Have always considered Rohit Brijnath’s writing as love letters to sport. This probably captures it best. From the Straits Times this morning.
The end of the world as I know it has arrived. Because there is an athlete in my house. And it ain’t me. I was supposed to be the sportswriter jock. Friends were supposed to ask me about form. Quiz me on pain. Now they flick me off like cheap lint and talk fartleks and carbo-intake with my wife.
This is wrong. My wife spent her life yelling: “Don’t put your sweaty self on the sofa.”Now it’s the other way around. On Sundays I close the curtains against the heat and she goes and runs into it.
It’s mad, it’s beautiful. After nearly 25 years since I first saw her in a badminton skirt that played hell with my blood pressure, I am learning sport from my missus. At 50 – older than me which cuts the fragile male ego even deeper- she can run further, and faster, than I ever could.
These days I hit the 5km mark on the treadmill and think I’m Rocky. She did a marathon last December after starting to run for the first time in January 2009. I know women are smarter, tougher, but this is plain cruel. Maybe that’s nandrolone she ingests in the morning? So I checked. Bah, vitamins.
My wife wasn’t keen on watching sport. She wonders why there are Gunners in football and if Formula One is a maths problem. Except now there are seven pairs of sneakers in the shoe rack and only one is mine. There is a skyscraper of sports books on the bedside table and they’re hers : anatomy of a runner’s body, Born To Run, Murakami’s musings on running, Runner’s World, a running manual.
It’s an education I tell you. For me.
My wife’s running told me you have to find the right sport to suit your personality. I crave the tension of playing someone; others, like her, relish the freedom of the lonely road, the company only of the ticking watch, the fight against the painful voices within that cry: “Stop.” It’s told me that there’s no time set to fall in love with sport, or as a line in Time’s recent cover story Forever Young reads: “The meaning of age has become elusive.”
What is age-appropriate anymore? The laws that applied to middle-aged people – without being unreasonably risky – have been run over. A 76-year-old climbed Everest; a 92-year-old has just run the marathon. The road in front is only as hard as you make it out to be.
When they, the so-called has-beens, line up at the marathons – 3,367 of 54,982 at last year’s Standard Chartered event were 50 years and over – it is like they’re reinventing life’s finish lines.
Abruptly, my wife has become another person, immersed in timings, shopping for Vibram FiveFingers, sending me off to parties alone. I have to guess my Glenlivet calorie intake, she charts hers at home on a graph. But I am a new person, too. I have a minor degree in sports-bra selecting, energy-bar buying, vaseline-slatering. I thought Hammer Perpeteum was a WWF wrestler till it turned out to be endurance fuel.
When she leaves the house she resembles Clint Eastwood with her gunbelt of tiny, powder-filled bottles and assorted armaments of chest strap, shoe sensor, heart rate watch. The woman’s a walking gadget display. But she’s challenging herself at 50. She’s discovering a person within she hasn’t met before. She’s found a private space which I, rightfully, am not invited to.
I am learning close up from her – and her tribe in this city whatever their age – about perseverance. Because I don’t have it. But true athletes are conquerors of pain, they step through walls of exhaustion that are impenetrable on first look.
It reminds me of David Halberstam describing the rower Tiff Wood in his book The Amateurs: “When he thought of rowing, the first thing that came to mind was the pain. After the first 25 strokes of a race… his lungs and his legs seemed to scream at him to stop. The ability to resist the impulse, to reach through it… while others were fading, made him a champion.”
It’s what my wife is for me.
She comes home, calf complaining, glutes aching, but her face shines with a satisfaction I wish I could feel. In last year’s marathon, her first, she ran 32km, cramped, stopped, then forced herself to limp the last 10km. It’s a story that is echoed in lanes and roads across this land. I used to think people who didn’t run the entire race didn’t deserve the label marathoner. I was wrong.
Now, I like the fact I sleep next to a warrior – except for those damn 5am alarms. Some mornings, semi-awake, I see her shadowy figure slip out, a stranger in tight shorts on a journey of her own invention. There is no medal beckoning, no grand prize, but just the most precious of victories to be won on a silent street of no applause. Victory over the self.