When I found out that I had qualified to play tennis in this year’s National Senior Games in Albuquerque, it was a kind of dream come true. I love tennis, and to be able to play at the Games will be a highlight in my life. But my journey to the Games has been entirely unconventional, and I’ve learned a few things along the way.
Lesson #1: Your History is Not Your Destiny
As a school kid I was always picked last in sports. Gym was a special kind of nightmare, and I learned that you can only claim to have your period once a month. I tried everything to get out of the humiliation of changing into those wretched gym clothes with the balloon shorts. Kickball and dodgeball seemed particularly barbaric, and I had a fear the ball would hit me in the face. And I was too busy reading and drawing. Why are you expected to be good at everything in school? Even now, I can’t do a proper push up. I love the bumper sticker that is anti-running. It boasts the driver’s running mileage: 0.0.
Eventually, though, I did discover that I had a knack for racquet sports. Many evenings, my dad and I played platform tennis when I lived in Connecticut. I got great pleasure out of beating him,
as many teenagers would. But when I started hitting tennis balls, I was smitten. There’s no way to put into words the beauty and elegance of the game unless you’ve been overcome by its charms. It’s simple, and impossibly difficult. You can never learn everything about the game. One day you think you’re gaining on it, and the next it shows you how far you still have to go to master it.
Lesson #2: Effort and Enthusiasm Go a Long Way
There’s an absolute serenity that comes over me as I put my daily anxieties aside and just concentrate of the little fuzzy ball. And what I lack in skill, I make up in enthusiasm. I track that ball down like my life depends on it. I’m surprised I haven’t hurt myself. People have died playing the game by falling and hitting their head. Eventually my occasional recklessness will have to be reined in. But not quite yet.
Lesson #3: Showing Up Counts For a Lot
Before you get too impressed by the fact I qualified for the Games, the truth is that it wasn’t that difficult. There wasn’t a very big field of competitors at the New York State Games, which allowed me to earn the silver medal (which came from a Ziplock bag, and might have been made out of recycled soda cans). But I got there. It was hot. My tennis friends didn’t want to take the day off of work. I showed up. And I was surprised how nervous I was.
Lesson #4: At this Age, I don’t worry How Others Are Doing It
There are about 200 days left until the Games in June. My training schedule is as unconventional as my road getting here. I suspect many of the other athletes are going to the gym daily, eating Keto, and making themselves kale protein shakes. Me? I’m bouncing happily on my rebounder with light weights to classic Elvis Costello. And maybe cutting down on the chocolate a bit. I’ll be more conscious of drinking enough water. Will I be buff and a “senior olympic specimen”? Doubtful. I hate the gym because it bores the daylights out of me. And as much as my tennis coach wants me to do reps and lose weight, that’s a recipe for grimness. At this stage in life, fun and pleasure are my focus. And, it turns out, happiness is health promoting. But I’ll play my little heart out. And I will enjoy every single minute. That’s the only way I can do this. My own quirky way.
Lesson #5: Getting to New Mexico is Expensive, But So is Regretting Not Choosing Adventure
As the host of Zestful Aging, I’ve spoken to so many talented, amazing women all over the world. I’ve heard countless stories of grit and determination. Frankly, It’s restored my faith in humankind. There is a clear message I’ve learned from my guests: You have to take risks, and you may end up looking silly. Many guests have told me that when they are trying to make a decision whether or not to pursue something, they project to the end of their lives and ask themselves: “Will I regret it if I don’t do it?” It’s scary thinking that I might get skunked. I will be disappointed if I get out there and lose every single game. I may freeze up and hit every ball long–a common sign of nerves. I may wilt in the New Mexico sun. But I need to take that chance in order to live a vibrant, courageous life.
I know the National Senior Games are not Wimbledon, and I am not an elite athlete, but it’s a dream come true for me. And if you know anyone who wants to sponsor an energetic, determined post middle age tennis player, send them my way.
Nicole Christina is a clinical social worker, and the host of the acclaimed Podcast Zestful Aging, which is heard in 55 countries. She also has an online course: Zestful Aging; Simple and Sustainable Habits for Health and Longevity. When she’s not playing tennis, she’s romping with her dogs, knitting and appreciating nature. Find out more at NicoleChristina.com. She can also be found on https://www.facebook.com/ZestfulAging/ and https://www.linkedin.com/in/nicolechristinalcsw/.