Even couch potatoes now can excel in Olympic sporting competitions

Door of opportunity opens

Posted: Sunday, March 09, 2003

It is a sad fact of human existence that the older you get, the more doors of opportunity are forever closed and dead bolted behind you.

This phenomenon is supposedly balanced by the rich memories and sage wisdom you acquire as you stumble through life.

Personally, I think that's a lousy trade-off. I have a hard time remembering the specifics of a week ago, much less conjuring up details of events that transpired months or years ago. And as for wisdom, I still haven't learned that it's a bad idea to scrape the sides of a blender with a metal spoon while it's operating.

So I find it sad when I realize there are certain opportunities that have forever passed me by.

For instance, I will never be a child prodigy. It is likewise impossible for me to ever be the first man on the moon, the inventor of Skee-Ball or one of the stars of the original "The Addams Family."

On the bright side, I never particularly wanted to be any of those things. On the even brighter side, it turns out that some of those doors that I thought had been closed forever, may not be shut as tightly as I believed.

At an early age, I came to terms with the fact that I would never be a star athlete. I figured my complete lack of coordination, balance and athletecism in general precluded me from achieving any great accomplishments or notoriety in the world of sports.

As it turns out, that is not the case.

I have not suddenly grown two feet and acquired the ability to dribble a basketball without bouncing it off my foot.

No, my athletic abilities haven't improved since I was a kid. If anything, they've gotten worse. At one point in my life I was at least able to actually duck when projectiles were heading my way. Now my reflexes are only quick enough to close my eyes before impact occurs.

What happened is society has lowered the bar on what is considered sports.

At one point in human history, for an activity to be termed a sport it had to include some kind of, well, activity. There needed to be some sort of running, jumping, aiming, lunging or something that caused the athlete to break a sweat and have a quicker heartbeat (not including spicy food and late-night programming on certain cable movie channels).

Now, to the rejoicing of couch potatoes and people who were never picked for teams in P.E. everywhere, that is not the case. No longer are those pesky traits like strength, stamina and hand-eye coordination required to be an athlete. Not since the International Olympic Committee has recognized chess and bridge as bona fide sports.

This is incredible to me. The International Olympic Committee -- the same group that puts on the most prestigious and challenging athletic competition in the history of the world -- is now counting board and card games as sports.

This is great for me. It means the rank of athlete is not as unattainable as I once believed. I do feel sorry for those "real" athletes, though -- the ones who give up any semblance of a normal life to train and condition for a competition where the outcome can come down to a few hundredths of a second. That is less time than it takes a baby to decide to put something in its mouth, and that is what these people's success depends on.

I groan like I've been shot after my legs stiffen up from sitting cross-legged on the floor for too long. Yet I can now be considered an athlete.

Except not really, because I'm not any good at bridge or chess. But the level of inactivity required to excel at those games is right at my level. I just have to wait for society to knock the bar down a few more pegs to include "Monopoly" and "Go Fish" in the echelon of sports.

This experience has made me reevaluate my old assessment of what I could and could not do in life. If I could actually be considered an athlete, just think of what else I could do. Maybe I really am a child prodigy and just didn't realize it.

Who knows? I have long hair, and I always thought the guy who played Cousin Itt was a hack anyway.

Jenny Neyman is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.

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