Archive for the ‘Sports’ category

Fit Tip #26

September 6, 2009

If you’re interested in aging (and if you’re not, uh hello, this involves you too) check out this fall TV show, blog, and series of video clips from this PBS show hosted by one of the best sports & health writers around, Robert Lipsyte of the NY Times.

Fit Tip #24

September 4, 2009

“When I’m not boxing, I’m bowing.” Sam Iverson, Muay Thai student. How much time do we all spend boxing, bowing?

Fit Tip #20

July 25, 2009

When cycling with a friend, approaching a hump, don’t say, “Look at that bird!” Say, “Look at that bump.”

Fit Tip#16

July 14, 2009

Do I think Armstrong will win? That game: I’ll play along. But to me what matters more: Lance is living strong.

Fit Tip # 12

July 9, 2009

If you are an athlete you think you know best. But often what’s missing is time off: Called rest.

Fit Tip #10

July 6, 2009

I don’t buy the premise “forever young” but you’ve gotta laugh at these “Babes” having fun:

Back in the Swim

September 28, 2008

Here’s a love story:

I don’t know when I learned to swim but I must have been three or younger because the year I was four, I broke my arm and spent the whole summer standing awkwardly in the shallow end of our neighbor’s pool, holding my plastic-wrapped heavy white cast above the splashing water and watching forlornly as my siblings and neighbors frolicked.

I swam in my first meet at age five. Mom reports that my first question, upon arriving at the end of the pool, was, “Did I win?” (No.)

I swam on competitive teams every summer until I was sixteen, when I had to choose between swimming and basketball and chose basketball – not because I loved it more, but because, relative to other kids, I was better at it (i.e. more likely to win.)

At 24, I retired from a basketball career that had included Stanford University and professional teams, and immediately returned to the pool. I discovered that “masters swimming” includes people as young as 19, and that I still loved swimming, with or without the added bonus of trophies. Diving into the pool again, soaring out over the water in a racing dive, felt like coming home.

I swam on masters teams for another 26 years, until I turned 50 and accepted a job with a thirty-minute commute. Though my masters team practiced from 6:30-7:30 at a pool en route to my new workplace, the schlep didn’t work for me. I tried it: Get up at 5:45, pack the car with swimming bag, the day’s work clothes, and drive to the pool. Swim, shower, dress, eat breakfast in the car, and arrive at work by 8:45. After work, unpack the wet bathing suit and towel, which had been moulding or freezing in the car all day, and re-pack everything for the next day. After a while, my life seemed to revolve around packing and unpacking clothes, swimming gear, and food.

Though I never forgot to pack my underwear or other key articles of my professional attire, I worried about it constantly, left some duplicates in my office locker, and more than once selected and packed a professional outfit I no longer wanted to wear when — too late — I tried it on in the swimming locker room, miles from home.

After a year of this, I stopped swimming, and remained out of the pool for a year. I felt less exhausted and stressed out but missed my swim team: Coach John Flanagan and teammates Sue, Cindy, Mei Mei, Karen, Beth. Even more, I missed those racing dives and my long strong strokes through the water. My heart actually ached for that freestyle motion. When swimming freestyle, the water hugs your chest, somehow, and the balanced, rhythmic motion is satisfying on a deeply primal level. 

I stayed in shape through yoga, weight-lifting, cycling, walking. But I never stopped craving swimming. Switching from showers to baths in a vain attempt to satisfy my need for total immersion did not help. Nor did “imaginary swimming,” an exercise I found myself doing on my way to sleep. Nor did occasional ecstatic swims in the ocean, three hours from home. 

Finally, it occurred to me that I could swim at the local high school, one mile from my house, shower there, drive back home, dress and eat breakfast at home, and still get to work on time without having to pack my work clothes or eat breakfast in the car. 

For about six months now, I’ve been back in the swim. It’s a very different experience than my swim team training, which had been intense, competitive and highly structured. Now I do my own thing, talking to no one and coordinating my laps with no one.

Since I work with people all day, this non-competitive, almost anti-social swimming provides just what I need these days: an hour just for me. Though surrounded by other swimmers, I feel alone in the pool in the best sense of the word alone: solitary, self-contained, quiet. I focus on my breathing, my stroke, my strength. It’s swimming as meditation: deeply satisfying in a way I almost didn’t know swimming could be. 

And throughout the day I feel immensely better: more physically balanced, spiritually centered, at peace. No matter what happens in my sometimes hectic and demanding job, I always have that morning meditation to refer back to. Swimming doesn’t “ground” me but rather buoys me, supports me as I swim through the rest of my life. 

I’m euphorically happy to be back in the swim.

May everyone find a form of exercise they love this much.

Returning Home: Playing Basketball at 51

November 3, 2007

“Take a camera,” suggested a friend. But I wasn’t attending as a spectator. My goal was to PLAY.

Ever since I heard about the senior women’s basketball league in my area, I was intrigued, enticed, and drawn to return to this place — the basketball court – that had been my home as a child and young adult.

I knew people over 50 competed in softball, golf, and dozens of other sports in the Senior Games. Friends rave about this experience, and my own mother has competed in swimming meets there, winning medals in the 75-79 age group.

But basketball? Who knew that women between the ages of 50 and 85 can still play HOOPS?

Having turned 50 myself not long ago – and having retired from college, professional, then recreational basketball in 1981 – I was fascinated to learn that women my age, and MUCH older, are still playing.

My own retirement had been forced by chondromalacia (softening of the cartilege) in both knees – and it had not occurred to me that other hoopsters my age had escaped a similar fate. Though I successfully grieved my disability and shifted my attention to swimming — SUPERB — and golf — GREAT — basketball is simply THE BEST.

So when Helen White, coordinator of the NOVA United teams, invited me to “coach or give a pep talk or something,” I said, “What I’d really like to do is play.”

I then explained my knee situation – I cannot even go downstairs without limping; picture O.J. Simpson, of all people, as he painfully descended the staircase after his latest arrest – but somehow I just had to try.

When I pulled up to the recreation center, the first person I saw, as she unfolded her long body from her car, was a five-ten sixty-two-year-old with white hair.

“This must be the right place,” I thought. My peeps!

For the next three hours, about thirty women (up to age 72 on this particular evening) ran, rebounded, set screens, executed give-and-go’s, shot, high-fived, got knocked down, got back up, and kept moving, moving, moving.

And it WAS moving – to see the delight on their faces. I’ve met so many women over the years – easily hundreds – who have told me that they didn’t get a chance to play sports when they were young. Those women were angry about that, and sad.

No longer. Some of the women were from that three-dribble generation, when players were limited to one half of the court. Others had no athletic background at all. “Sports were not for girls,” said 71-year-old Jeannie, a children’s book author. “We were supposed to do embroidery.”

But the times, they are a changin’. “When we looked around for a gym, they didn’t know what to make of us,” reports Bonnie, a-62 year-old who plays on the 50-54 team and coaches the 60-64 team. “Rec centers are used to seniors playing bingo, but not seniors playing basketball.”

“I teach senior fitness at a local community college,” another player told me. “It used to be chair exercises. Increasingly, they want sport skills.”

The other early-arrivers welcomed me warmly and tossed me a basketball while they stretched. A standard women’s ball, it was smaller than the traditional (now men’s) ball I’d usually played with, and lighter – much easier to handle, lift, shoot.

(Karen Logan, with whom I played in the WBL, actually invented this smaller ball and we did use it in that first women’s pro league.)

For a while I was alone with the hoop. As in a dream, everything I shot went in. From the right, from the left, from the corner, from the free throw line: Swish. Swish. Swish. Swish.

Shooting a basketball through a hoop, and seeing it – no, FEELING it – swish through the net is one of the most satisfying physical activites, in my experience. Being back on the court felt so natural, so right, and so downright ecstatic, I’m sure that if someone else had brought a camera, they would have caught me BEAMING.

When it came time to scrimmage three on three, reality hit. I could not jump for a rebound, race after a loose ball, or even drive to the basket and extend upward, leaping off one leg (a basic layup). My knees are just plain too sore for such maneuvers.

Still, I could pass. I could shoot. I could play defense, in a gimpy kind of way. And since we played half-court, I was able to keep up enough to enjoy a few key assists, a few blocked shots, and a few more of those smooth swishes.

Peggy is a former history teacher who now works for the Department of Justice. Carol played college basketball at Indiana with Tara Vanderveer, Stanford University women’s coach. Sue played at the University of Pennsylvania. Gwen, a software engineer, is “just a rec league player” who recruited another player she met in her church league. Mothers and grandmothers, business owners and assistant bookkeepers and government employees, they have an easy camaraderie, joking with each other and encouraging each other: “Good shot!”

“We’re changing the face of aging, and changing the perception of aging,” said Bonnie.

We all chatted for a while afterward, and I cautioned them to take care of their bodies, especially their knees.

“Will you be back?” asked 60+ player named Hope.

I smiled at these happy, sweaty women. They’re having the time of their lives.

“YES,” I said.

(Want to play? Contact Helen White:

Mariah Burton Nelson
American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation

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Regular Old Athletes

October 29, 2007

A 78-year-old friend of mine climbed Mt. Fuji last week. A lifelong Japan-ophile whose powder room has a Japanese sign on the door that translates, literally, “Honorable Hand-Washing Place,” she has lived in Japan, and speaks Japanese, but this was the first time she had climbed the “mythic, mystic” mountain, as she put it.

“I don’t even know why it was important to me to do it, but it was,” she said after the successful 18-hour round-trip hike. “Probably something about getting older, and seeing friends sometimes be so feeble, living in assisted living homes.

“One friend said, ‘Why in the world would you want to do something like that?’ But I do feel different now. I feel changed.”

The Japanese talk about how shy “Fuji-san” is, always skirted by clouds. The mountain appears suddenly and mysteriously, almost magically, on very clear days. “When we were living in Tokyo, we used to joke about the Japanese having the mountain on wheels, because it was always showing up in unexpected places,” says my friend, who prefers to remain anonymous.

“I enjoyed reading about routes, and buying hiking boots, and entering into whole ethos. It was fun, until I got to the base of the mountain and looked up and thought, Oh my, what have I done!”

Six hundred thousand people climb the mountain every summer – “so it can’t be that difficult,” says my friend, who ran her first 10K in her early sixties and raised five children, including a mountain climber.

“When you start out, it’s not that steep. It just takes persitance and tenacity and endurance.”

This friend is the founding member of my reading group, which has been meeting monthly for fifteen years. Last night we discussed The Blue Flower, by Penelope Fitzgerald, while my friend and her husband served us a dinner on china plates called, thematically enough, “Blue Rose.”

For dessert we enjoyed a homemade Mt. Fuji ice cream sculpture made of Rocky Road ice cream, complete with tufts of whipped cream snow.

On her way up Mt. Fuji, my friend learned that last year, a 100-year-old man made the journey. So she doesn’t feel particularly remarkable.

“The last 200 meters were tough, and downhill was tough too, because my quads were like rubber,” she recalls.

But she took it all – even the falling – in stride. “Every time I fell, the guide would say, “Good time for a rest,” she relates, laughing.

What’s extraordinary about this story is that it’s not extraordinary any more. Every month, AARP: The Magazine receives story pitches about older (or downright old) athletes who have achieved things someone considers remarkable. The editors turn them down, explaining that impressive athletic accomplishments by older people simply aren’t unusual enough to make the news.

Which is not to say they’re not important – to the people themselves. “I don’t like to toot my own horn, but I do find myself telling people, ‘We just came back from Japan, and I climbed Mt. Fuji!” says my friend.

“I don’t think I’ll do it again,” she continues. “The Japanese have a saying: “Every Japanese wants to climb Mt Fuji once, but only a fool wants to climb it twice.”

No need. Sounds like once was just right.

Now, as for you, Dear Reader: What’s YOUR Mt. Fuji?

Mariah Burton Nelson
American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation

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Dads, Daughters, and Sports

July 10, 2007

Gard Skinner, founder of and a fan of We Are All Athletes, asked me,

“If you were speaking to a room full of men who, perhaps, had few sports experiences themselves growing up….

How would you–as executive director for an organization that is devoted to opening health doors for every single child– recommend they introduce their shy or cautious daughters to sports?”

It’s not so much that daughters tend to be shy or cautious. It’s that parents sometimes overlook a child’s natural athleticism if that child happens to be female. Fathers in particular might not know how to encourage and support a daughter’s interest in sports, especially if the fathers haven’t seen themselves as successful athletes.

The best time to start is early. Studies show that young boys have a ball tossed in their direction much more often than young girls do.

Dads can help girls develop strength, coordination, and appreciation for their own bodies by engaging them in myriad physical activities – playing catch, wrestling, hiking, camping, climbing hills, running, skipping, playing on monkey bars, even slapping high-five in celebration – to begin to give girls a sense that their bodies are sources of joy, wonder, and accomplishment.

Kids – especially one’s own kids – are inherently attractive, it seems to me, and fathers, with the best of intentions, often compliment girls for how attractive they are, hoping to instill a sense of positive body image that way.

However, what girls need much more is a sense of physical accomplishment, success, joy. This develops through physical activity.

Gard also asked, “How would you, in your experience, help us communicate that we are not trying to push our daughters to be “jocks,” but rather, to give them a healthy lifestyle and the benefits that go along with it?”

Gen X fathers know lots of strong, athletic women; many of them married one. But their mothers were raised in the pre-Title IX generation and had few sports opportunities. So we’re still in a transition phase, with many men not fully comprehending how important sports are for girls and women.

My own father, a physician and hospital president, “didn’t want his daughter to be a jock.” That conversation came up when I was a teenager considering colleges, and interested in their athletic as well as academic programs.

Stanford was acceptable to him; but the Stanford basketball program somehow threatened his sense of who his daughter should become. Homophobia was probably part of that; in my generation (I was born in 1956) athletic girls were often assumed to be gay.

When, after Stanford, I played professional basketball and had an opportunity to travel throughout Europe, Dad began to appreciate that sports had literally taken me far.

Later, when I took up golf (his sport) we had many happy days on the golf course together.

Just a few years ago, while playing 18 holes together, he finally proudly introduced me to a friend of his with this line, “This is my daughter. She’s an athlete.”

I almost fell out of the golf cart, I was so surprised – and happy. Sure, I’m proud of my professional accomplishments, and I’m glad Dad is too, but it meant a lot to me to have him finally affirm this other important aspect of my identity.

Probably the best way for dads to fully appreciate the positive benefits of sports experiences for their daughters is to participate themselves. That way, they’re modeling physical activity, physical fitness, and healthy competition — and reminding themselves on a daily basis how much joy we can all find in sports.

That’s key too – the “all” part. Daughters aren’t really very different from sons, despite the small publishing industry that claims the opposite. Kids are just people, and people inherently love to move.

Unfortunately, female people will hear many messages about the uber-importance of physical appearance. Fathers can go a long way toward counteracting the negative influences of these messages by showing daughters that what matters most is not what your body looks like, but how it can move, express itself, stay healthy, get strong, and accomplish great things, alone and with teammates of all kinds, including family members!
Mariah Burton Nelson
American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation

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Writing and Moving: Possibilities of Change

June 8, 2007

Here’s what David Grossman, author of Her Body Knows, says about writing: “Writers know that when we write, we feel the world move; it is flexible, crammed with possibilities…

“When I write, even now, the world is not closing in on me, and it does not grow ever so narrow: it also makes gestures of opening up toward a future prospect.”

Any writer will relate to that. While writing, all things are possible. Writing offers an altered stated of consciousness that is pleasurable in itself.

Athletes know that the same is true for movement. Athletes know that when we move, “we feel the world move; it is flexible, crammed with possibilities… ”

When we move, “the world makes gestures of opening up toward a future prospect.”

Grossman’s quote was from the Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture, which he delivered at PEN’s World Voices Festival on April 29, 2007. It was adapted for the New York Times Magazine (May 13, 2007) as “Writing in the Dark.”

I haven’t read Her Body Knows yet, but I have to wonder what Grossman knows. Has he noticed the similarity between writing and movement: how both transport us to a place where all things are possible?

Have you?

Mariah Burton Nelson
American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation

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Allison Stokke Rocks

May 30, 2007

What I love about Allison Stokke is not what Matt Ufford and other bloggers love about her. “Hubba hubba and other grunting sounds,” Ufford wrote about Stokke, the California high school pole vaulter whose life has been turned upside-down by unwanted Internet oglers in recent weeks.

Photos of Stokke — thin, strong, gorgeous — have been flying around the Internet faster than a sprinter round a track, and as a result, thousands of anonymous users are looking at Stokke in her tight track uniform and posting graphic sexual fantasies. Reporters from around the world are requesting interviews with this new young sex symbol.

Some female athletes would love the attention. Some would respond by agreeing to pose for risque magazines. Some have justified the sexualization of female athletes by claiming that they’re proud of their bodies, and eager to show them off – even if to an audience that treats their photos with as much respect as they afford centerfold “girls.”

Stokke is different. Wise, at eighteen years old. She can’t do much to stop the worldwide “locker-room talk,” as her mother, Cindy Stokke, describes it. But Allison, a 2004 state pole vaulting champion, doesn’t have to like it, and doesn’t pretend to.

“Even if none of it is illegal, it just all feels really demeaning,” she told the Washington Post. “I worked so hard for pole vaulting and all this other stuff, and it’s almost like that doesn’t matter. Nobody sees that. Nobody really sees me.”

This is the crux of the answer to the “oh, we’re just appreciating female athletes’ bodies” argument. When female athletes are treated like Playboy bunnies, they lose their individuality and their identity. They become a product to be consumed by a lustful male public.

Allison Stokke wants to be known for her accomplishments – like any other athlete. Yes, she “worked hard for her body.” But the buff body was not her goal. And as long as her body is all these men see, they are “winning” by “demeaning” her, as she put it: reducing her to a sexual object to fulfill their fantasies.

It takes courage for female athletes to Just Say No to unwanted media attention. No, she can’t stop the Internet, but she doesn’t have to buy into it either, and so far, she isn’t. (Oh, please do NOT accept that sure-to-be impending invitation from Hustler, Allison, even though it would fund your college education!)

It takes strength to define oneself on one’s own terms. Fortunately, Allison Stokke is both courageous and strong – not just as a pole vaulter, but as a person.

Those who manage to see not just the body but the person will become true fans.

Mariah Burton Nelson
American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation

My Body, My Writing: An Introduction

April 10, 2007

I am an athlete. I am a writer. (See bio here)

I know myself two ways: through my physical experience, and through my writing.

I express myself, and connect with others, two ways: through my physical expression (walking, talking, rowing, golfing, climbing, thinking) and through my writing (books, articles, this blog.)

I hope this blog enables me to know myself better, and to communicate with others who care deeply about physical activity, recreation, health, fitness, sports, and the habit of exercise.

Through this blog I hope to share the daily joy of movement. I hope to inspire, and I hope to learn.

We are all athletes. We have all been blessed with bodies.

Bodies in motion stay in motion, and bodies in motion stay healthy happy, hopeful.

Let’s “get a move on” together.

Mariah Burton Nelson
American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation