The Blog

Age Is a State of Mind; Mileage Is Not

Before marriage and children, I used to go skydiving with my friend, Richard, almost every weekend. Maybe now, in the midst of a new season of life, flipping on a diving board or racing down a water slide is my substitution for jumping out of a plane.
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"Honey? Can I see the back of your shorts?" Stephanie and I were standing at the edge of a wave pool in suburban St. Louis County yesterday, watching Sam and Ben play with their friends James and Peter. They were playing "Baywatch," doing chest compressions by standing on each others stomachs.


"Can I see the back of your shorts?"

I turned my better half to my better half, resulting in an, "Oh my God, you ripped the ass out of your shorts."

Sure enough, I looked down and behind to see a tear that went almost from top to bottom down my right cheek. Thankfully, the liner held strong, but it didn't stop me from standing at military attention for the next 45 minutes. I'm sure that James' and Peter's dad was wondering why I didn't offer my customary hand shake at our leaving.

Now the logical person would have asked, "How the hell did that happen?" However, I know exactly how it happened. In fact, it's just the last of a trifecta of idiocy that I have undertaken in the last 21 days.

On the last day of January, Sam's friend, Richard, turned 9. All of the boys on their basketball team were invited to an outdoor skating rink to celebrate. Now Sam is up for any challenge, but he's not the strongest skater yet, so I told my wife I'd go to "keep an eye on him to make sure he would be okay."

"And I'll just bring my own skates for me," I said.

"Be careful," said she.

So we hit the ice, and Sam is going along the boards at first, getting his bearings. I skate with him making sure he's okay when I get, "Dad, you can skate by yourself if you want."

I was proud and sad at the same time; our first born is growing up. So as I started to skate away, Sam's friend Garrett races past me and smacks me on the ass. "You're it!"

Great. Tag. I did what any 42-year-old man would do: I chased him down. "You're it!"

"Hey! No tag-backs!"

"It was not a tag-back! There were a good 45 seconds between the tags!" Yes, I'm arguing with a 9-year-old on the ice.

"You tagged me back!" This was getting us nowhere.

"Fine." I looked around and smacked 9-year-old Devin on the shoulder. "You're it!"

And it was on. I kept getting tagged, and it became my mission to tag the two fastest skaters, Teddy and Tim (both hockey players, mind you), as many times as possible. I'm sure other parents were looking at me, thinking, "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?"

On my last great rush, I went after Tim, who has a nasty habit of being able to stop on a dime. Not this time, kid. I went after him, throwing all caution to the wind. I saw him gear up to stop, so I geared up, too. Tim slid his skates sideways. I snowplowed. Yes... I know this is not skiing; I improvised. And that's when I heard the "crack," right before I fell to the ice.

It's been said that when you suffer a nasty injury, all pain goes away. I had no idea what the "crack" was; all I knew was that I was surrounded by six kids screaming, "Mr. Duffy! Are you okay?"

I moved every extremity. All was well. Had I imagined the crack? "I'm good, boys," I said, standing up.

Unfortunately, all was not well. I soon discovered that the "crack" was actually a "shatter." I had completely snapped the right skate blade off the bottom of the skate. I'd never actually seen that done... ever. For the next hour, kids would come off the ice and pick up the blade. Many asked if they could have it.

And Tim felt like an a-hole, which made me feel like a bigger one. I've since told him that it was not his fault that an old man got caught up in a game of tag... on ice. I don't think he believes me, though. Every time he has seen me since, he has a look of fear, tinged with a hint of pity.

"Never again," I said to Stephanie while holding my blade up as a badge of honor. "I should just learn to act my age."

"Age is just a state of mind," she said.

And those were the words I thought two weeks ago, as I stood on the diving board at the Sullivan Rec Center in Sullivan, Illinois. Every February, my bro-in-law, Pat, puts together a little road trip to go swimming in the middle of the winter. Our kiddos get a big kick out of it, and it's the only pool warm enough for Steph to actually get in.

Plus, they have diving boards... an almost unheard-of bonus anymore.

So as I stood on the meter board, I said to myself, "I'll start with a simple swan-dive." And I raced down the board, jumped, planted my feet, and executed the dive. The water felt amazing. I immediately raced to the side of the pool and climbed up the ladder.

"Now I'll do a flip," I said to myself, "but on the smaller board. Don't want to over-rotate on the meter board."

So I stepped onto the smaller board, which still has a tremendous amount of spring. I raced down the board, jumped, planted, and in mid-air... and mid-rotation... I said, "I think I just hurt myself."

I landed in the water with my legs slightly apart, resulting in an unexpected enema the Fleet Company could only dream about. As I went to kick my legs to swim to the side, I quickly deduced that I'd "pulled something" in my right leg.

And when I fell back into the pool because I couldn't put weight on it while climbing up the ladder, Tim's face popped into my head, except his voice sounded like Stephanie's as he said, "Age is just a state of mind."

That night as I limped around her parents' house, the family kept asking, "Where specifically does it hurt?"

"Where the bone meets the muscle," always produced a collective wince. And honestly, I was a bit scared I'd broken/torn/ripped something out of place.

Thankfully two days later, the pain subsided, and I was back to my non-limping self.

And non-limping is what I needed to be as I climbed the three-story spiral staircase of the suburban Aquatic Center yesterday. I had been down the water slide a few times, and each time I slid, I kept getting faster and faster. I have a trick that I use to generate speed (besides my girth). As I slide down, I put my arms under my butt and put my hands palms down. It produces a layer of skin between the swimsuit and the slide, creating an almost frictionless slide. It's crazy fast.

What it also produces, however, is a fairly violent end of the slide. I came out the tube around thirty miles-an-hour, and the water stopped me within twenty feet. At some point, something has got to give.

But no one was thinking that now. They were all getting a kick out of the silly man flying out of the end of the tube. Stephanie cracked up at every conclusion. Sam's friend, James, kept screaming, "Again! Again! Again!"

And who am I to disappoint?

"Okay... just one more time." I felt like James Brown walking off stage, only to whip off the cape and go for the encore.

That "just one more time" became the "just one more time... ever" for my swimsuit. The very last slide produced my fastest speed yet. The 20-foot slide-end barely contained me, as my toes were perhaps six inches from the end. Adults cheered. Kids screamed with laughter. In the violence of the finale, I didn't hear the rip of fabric.



Actually, kids, never again... at least until I get another swimsuit.

In the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones famously said, "It's not the years, honey, it's the mileage." Sadly, he's right. In the last few weeks, I have realized that my mileage has increased more than I'd like.

Hell, I can't even eat movie theater butter anymore for the distinct possibility that I won't be able to make it to the end of the movie, if you know what I mean.

Maybe it's because I've looked in the mirror and have seen death; maybe it's because I had cancer that I treat every day like it's my last; maybe our children keep me young; maybe it's the giddy-love that I still have for Steph that keeps me excited about life; or maybe this is just an extension of a prior life.

Before marriage and children, I used to go skydiving with my friend, Richard, almost every weekend. Maybe now, in the midst of a new season of life, flipping on a diving board or racing down a water slide is my substitution for jumping out of a plane.

And if that, indeed, is the case, so be it. Life is an evolutionary process. Sooner or later, we all have to evolve with it. I could be wrong... it wouldn't be the first time... but I do know that once my leg heals fully, once I fix my skate, and once I get a new pair of swimmies, I will be back at it... proving to myself that while I should probably be more careful at this point in my life, I don't plan on backing down anytime soon.