Growing into middle age at 25

You know you're getting old when you play to keep in shape, not just for fun

Posted: Sunday, November 10, 2002

Growing up, sports were always a big part of my life. In high school I bounced from one sport to the next, playing football, soccer, basketball and track. I even had a short, highly unsuccessful wrestling career that ended with me scraping myself off the mat following not one, but two decisive (and painful) pins at the hands of the Seward J.V. squad.

Anyone who may have witnessed my various sporting endeavors can attest to the fact that I didn't participate out of a desire for any personal glory. Basically, I liked to play, I enjoyed the competition and camaraderie and it gave me something to do.

So I bounced from one sports season to the next, content to be young and healthy and having fun.

Then I went to college.

That's where I learned about all kinds of other, less physically demanding, extracurricular activities. Things like co-ed softball, co-ed touch football and co-ed dorm parties. I participated in these activities with much more enthusiasm I'd ever demonstrated during my competitive athletic career, and yet I somehow began to see a decline in my overall physical health.

It wasn't a sudden thing, this slip into pot-belly land. It was more like the steady addition of five pounds of flesh for each semester I spent devoted to higher education.

In fact, it wasn't even really all that noticeable for a while, as the lingering effect of all that exercise in my youth carried me for quite a while. But when I came home after my junior year looking more like a nose tackle than the wide receiver I'd been, I knew things were getting bad.

So I resolved to do something about it. I played intramural basketball. Oddly enough though, two nights of basketball each week, coupled with seven nights of relentless "study" only seemed to hasten my march toward middle age.

By the time I graduated, I had a midsection resembling a radial tire and the lung capacity of the Marlboro man.

However, even then I could still pass for a relatively healthy young man. The conditioning I'd developed in my youth was carrying me, allowing me to neglect my body while still allowing me to pretend to be in nominally good shape.

Then I entered the real world, and things really got ugly. Gone were the pseudo-sports of college life, the late night-study sessions that burned calories away in No-Doze induced frenzies, even the ping pong and softball that at least got me off the couch.

It's sad to realize you've become an old man at 25. Even sadder to know the premature aging was entirely preventable. If I'd only put the same effort into my physical conditioning as I'd dedicated to my bar tab, I'd be as fit as that wide-eyed 18-year-old go-getter I'd once been.

They say that recognizing the problem is the first step toward change. Well, I recognized the problem every time I faced that double-chinned guy in the mirror.

But I also recognized that tomorrow always seems to be a much better day to change. This is especially true when there's something good on TV, or a newly configured Whopper that demands my attention.

However, I'm getting to the point where I can no longer deny the fact that it's time to get back some of the vigor I lost during my early-20s. Nowhere was this more apparent than during my debut last week for my city-league basketball team.

As I lumbered up and down the court, breathing heavily and struggling just to keep from passing out, no longer could I deny the fact that I'm in horrible shape. And when I say horrible, believe me, I mean it. I'm the youngest player on our team, and already my teammates are calling me "the old man." All those years of burgers, fries and Monday Night Football drink specials have finally resulted in a man devoid of any athletic skill, any physical conditioning whatsoever.

Now what?

Well, I guess there's two ways I can go. I can continue to deny the fact that I'm no longer a high school kid with the metabolism of, well, a high school kid. I can continue to patronize fast food establishments, blissfully content to slip on into a world of recliners, high-backed chairs and football on TV.

Or, I can truly pretend I'm in high school again and actually get off my butt and do something.

See, as we age, we forget why we were able to once live such carefree, active lives in the first place. I never played sports to stay in shape, I played because I liked to play. When I found that there's other, more adult, ways to amuse oneself than running around, blissfully playing simple kids' games, I got away from what made me happy -- and fit -- in the first place.

So I've resolved to try to get back to the basics. Less TV, more basketball. Fewer burgers, more salad. Hopefully, I'll be able to rediscover those days when I easily slipped from one physical challenge to the next without so much as a blink.

And if anyone knows of a good co-ed touch football league, please, give me a call.

Matt Tunseth is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.

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