“A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea
Three hours after I signed the necessary paperwork to be able to participate in the try-outs/combine for Seattle’s new professional ultimate team, the Seattle Raptors, I limped off the field. I was discouraged, damaged, and destroyed. And yet, I was not defeated.
How could I be? I had just spent three hours this past Saturday matching up— to the best that my ability and age would afford me— with forty young, vibrant guys who were competing for the 28 spots on the Raptors, the American Ultimate Disc League’s newest professional team. I had given every ounce of effort I could muster. I had put it all out there to prove that a 52-year-old could hang with 19 to 30-year-olds. I did my best. I could do no more. My body wouldn’t let me. A reoccurring flare-up of my lingering plantar fasciitis and my dormant, derelict hamstring waved the white flag after about two and a half hours into this three-hour tryout.
I resigned myself to the sidelines and made small talk with guys who could easily be my sons. It’s safe to say that there was no one within twenty years of my age. I don’t want to say ‘I felt my age’ at that moment of resignation; but I did. I could feel it deep in the tissue. I could feel it in the joints. I could also feel it in my confidence. If nothing else, I usually have a pretty high opinion of what I can do. My wife would say that it’s a false sense of confidence. And until just recently, I could have made a feeble case that she was right only part of the time. Now, I don’t know.
I don’t know if I can ever recover any of that spring in my legs that will get my standing jump higher than the meager 17” it was measured at during the Raptors’ combine. I don’t know if my hurting hamstring will ever fully recover from that injury I sustained three years ago. I don’t know if my knees will ever stop aching again, especially when I keep putting them under excessive stress. I just don’t know. But, I need to remind myself, that’s why I am doing this experiment of a 50-plus-year-old staying active— to find out what I can do.
Yes, I really was destroyed today. When I got beaten badly on a deep throw during the showcase scrimmage that gave these aspiring pro players a chance to shine in front of the scouts, I could only look at my temporary teammates and apologize. I knew what they were thinking.
I guess it’s important to remind myself that these are some of the best players in the entire Puget Sound area who had gathered for this opportunity to be signed to a professional contract with the AUDL team. These guys are young. And this translates into blazing speed and excellent talent. They also have different priorities.
Just consider some of my observations. Their conversations as they waited in lines were more about the different bars they were going to after the try-out than about their stock portfolios and retirement plans. They were more interested in comparing the latest version of Nike cleats with all of the fluorescent flair than if their 1992 plain black Nike Sharks will give out in the middle of a cut. They were more interested in satisfying their ego by comparing their 40-meter, 100-meter, and cone drill times than they were about being satisfied with simply getting through the drill without pulling a muscle or tweaking a knee.
Some of these guys probably hadn’t worked out for this combine more than a couple of times in the past three months. But, compared to my measurements and times, you couldn’t tell. In fact, each and every one of them looked like all-pro, all-league players compared to me. But I am not defeated.
This is about getting out there and making a statement. What that statement is may get a little blurry at times. A guy who is one of the best players in the area, one of those who most certainly will be signed when the team is selected and one who I had a chance to play a little disc with last summer, came up to me at the beginning of the combine/try-out and innocently asked, “What are you doing here?” I didn’t have a good answer. He’s 28. I’m almost double his age. And he was one of the older guys at the try-out.
Why was I there? Because life is too short to look back with regrets. And I’d never had a chance to try out for a legitimate professional team. Today was the day.
I will always be able to look back on this professional try-out and say that for three hours on MLK Day weekend, I had a chance to be judged, not by the color of my gray hair, but by the score of my combine performance. I had a chance to run with some of the best ultimate Frisbee players on the west coast— and I finished dead last. But for three hours, I was free. I was free to get out there and do something I had always wanted to do, but had always felt shackled by the chains of my own ego and society’s conventional logic. Today, I didn’t worry about what the young guys were thinking. And I can find a little satisfaction in the fact that I was the only guy over the age of thirty in the entire Puget Sound area who showed up to try out for one of the 25 professional ultimate teams in the nation.
Free at last, free at last. I think King would have approved of what I did this weekend. Hemingway, too. Remember, the only thing the old man was able to bring in from his battle with the sharks was the carcass of the great marlin. But, that’s not what was important. Once again Santiago could dream of the lions.
Maybe that’s why I did it.
This piece originally appeared on Bruce’s blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/section/blog5211 and has been republished with his permission.