A couple of months ago I had a fall. A couple of years ago this sort of news amongst your circle was not only not news but you were better off keeping it to yourself for the risk of being comically shamed by friends who were still running sub 60 minute 10Ks and telemarking down double black diamond runs. Traditionally we associate the unplanned plummet with the elderly who are often at risk of a broken hip followed by pneumonia that is followed by a funeral, then catering.
But you’d be lying if you haven’t, in the last couple of years, heard of an unfortunate gravitational incident involving someone in your circle. This includes athletic spills like falling off a bike or the dreaded slip on some black ice. One of my closest friends has a wife who is six months out of a tumble in their home and her mobility is compromised on an overall level. Granted, her overall physical condition going into this mishap wasn’t fabulous but she has no full recovery horizon.
As for my own mishap it happened during what was my weekly rollerblading session through the city streets down to the lakefront, about ten miles when I go the full distance.
You heard me right – rollerblading. At my age. It’s crazy, I know, and the fact that I have come through about twenty solid years of this without major orthopedic surgery is quite a miracle in itself. Who rollerblades in their late 60s? Nobody, that’s who. I did a little research on the Stats Canada fitness site and although over half in our age bracket engage in some kind of outdoor activity – I think that includes the Drive-thru window at Starbucks – about three per cent are listed in the category that includes rollerblading (running, jogging, cross-country are the others). Which means that within the category, friggin nobody is rollerblading. To support this I can say with some confidence that since the turn of the century I haven’t run into anybody half my age wheeling on the streets. Come to think of it, I have run into nobody, period, save for a few skaters a third my age down on the designated recreational trail by the lake.
I have also rollerbladed in Los Angeles, New York and the last few winters in Miami. I don’t know where it started but I think I got the bug as my hockey ‘career’ was winding down. I left my beer league team a dozen years ago because my heart wasn’t in it, let alone the legs, hands and head. But the blading, that was nice transition. Especially later on a Saturday. The streets were a little quiet and I could get a little rhythm going and make the occasional stop for water on the hotter days.
The endorphins would kick in on the couple of trailed miles by the lake and calories were burned. Alone in my reverie, I could reach inside and maybe experience a few minutes of peace of mind.
But as I started this year’s skating season, I could sense that there was a fast approaching moment where the risk would outweigh the reward. My reconstructed knee was okay but the left side was starting to go. The roads seemed to be in shittier shape, the cars that passed me a little too close. No, I don’t surf the sidewalk. I stick to the asphalt kids. In Los Angeles I would rollerblade through Burbank to a synagogue on the Sabbath because it’s sort of permitted. Cops would pull up beside me and ask me “What the hell are you thinking?” More than once, less than civil locals would yell out, “Hey faggot!” back when that sort of name calling was merely homophobic. To be frank, the gay community is more into straight up roller skating and if you are in New York on a nice Saturday afternoon, there is a spot in Central Park where you can see some terrific freestyle roller disco. But I digress.
As for the chain of events that put me to the concrete, I’ll be brief. I decided on a shorter route which involved a very steep hill, a slight leap above the curb and then let the rise up to a bridge crossing a rail line slow me down. To keep the speed somewhere below that of light, I would make a few circles on the road to get me to the midpoint and then let the wheels do their thing and hop up on the curb. Well the hop didn’t work and I went for nasty tumble which left me with some abrasions on my skull, elbow and lower ass. I don’t wear a helmet because I’m reckless but the wrist pads and one knee pad kept the damage to a minimum. Shaken and stirred I was ministered to by a nice young couple walking by. But my day was over and I summoned the girlfriend for a lift home.
I haven’t been on the wheels since. What followed the incident was a lot of soul searching and the ultimate realization that I was lucky this hadn’t happened sooner and with more injurious results. Recalling that I would often hit speeds of 40 km/h, balancing on a thin ribbon of silicone, I would shake my head with a “What the hell was I thinking?” to borrow from the Burbank police. Now the thought of avoiding potholes, molten tar snakes, those braille friendly metallic curbs and the maniacs who drive in this city sends me back under the covers in a fetal cringe. Will I blade again?
There’s actually a larger question here – what the hell do you do for fun physical exercise after 65? I still ski but that isn’t a daily thing. I used to cross country ski, perhaps the best exercise there is in the northern climes, but that is a lonely schlep. Yes, there are those 10,000 steps they speak of but mine have to end with a latte and that might be counterproductive. I notice that I am the only person in my demographic at the gym. And even there I am doing the 10,000 steps on a machine. Weights are a problem since I have developed a little arthritis in my left shoulder which was aggravated by my sudden return to the tennis courts the last couple of winters. So squats and some ab work will have to suffice. I am not playing fucking pickleball for the simple reason that there is no artistry to a game which is a poor derivative to paddle tennis.
A lot of guys bike and I would like to but I am more scared of a tumble than I am on the blades. Something about the shoes snapped into the pedals and…. no. Golf doesn’t cut it as exercise and I don’t have the knees for even a casual jog. I’m thinking some restorative yoga and maybe some kickboxing or some martial arts… for seniors. Yes, to the crotchety (you read that post?) the mere thought of kicking somebody’s ass is appealing.
Ultimately you have to get used, in my head anyway, to moving with a more measured approach. Do what your body allows, not what your head wants to. Appreciate the fact that you are not one of the unlucky ones with incurable back problems or postures destroyed by bad hips. Burn the calories for health but make sure there’s enough endorphins going to put a smile on your face. Buy the odd massage to supplement. And walk when you can.
As for me and the rollerblades, I’m going to LA next week and I will return the wheels to smoother, safer contours of the concrete beach path in Santa Monica. It will be safer, hopefully it will be enjoyable.