When I was younger and played sports it took me a long time to figure out the difference between being injured and being hurt. When you play football, you will always be hurting in some way or another. Unfortunately you run the risk of being injured too. I broke my wrist, sprained my neck and tore ligaments on a few different occasions. I was injury prone. I also tore my Achilles playing basketball. This was a serious injury that took months to heal. But I also did not really know how to play through pain nor understand the differences. So, I quit. And that is where sports began to play a role in my identity and where regret had a place in my adult formation.
Quitting sports is something I regret. I quit football after breaking my wrist my senior year. I loved football and as I have looked back, I never really felt like I realized any potential I had. I have thought from time to time, “what if I knew then, what I know now?” I picked up basketball again when I was in seminary, playing intramurals and pick up ball with other students and guys in town. I quit that too. Mostly because of my schedule and my pride. As an athlete, my greatest quality was never being the fastest or strongest, but I did try hard. I was kind of a “Rudy” type. I have always been bigger and a lunchbox, effort guy. As I moved past 40, my hustle was of little use to me versus the 20 somethings I played basketball with. And my pride took any joy out of the sport for me. I could no longer jump as high, no longer run as fast and that exposed my lack of talent and skill.
I also had a stint as a distance runner. Talk about misplacing my athletic goals!! I ran my last half marathon 2 and half years ago ( Over the years, I had run 6 up to that point). My only goal was to finish and thanks to the loyal support of my friends Rob and Bobby I did! My time was about 40 minutes slower than what I used to run the distance in. I had a mixture of satisfaction and resignation. I really was satisfied to have set a goal and accomplish it. But I realized that I set the goal so low for me and I barely finished it!! If not for Rob coming back after he finished 45 minutes earlier, I am not sure I would have crossed the line. Humble pie was the dish of the day.
As I have taken up Brazilian Jiu Jitsu after a 5 year hiatus from sports, I have recently experienced injury and pain. I sprained both of my wrists and dislocated my finger. When I read up on BJJ injuries, especially after 40, the blogs all say be prepared for your hands to take a beating and for Advil to be your best friend. So, I am dealing with this. The funny thing is – the last thought in my head is to quit. Yay! I am not a quitter. I am rewriting some of my athletic experience in my 40’s! And this time around I am supported by a healthy ego and a more mature perspective. My identity is no longer tied to my athletic accomplishments. Mostly because I have realized that my identity is no longer tied to any of my accomplishments. My character and reputation are and that is okay. But, my core identity is secure and grounded. And that is really nice. It has freed me up to work hard to get better for the sake of the sport and to challenge myself. And it has freed me up to enjoy it!
Regret used to be something that motivated me a great deal. I never wanted to go back and be like the former versions of myself. I feared the shame of failure and looking bad. I am grateful I did not take up Jiu Jitsu in those former versions. I think it may have taken the same form and just been another regretful activity from my past. I am grateful that my grounded identity, my age and my humility have put me in a place to really enjoy the sport for what it is. I am under no delusions of grandeur. I do not fantasize becoming a world champion so that someone, somewhere might look at me with a different view than I look at myself. Because I actually like the view I have of myself! I am happy to be a mid-40’s dad who loves his family, finds meaning in his work and wants to find new challenges.
So, now, with pain in my wrists and hands, I tape up each time I train. Each decision I make to step out on the mats is because I love what I am doing and it feels pure. Yeah, sometimes, I like to think I am a badass, but I mostly end up laughing when that thought tries to capture my mind. It usually gets cast aside as easily as Coach Turtle or Coach Wojtek sweeping me from my dominant position to an instant submission. And I like that. I don’t regret any moment I have had in Jiu Jitsu. Even the moments when I am completely dominated by Big Mike or Tyler, or 145 lb Kyle tosses me over like I weigh 120 lbs less than him! The growth of my ego and the health of my own understanding of my worth and identity have ushered me to a place where I can actually enjoy athletics. Not use them for selfish gain. For that I am grateful – a trait that is shared with my faith and my sport. Another way these two ways of life are finding resonance.