Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Pain and the Pursuit of Childhood.

Owww, dagnabbit, owww! I can’t believe I’ve done this.

I have a sports injury. A kickball injury, to be exact.

You can laugh and giggle all you want, it’s already been done. By my husband, of all people:

Heh; years from now, when you groan about the arthritic pain of your old kickball injury, folks will assume you did it when you were six or seven years old, not thirty-eight!” (Followed by a snort of laughter)

Very funny, laughing boy. I’ll remember this the next time you pull your groin playing “Ultimate Frisbee.”

Then again, I kindof deserve the jeers. Apparently, I’ve developed a habit of injuring myself in the pursuit of a second childhood.

Exhibit A.
I bought my first mountain bike at the age of twenty-three; thrilled that my zookeeper’s salary would allow me to purchase such a cool new toy.

I immediately took the bike to Duke University, where our Primate Center softball team had a game against Campus Security. (I played second base.) Rather than warming up with the team, I rode my new bike around to pre-flight my “Wheels of Thunder”...
-I popped a tiny wheelie over the edge of a sidewalk; Check.
-I maneuvered without falling over knobby tree roots; Check.
-I rode down the steps of Gilbert-Addams residence hall; Fail.

I never pulled it off. I perched at the top of a marble stairway, enthralled with the anticipation of extreme stair-riding. I rode the bike down two or three steps, and then felt it slide out from underneath me. In an effort to keep my skull from smacking on stone (no, didn’t have a helmet on,) I put my right foot down. I felt my ankle flip sickeningly over a step’s hard edge, then, POP. Groan. My ankle lay twisted underneath the bike and now I was immobile, in agony, on the residence hall steps. I had owned this new bike for less than thirty minutes.

Needless to say, I couldn’t walk, let alone play in that day’s softball game, so the team was mad at me. At work the next day, I was relegated to permanent dish-washer status. I got to sit on a stool in front of an industrial sink full of bleach water and wash animal food dishes and water bottles. Unfortunately, lemurs often consider their food dishes to be nifty toilets, so I spent my convalescence navigating poop nuggeted water and getting chapped hands.

Exhibit B.
established the sad fact that I was not destined for the X-games.

My husband and I purchased our first inline skates and decided to christen them in an empty parking lot. I rolled along confidently, proud to see that my childhood ice-skating lessons had paid off. My poor husband was bent at the waist, ankles at 45 degree angles, slowly and carefully making his way across the flatter parts of the pavement. “Watch this!” I shouted as I leaped in the air, landing on a brick paved sidewalk. That was the cool part. Then came the uncool part. The sidewalk was on a hill. I was on wheels, and had no clue how to put on the brakes.

I know how to stop in figure skates, for goodness sakes, you jab the jaggy front end of your blade into the ice and ‘Voila’, you stop. I now realized that this knowledge would not help me in any way, shape or form on inline skates. I found myself blazing down the hill, each brick thumping rhythmically under my wheels, with a set of concrete steps looming in front of me. I would soon plummet headfirst down the stairs, or slip the surly bonds of Earth entirely and swan-dive directly into the parking lot.

I opted to bail the sidewalk entirely, but I was going too fast to gently crumple to the ground. I used my new leaping skills to hop off the brick path of death, onto the paved patch of pain. Rather than landing on my two feet, my left ankle swept on its side, crumpling my body into an awkward splitz of tendons and ligaments. Ta-da! Massive ankle sprain Number Two. Different foot, but same dumb conclusion; I was an athletic wannabe with bloated ankles.

Prior to Exhibit C, I thought my days of athletic injury were over. I mellowed out, fattened up, and narrowed my sports interests to inline roller hockey. The league consisted of gentle Canadian hulks who were terrified of smooshing a five-foot woman, so I skated freely amongst them. (It helped that I wore enough padding to deter an attack dog...) I assumed my days of embarrassing sports injuries were over.

Exhibit C.
I thought it would be a hoot, joining the corporate kickball league. Just crown me the Queen of Poor Judgment.

I began my day with a cardiovascular workout; walking up a gazillion stairs to my fifth floor office. (Okay, so it’s only one hundred steps; that’s enough to make you suck wind.) I continued the trend throughout the day, spurning every opportunity to ride up or down the elevator. How fit I was going to be! The tops of my legs were a little tight and wobbly by the end of the workday, but I looked forward to a rousing game of kickball. I dressed and headed to the field.

Our kickball league is in its infancy. This first season was inspired by an “exhibition game” that proved to be wildly popular with the corporate recreation crowd. Just like the game you cherished (or dreaded) as a kid, the field consists of a home plate and three bases. Infielders and outfielders take positions mimicking softball or baseball, with a pitcher, catcher and so on. The big difference is in the ball that is used. Kickballs are inflated rubber balls that resound with a “boooiiiinnnngg” when you kick or punt them. They have to be red to be kosher. No self-respecting adult reliving their childhood would play with a kickball of any other color.

Game play mimics softball/baseball as well; the pitcher rolls the ball to the “batter,” who kicks the ball with all of his might and runs to first base. Here’s where the best part of kickball comes into play; you can throw the ball at the batter as he runs between the bases. If you hit him, he’s out! (No throwing at the head, of course.) Our adult version has two twists on the kid’s playground game; 1) we play with varying sized balls, and 2) base runners alter direction each inning. The game begins with a standard sized ball, but as innings progress the balls get larger. By the fourth inning, you are playing with a ball five times the size of your head. This wobbling blob is nearly unpitchable or kickable, resulting in an equal challenge for little women or big men. It’s also a challenge to run the bases in reverse order every other inning. Believe me, when you’ve been conditioned to run to first base all of your life, it’s nearly impossible to train your body to run directly to third base after kicking the ball. Base coaches add to the confusion trying to help; “Run to third base, which is really first base...Aww, you know what I mean!”

In the field, I found myself at third base. I surprised myself (and the team) by bobbling a fly ball and catching it before it hit the ground. I got someone out! Hurray! On my first “at bat” I kicked the skidding red ball and took off running. I heard the rubbery orb “boooiiinnng” and felt it mold around my back. I’d been hit on the way to first. I was out. My mood rekindled in the next inning when I tagged a runner out. (He was confused by the reversed base-running direction.) Before I knew it, it was time to kick one of the big balls, one of the mondo-balls. I stood behind the plate, gauged the timing of the huge blob barreling towards me, and planted my toe directly in its soft underbelly. WHOOM. I ran towards first base as the ball pulsated towards the short stop. Wonder of wonders, he missed it! I was safe on first base. But I was in serious pain. I felt like I had been riding a horse with razors on his saddle. The muscles running up and down the insides of my legs were knotted and screaming. What the heck? By the time I reached home, I was puffing in pain. At the house, I downed ibuprofen and sat in bed with a heating pad. I was embarrassed and humiliated. I was so out of shape that a simple game of kickball had rendered me helpless.

I stumbled to work on ibuprofen the next day after a restless, uncomfortable night. As I headed towards the stairs, my legs screamed “No! Take the elevator!” I obeyed, and hit inspiration as the doors opened on to the fifth floor. Had my stair stepping zeal the day before contributed to my downfall? Sure enough, a search of sports-injury web sites confirmed my suspicions;

“If you over-train your quads but ignore your adductors and hamstrings, quick starts and stops will overly tax unprepared muscles. ”

Ah hah! My stair marathon had stressed my quads (tops of my legs), which left my adductors (insides of my legs) vulnerable to stress during the quick starts and stops in kickball. Mystery solved! I was not a kickball wuss, I was a stair-climbing kickball wuss! One activity or the other at a time is fine, but the combination of the two is crippling for a couch potato.

I found minor gratification after limping towards the softball field that evening. (My softball team had a game, and I was going to do my darndest to play.) One of my teammates, who had also played kickball, moaned on the sidelines. “Ohhhhh, my leg...” She wailed. “Did your legs hurt after the kickball game?” I winced in sympathy and shared the wonders of my anatomical catastrophe. “At least you have an excuse,” she wailed. “I haven’t been climbing any stairs!”

Our sacrifices in the name of reclaimed childhood did not go unnoticed. The softball coach is considering renaming our team “The Limping Wounded” in honor of the ailing kickballers. At last, I’ve found kindred spirits. :)