Adapting With the Hope That a Tradition Can Be Toppled
“Put me in, coach, I’m ready to play today,
Look at me, I can be center field.”
John Fogerty’s homage to an aspiring baseball player is reminiscent of my pre-ALS relationship with nearly any game of skill. It was the rare sport that, once exposed to it, I didn’t have a hankering to understand and, if possible, participate in. Typically judging myself equal to the task, irrespective of field of competition or position, I was ready to play.
That proclivity began at an early age. Living in a neighborhood teeming with kids, sandlot “anything” was a likely happening during any daylight, non-school-day hour. Minimally, having a brother close in age meant any sporting event could be simulated.
My parents capitalized on my obvious zeal. My mom bought me books about my growing list of sports heroes. My dad engaged me in sports trivia. When I wasn’t playing it, I was reading about it, or memorizing it. Of secondary benefit was that I became an avid reader, and my cognitive skills improved.
The passion followed me onward. In junior high and high school, I was a varsity participant. In college, I spent many non-study hours at the gym and played intramural basketball, softball, and football.
Upon commencing my professional career, I joined local leagues in all three sports. I also made time for golf and bowling leagues. I occasionally dabbled in racquetball, tennis, and cross-country skiing.
As time marched on, circumstances and priorities prompted a whittling back of the sports I remained active in. Two were to remain sacred cows. I intended on playing basketball and golf deep into my senior years. I believe it was an achievable goal, had not ALS viciously robbed me of the opportunity to chase it.
That blow crippled my psyche before laying major claim on my body. Post-diagnosis, while physically capable of limited participation, emotionally I could not bring myself to set foot on either a basketball court or golf course. In fact, for several months it was too painful to even watch a sporting event on television. I had spent an inordinate amount of my life gripping a ball, bat, or club, only to discover it was the other way around.
My reaction wasn’t unique. As my network of fellow ALS sufferers grew, a few anecdotally shared how the awareness of their imminent decline altered their engagement with precious hobbies. Enthusiasts of painting, pottery, auto restoration, sailing, gardening, woodworking, and needlepoint offered how the intrusion of ALS changed their pursuit of each.
It turns out that sometimes it is predicted phenomenon. Situational depression is a type of adjustment disorder. It can make it hard for you to adjust to your everyday life following a traumatic event, such as illness. Symptoms include loss of interest in things previously enjoyed. One common sense, catchall countermeasure is adaptation. ALS certainly forces adaptation. A fitting hashtag could be #adaptorgiveup.
Embedded in my love affair with sports was fondness for competing. I adapted to the absence of external competition by turning those juices inward. I embraced legendary coach John Wooden’s reverence for doing “your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.” I began challenging myself to optimize my ever-diminishing capabilities.
To a lesser extent, I became a competitor of ALS. Again, I borrowed from Wooden: “Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.” In a war of attrition, I strive to maintain the “cans” while slowing the accumulation of the “cannots.”
Toward both ends, I have employed some alternative tactics. A few included visualizing myself completely healed, reveling in something fully satisfying. Curiously, it was not running, jumping, or striking a golf ball that I’d envision. Instead — no doubt the consequence of receiving nurturing care for so long — I’d picture myself in service of others.
I’ve also adjusted my sporting event watching habits. I take in far fewer telecasts, and rarely start to finish. When I do watch, my focus is not so much on the outcome of the contest or any given play. Rather, it is the athlete’s attempt to harness the potential of God’s creative genius that gets my attention.
Last weekend, I caught some of the live broadcast of the Masters golf tournament. Annually, it is hyped as a “tradition unlike any other.” This year, due to COVID-19, it violated two traditional elements by being held in November, and without patrons.
In that spirit, the default tradition of no one surviving ALS needs to be broken. If I were fortunate enough to be part of that tradition-trampling, my visualizations would transform into reality. Walking and talking, fully valid and enabled, I’d sing loud and joyously in Fogerty fashion:
“Put me in, Lord, I’ve come to pray today.
Thankfully, it’s me, your volunteer.”
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