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09/01/2010

Giving knee trouble the cold shoulder

Tennis250 This may shock some people.  Or a lot of people.

OK, full disclosure.  It'll startle you, everyone you know and quite possibly future generations of their families.

I was a jock in high school.  An athlete.  So there!

I'm not claiming to be the square-jawed quarterback, the basketball point guard or the fleet-footed track star who ruled the halls of Grand Prairie (TX) High back in the mid-1960s.

I was, uh, pretty much the last kid on the Grand Prairie Gopher varsity tennis team.  Not first team, either.  I was the last guy -- or second to last guy (I'm still working that out with my therapist) -- on the boys doubles team.

The second doubles team.  And, yes, our mascot was a burrowing rodent.

My first recollection of being revered as a high school athlete stud was when it rained and the tennis coach made us run laps in the gym.  For some reason I can't recall (or blocked out over the years), the bleachers were full of bored students on that dreary, sixth-period afternoon.

The bleacher bums began to throw pennies at the team in general; but in particular at the slightly chubby future (barely) second-teamer huffing and puffing and bringing up the rear.

Did you know it's a long way around the glossy floor of a high school gym when you're 16, semi-plus-sized and being publicly ridiculed?

The therapist I mentioned above (but have never actually been to) could probably trace my rebel streak back to that very moment of my mentally self-tortured youth.  Look closely at the tennis team pictures in my high school yearbook and you'll notice that I'm the only tennis stud wearing black socks and a smirk when both were severely frowned upon in tennis etiquette.

Anyway, that's not why I asked you here.  The point is that if anyone told me six months ago that I'd be taking up tennis again after a 35-year layoff I would have sworn they were nuts.

I still think people are a little crazy (You've heard of "Dancing with the Stars" haven't you?), but I am back in the tennis game.  White socks this time.  I do my rebelling at the computer keyboard these days.

When I was in my early 20s, way back in a previous century, I stepped awkwardly off a curb in front of our family home in Grand Prairie and twisted my knee.  So badly, in fact, that I was quite sure my days chasing down a fuzzy ball were over.

A few months ago, however, a friend suggested a game of tennis. I agreed merely as a courtesy.  I haven't even owned a tennis racket in decades.  So I borrowed one and gamely exposed myself to what I expected to be public humiliation and self-ridicule (just like the old days).

Sure enough, the tortured knee crackled and refused to obey direct orders from the brain.  "Nice shot," I found myself yelling across the net while wondering why the #&^@ I didn't run a few steps and hit the ball back.

Then a funny thing happened.  The more I tried to run on the battered knee, the more it got better, not worse.  The fact that I've lost a few pounds helps.  But as my friend Gerry (who knows this kind of stuff) says, the exercise is probably strengthening the knee.

So now I'm bugging everyone I know (my wife Suellen, my brother, friends) to join me on the tennis court.  I'm feeling years younger.  My weight loss is accelerated.  And the knee?  It's just fine, thank you.

But now my shoulder's killing me.

Your sympathy is welcome.  Just don't throw pennies.  

(Tennis cartoon courtesy:  about.com)

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