A Metaphoric Marathon

I have now officially seen it all. Over the past several years the boys have lost a great many things: towels, goggles, homework, jackets, water bottles, balls, slippers, and toys too numerous to count. When I collected my youngest from the first day of soccer camp at Baylor today, he wore a shoe and sock on one foot while the other was bare. He managed to lose a single shoe. One shoe! How in God's green earth is this even possible? ONE SHOE! Please pray for the kind people at Baylor this week, they will have their hands full.

Being red-blooded, young, and American, my boys’ least favorite activity is going to bed at night. Every evening they do their best to delay the inevitable. Their favorite tactic is to use my good-night kiss as an opportunity to introduce a topic that they think might lead to a long conversation. They’ve figured out that if they hit just the right subject on just the right night they can extend the inevitable for some time. Pick the wrong conversation and it’s nighty night (the boys are very bright, but their daddy didn’t roll in on the last watermelon truck.)

Last week, we watched one of the outstanding ESPN 30 for 30 films- 9.79*. The film details the rise and fall of Ben Johnson, the sprinter who lost his 1988 Olympic gold medal after his failed drug test. My young one’s simple question “Why did Ben Johnson take drugs?” led to a full-on discussion about the spirit of competition, the nature of chemicals and drugs, and eventually the role of drugs in fighting cancer. Before we knew it, it was past my bedtime. Ok, they’re smarter than me.

If you haven’t figured out by now, I love sport. It’s a big part of me, and it is one of the filters through which I process life. Aside from being a fun and rewarding diversion, sport is a great analog for life. The observation of sport can also provide insight into bigger lessons in the “real world”.
My track career was short but distinguished.
I took up the 300m hurdles as a sophomore
while living in CO. I won the finals of my
second ever meet (with an abysmal time).
Embracing the role of underdog is one of the great joys of sport. It is also central to one of sports' core tenets- if favorites always won, we wouldn’t bother playing the games. We love to root for the underdog, and some athletes thrive in that situation. Unfortunately, underdogs are such for a reason- most of the time a superior team can press their advantage over the course of a game and prevail. As we know, however, this is not always the case.

What we often see in the start of big games that the underdog comes out and makes an adrenaline-fueled run. Unfortunately for the dogs, they often succumb to the favorite. The adrenaline wears off, and the advantages of the favorite team are applied over the longer term of the game. This is an instance where life rhymes with sport. There are many people who can get excited to start a new (fill in the blank). It is often difficult, however, to be disciplined enough to sustain that excitement and enthusiasm over time.

By the time the District meet rolled around, my time improved
enough to make the finals (despite the fact that my technique
was still poor).  Unfortunately, my sub-:43 race wasn't enough to
qualify State that year. I moved back to Alabama the next year
(where sub-:43 is nothing special), and opted to focus on basketball.
From the beginning, I've known that this will be a long-term ordeal. Unfortunately, it is in my nature to look for the singular moment to perform- the game, the race, the charrette, the speech. I want to get myself prepared and focused, to listen to the hype song before the event, and then take the field. I really want to meet a foe and have a fight. I want to have my moment when the game is there to be won or lost. Unfortunately, in this particular fight I cannot instigate a single moment to go toe-to-toe with cancer (indeed, there is little I can do to affect much of anything).

The cancer does not care how psyched up I am or how ready I am to fight- it simply does what it is programmed to do. The cancer does not care if I’m not ready or if I'm tired- it simply does what it is programmed to do. The game is on, and it doesn’t stop. There is no pause button, and there are no time outs. This situation doesn’t call for a dramatic or heroic moment. This will be a grind. The challenge (which I accept) is to maintain my resolve and bonhomie over the long term. Obviously, the trick to sustaining that over time is in keeping an even keel through both good and the bad. We'll see how that works out. Perhaps Judge Smails said it best at the christening of the Flying Wasp:

It’s easy to grin, when your ship comes in
and you’ve got the stock market beat.
But the man worthwhile, is the man who can smile
when his shorts are too tight in the seat.

(Get your foot off the boat!)

That said, I’m not going to get cheated out of my “game time” moments. I approach each treatment session and each trip to Houston as a Big Game. I psyche myself up, listen to my music, and do my best to win each session/appointment (I’m undefeated so far). If the cliche is that this is a marathon and not a sprint,  then I am the anti-Ben Johnson. My race is not measured in seconds and taking performance-enhancing drugs is highly encouraged.

This week's chemo soundtrack is a listing of awesome pre-game hype music. Witness: A Classic, the remix version of this; "I never try anything, I just do it"; Obligatory egomaniac; just the first 2:40; It's on; "Refuse to lose". I know I've missed many- if you have any suggestions, please pass them along...

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