This morning was crisp and cool, mid-fall-like. And so, I went out on a maiden voyage. For 11.5 miles and about 60 minutes, I rode my new bike around Georgia Tech, around Piedmont Park, to Emory, through Ansley Park and back home. It was the longest ride of the year and arguably the best one yet. The temperature was great, no traffic, excellent hill-filled route, and no gear-slipping.
With beginnings often come endings. The birth of my new bike came with the death of my last one. I purchased the Haro Vector V1 probably 6 or 7 years ago from a Tech student; I found it on Craigslist. I had it for a while before I really used it. In the beginning of 2004, at 200 lbs, I decided I was going to lose some weight. I purchased a trainer stand for it and I rode an hour while playing Xbox every day for months. I lost 40 pounds and have managed to keep most of that off. Here I stand, years later, a lot lighter because of that bike. It helped me lots.
When we moved to the city there was no room for bike and trainer inside the condo and thus they both went to storage. A stationary gym bike replaced the Haro. Things were never the same.
A few months ago, aided by the desire to photograph the city, I dusted it off and hit the streets. Time had not been kind to my pal. Both tires were worn down and the gears were slipping. I purchased new tires and inner tubes. I also bought myself a helmet. Although I could finally ride, the gears slipping became a problem. Crossing busy streets is not a good time for the chain to slide off and the gears to become disengaged – and that's precisely when and where it was happening. I inquired about having the bike repaired and it would cost me at least $200 to replace the components plus labor. "For that much I can buy a new bike," I thought, and so I started the process of trying to find a good, affordable bike.
Long story short, Craigslist failed. A decent mountain bike goes for more than $300. A cheap one can be gotten at Wal-Mart or Target for about $150. I wanted something in between. And so, dealnews came through. REI was selling a Diamondback Outlook from their online outlet store for $150 down from $250. I purchased and had it delivered to the store for free.
The drawback to getting this bike was its shifters. Instead of the thumb shifters I had learned to love, it came with cheap twist shifters. The price was so good I couldn't pass on it again. Riding the other bike was getting dangerous and I was not going to be able to get what I wanted for what I wanted to spend anyway. So shifters be damned, I got the thing anyway.
I tested the bike in the parking deck right after I got it and realized the shifters sucked as much as I feared. And so, without even really breaking in my new ride, I decided to harvest the "organs" from my old one and replace the sucky ones on my new one. I'm not a bike enthusiast and have never replaced stock parts from a bicycle before. Yet, I am an engineer and mechanically inclined. I measured up for the challenge. First, I made sure (as much as possible) that the parts were interchangeable. Then, I effectively put my Haro to death.
The parts swap was not particularly easy. The settings to get the gears to switch properly were complicated and I am pretty sure I got it down. It took a lot of patience and maneuvering, but by yesterday afternoon I was done. I don't want to write much about it because it'll bring back bad memories. Let's say I cursed at the blasted thing more than once and my fingers are as sore as heck.
So this glorious morning, I rode the Diamondback all over midtown Atlanta in great weather. I went up and down roads. For an hour and 11.5 miles I pedaled. I used every single gear and, at long last, none slipped.
Back to my Roots
So I'm off golf (not totally) and onto tennis. Having played the sport since very young, it is only natural that I would gravitate back to it. There is no other sport for which I have received more instruction. I went to the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, FL twice as an adolescent (as a paying customer, not as prodigy mind you). Although I played with the scrubs, I still went, learned and played tennis until I was sick of it. That's on top of all the lessons I'd gotten while growing up. Some would think I'm pretty good. In reality I'm just average. Still, I feel like I'm playing the best tennis of my life right now. Plus, it's great exercise.
In the past few years I have played very sparingly. I have also played doubles, which is not my forte, although I do enjoy it. This year I have more time and I feel like my game has been improving. I started playing about twice a week a couple of months ago. It's amazing how much time I have now that I'm out of school. During that time I have been sharpening my skills. I think my serve is better, my forehand is stronger and my backhand is improving.
I finally got a midsize (plus) racquet and I finally have the control I have wanted. I believe I have always had oversized racquets adding power, but losing control. Thankfully, I have plenty of power and thus I can afford the trade-off.
So I have signed up for the fall league of Ultimate Tennis (commonly known as K-Swiss). I was rated 3.0 by a previous match against a member, but some others I have played with I should probably best rated as a 3.5. We'll see. I hate to sandbag, but I didn't rate myself, so I cannot be held accountable if I cruise through. I don't want to act ballsy because unforced errors are always there.
We'll see how it goes. I still have to work on my mental game, but I think my skills are coming around. I'm excited.
When you come calling,... listen
Some talk about a sixth sense, metaphysical states of consciousness where somehow people can momentarily take a peek into the future - extra-sensory perception (ESP). I am a rational person with both my feet planted firmly in reality. Most of my predictions of future events are based primarily in my use of common sense and analytical expertise. Then, there was that one life-changing instance where I had a moment of inexplicable clairvoyance and failed to pay attention.
The year was 1990. I was in the 10th grade. My high school was hosting four or five "sister" schools from different cities in an indoor soccer tournament. Our school was fielding two teams – an A team and a B Team. There were tryouts with the coaches a week or so before the tourney. Keep in mind this was a pretty laid back tournament – nothing that required much preparation. I tried out for goalie. I'm a decent goalie – better than average anyway. My skills must have been finely tuned because I was picked to start for the A team, amongst juniors and seniors. I was pumped.
Friday afternoon: opening game vs. the B Team. I remember as if it was yesterday climbing the stairs to out gym. It was a sunny, cool, nice afternoon. Classes were done and most people had gone home already. I was nervous – very nervous. I heard a voice inside my head tell me not to play. It was loud. It was clear. There was no mistaking it. Something was telling me not to join my teammates in action. I listened.
I mentioned to the coach that I didn't feel good about starting. He was very understanding and had no issues with me being on the bench. My teammates were equally supportive. This was a game we'd win easily and no one saw it as a big problem. I remember hearing a couple times how if we were up by a good bit at the half, I should jump in and get some playing time to work the edge off my nervousness. That sounded good to me.
After a half we were up 11-1 (if I'm not mistaken). As clearly as I remember everything else, I have absolutely no recollection of that first period of the game other than when it was over. The score being so lopsided, the team encouraged me to play and I gave in. The nagging voice was still strong in my head. "Don't play," it repeated. This time, I ignored it. I never could've imagined how foolish that move was. Had I only known... but didn't I? After all, wasn't I being warned not to play?
I'm not embellishing when I say that a whole minute had not passed when I went down. The opposing team got the ball, and one of their forwards broke away from my defense. It was up to me to make a play on the ball. I lunged for his feet and in the way my face (area to the left of my nose, closer to my mouth than my eye) met his knee. I bounced backwards, groggy from the impact. I was wearing a retainer at the time. I saw it on the floor. I felt loose objects inside my mouth. In my mind I reached the conclusion that the retainer had somehow broken. I remember thinking this even as I picked it up from the floor and it remained in one piece. A large drop of blood left my mouth and landed next to my shoe. It was dark red. I got up and turned around only to see the paling faces of the players on the field. The coach came out in seconds and took me to the girls' locker room (the closest to the field). I washed my face at the sink and for the first time realized what had happened. Staring back at me in the mirror, there I was, still groggy, my mouth open, two teeth hanging from the veins,but still attached to my gums.
The coach whisked me then to the nurse's office. I was surprised she was still there. Picture her as a well-intentioned old lady who did her best, but often fell short. This time – although I don't blame her for her mistake – she did the worst thing she could've given the circumstances. In a painless tug she pulled my loose teeth off their nerves and handed them to me in a tissue. I then walked to the gate to wait for my driver to show. My parents were out of town. There were no cell phones. These were different times.
After about an hour of grossing out passers-by, my ride showed up. We sped through the busy streets until we arrived at my dentist's office. There, my teeth were reinserted. By then I had realized it wasn't my two front teeth, but my front left and the one to its left (I don't know the technical term for them and I don't care to look it up right now). I was pumped full of pain medication and sent home.
The next morning I couldn't open my left eye. The left half of my face was completely swollen. My inserted front tooth had not been shoved in all the way and it was longer than its counterpart. It was drilled down weeks later.
The series of events that followed this incident are too long and painful to relate. Years later, after all efforts to save them were exhausted, I lost both teeth and got permanent implants. Despite loosening every couple of years or so they are still hanging on.
Many years, tears, and dollars later, I still remember that fateful day and how somehow I knew that I shouldn't have played that game. Something told me not to play and despite its clarity, I ignored the message. Never since have I had a moment where my inner self has spoken so loudly. Perhaps I have been listening better, sooner, and the cries have not had a chance to get so vociferous. Whatever spoke to me that day was real. Rest assured that if I ever hear that voice again, if it ever gets to a point where it's as loud and as clear as it was that fateful day, I will listen.
On the field, the court, or the course
Ever since I was a kid I've loved sports. I've never been better than just above average on most sports I have actively played. This has been the root for a lot of frustrating times in my life. I was not particularly blessed with any physical attributes that would set me up to be fantastically adept for any sport in particular. Despite this, I really enjoy playing any sport that jumps in my way (maybe all except basketball because I am so lousy at it). Some has to do with an innate competitive spirit. The rest has to do with the desire to physically exert my body and mind. While I exercise my mind constantly at work or in all my other hobbies, it is only through sports that I get to train all my muscles.
Perhaps I have played more soccer than any other sport in my life. From elementary school until I graduated high school, I played at lunch – almost every single day. I was a decent back-fielder (defense) and a better goalie, which is what I ended playing the majority of the time. After I graduated, I continued playing with friends, but very sporadically. Years later I joined a soccer team and played some indoor and outdoor soccer for a season here in Atlanta. Since, I have played in an indoor soccer league with some guys from work occasionally. I still enjoy kicking the ball around. It's a great sport even if most Americans just don't get it.
I guess ever since I was born, more than any other sport, my dad wanted me to play tennis. A good tennis player (even really good when younger), I guess he wanted someone to play with. I eventually became that sparring partner, filling that role for many years. I actually only remember beating him once – not because I'm no good, but because he was better. His eagerness to play me after that one instance faded quickly. I went twice to Nick Bolletieri's Tennis Academy (NBTA) in Bradenton, FL during my late teen years. I got good – good enough to play competitively with my friends and acquaintances anyway. I've always enjoyed it.
Of course, there's also golf. Then again, golf has its own cube so I won't get into it here.
Lately I've been playing volleyball with a grad school buddy and his church folk. I hadn't done so since high school PE class. I've gotten a lot better than I ever was back then. I still have a good ways to go, but it's a lot of fun and great exercise.
Winning in sports is no longer the "end all" for me. Don't get me wrong – I always want to win; I always play to win. I am a competitive person and I will never ever lose that desire. But a lot can be said for the enjoyment of a sport without the stress of a required victory (even that stress is purely self-inflicted). I've come a long way since igniting in fiery rages after a defeat or a poor performance. In reality, who wants to be that guy? I grew up a huge John McEnroe fan – a lot had to do with this legendary temper tantrums. In retrospect, although that made him stand out, I think it detracted attention from his talent and his achievements. I'd rather be remembered by my performance than my outbursts, even if my performance wasn't enough to secure a victory.