun playing in a sandpit!
Again I discovered the thrill and challenge of competition. Focusing intensely on the five seconds it takes to run and leap. Putting all effort into the split second take-off. Driving to outdo yourself. The chase of a prize in friendly camaraderie, the way it should be.
The exercise regimen has paid off. Soon I will be on my way to the World Masters Athletics Championships representing South Africa. The Olympics for the “oldies” as my children say. I am grateful. It is satisfying to return to a forgotten talent, rediscovering it, and shaping it as best I can.
To you, if you have read this far: are there any forgotten passions or talents within you? Any rusty longings and joys long forgotten that can be re-awakened? Before you hide it carefully in your good memory trove, think carefully.
It’s never too late.
Take a long jump in time.
(Picture credit: Roger James)