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Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Competition: Post Your Own Score

Why do we compete? In many ways it’s the nature of the beast, part of the human condition. There’s an aspect of competition inherent in just surviving the toils of everyday life, those zero-sum competitions that are unavoidable and require that you try to win. Or roll over, but I can’t imagine that too very many of us here are in that habit.

What I’m more interested in is the competitions we volunteer for, and beyond that how we choose to handle both those competitions and ourselves while competing. Do you compete as a vehicle for self-evaluation? Self-improvement? To rank yourself relative to a peer group? What metric do you use in any of these? Is it effort or progress, or is it comparison with some external marker? No answers here, really, just a gentle prod to think about these questions before committing to the competition.

It’s instructive to observe someone competing, especially if that someone is you and you are able to be a detached observer either during or after the fact. I grew up in a golfing family, and in many ways I learned about how a man is supposed to carry himself by being a caddy and getting an up close view of men competing. Golf is a pretty cool vehicle for this. You call penalties on yourself. Your next shot is played from whatever clusterfluck you created with your previous shot. There is a well-established and time-honored etiquette meant to be followed win, lose, or draw. You learn a lot about a man or a woman by watching them compete on a golf course.

Why do you compete? Only you know the answer, and the rest of us can only know if you should choose to share that with us. How you compete is entirely different. Each and every one of us who is witness to that has a brief and telling insight into who you are when we watch you in the game. Even when no one else is watching the insight is still there for you if you are willing to watch. Even when you are alone the measure is till taken in some cosmic way, for in any competition you will still know how you played. In life or in the game, with or without a judge, you always know if the rep was good, if your ball moved or not.

Your measure is taken by how you post your score.

When CrossFitters Compete

Registration for the CrossFit Open, the largest simultaneous participatory athletic event in the world, begins January 15th. Are you in? Of course you are! It only costs a few bucks (sorry Dave Castro, I haven’t actually been to the Games site yet so I don’t know the actual entry fee!), and you get to take part right alongside everyone. Even Rich, Annie, Julie, Sam, Jason, and, you know, EVERYONE.

Competing in CrossFit, CrossFit as a sport, is not really my thing. I have too many old injuries that take all of the fun out of “unknown and unknowable” as a game, but I totally get the whole “it’s fun to compete at my thing” aspect of CrossFitters competing . The Open is one cool way to compete, and for me it’s the only one that is enough fun for me to throw my hat into the ring, too. Even at that I will approach each event with safety as my priority. I want to be a part of the whole Open experience, but at the same time I don’t want to get injured and miss any training time in the gym because, let’s face it, I really like begin in the Box.

Injuries in competitions pitting CrossFitters against one another have been on my mind lately. Not crazy, freak injuries that are just bad luck, but injuries that appear to be predictable, at least to me. I’ve been a spectator at almost every CrossFit Games, multiple Regionals and Sectionals (when we had them), and many local competitions set up just for the fun of the competition and the gathering. I’ve been to a number of one’s locally very recently. There’s a trend in these non-HQ sanctioned events that I’ve noticed, and I think we need to talk about it. Now, with the Open almost upon us, is a really good time to do that.

The Open as you know, or are about to know, is one WOD per week posted each week for 5 consecutive weeks. That’s it. One WOD. Not 3 WODs with an hour between each, or a weekend’s worth of work that includes epics like “Elizabeth” followed by “Grace” followed by “Fran”, or a Sprint Tri followed by the BUDs obstacle course. One WOD per week. On top of that you will discover that the WODs chosen will allow for the maximum amount of participation; almost no one will be excluded by a movement or a load that is beyond them because of the structure of the WODs to come. This has been the signature of the Open and there is no reason to expect that the wide-open funnel at the entrance to the Games will be any narrower in 2014.

Yet, when I visit a Box or attend an event as a spectator, or even just look at the WODs posted for a competition, I invariably cringe at what I see. There might be enough volume to make even the hale and heartiest from the NC Lab blanch. The loads on familiar movements are so extreme that they are almost self-parody. To top it off there appears to be an “arms race” between competitions to see who can program the most obscure movements in our entire CrossFit quiver, stuff we do on only the rarest of occasions, and even then only for the unique training effects to be garnered more through mastering the movement than maximizing work with the exercise. Think heavy Turkish Get-Ups or ambushes with axel C&J. These competitions are supposed to be fun for Heaven’s sake!

The “Gamesification” of local competitions is a tragedy in the making. Looking at the events in some of them makes me think of some of the WODs I see posted in various places, long chippers with ever more clever names, each meant to out-do the last. These WODs as an Odyssey have been aptly called “Any Asshole” WODs, as in “any asshole” can put together a bunch of exercises and thrash a group of CrossFitters with them. Even worse is programming for regular CrossFitters that simply pounds away, day after day, with this kind of stuff, or pounds away at them in a local competition. People are getting hurt, missing work, missing time in the gym. It’s not OK.

I am confident that this year’s CrossFit Open will be like the last. It will include standard issue exercises and loads we can handle. Coach Glassman will see to that. For the rest of you who are holding “friendly” competitions around the world I am throwing down the gauntlet: stop hurting my people! Think CrossFit Open more than CrossFit Games when you program for your event. Be inclusive with movements and loads–you can very adequately test your competitors fitness with exercises and weights we use all the time. Save those weird and wacky events (100M backward sprints! One-arm barbell Cleans!) for the controlled setting of a training session under the direction of a trainer concentrating on technique.

It’s supposed to be fun, but as we say in my day job: it’s all fun and games until someone pokes an eye out.

 

Musings on Small Time Sports and CrossFit

It’s opening weekend for the NFL, the closest thing we have in the U.S. to a collective religion. The U.S. Tennis Open has finals in women’s today and men’s tomorrow night (shame on them for putting that on a school night). MLB is lurching toward the playoffs (with both Pittsburgh and Cleveland still in the hunt!). And major college football is in week 2, still in its version of the silly season.

What’s the connection? All of these, including D1 football, are examples of big-time sports. Sport as business. The only difference between them is that in football they don’t pay the minor leaguers, the college athletes. And please, spare me any sanctimonious drivel about getting an education for free–nothing is free. D1 football is a job, no less than AAA baseball or Junior A hockey. The difference is that every other sport openly pays its minor leaguers, while Big Time college football continues to wallow in the cynical swamp of exploitation of its athletes. The same is true, of course, of Big Time college basketball.

There is an antidote for this. It’s called Small Time. That should probably be all lower case, too. Should be “small time”. Sport for the sake of sport. Putting in the time in practice to play the games because the games are fun. They are meaningful as an end in themselves, not as a means to some end of the rainbow pot of gold end. All of the stuff that the fat cat moneybags trot out as justification for athletic programs in the Big Ten, Big 12, Pac10, ACC etc.–alumni loyalty, creation of a communal atmosphere, a reason to return to Alma Mater–that’s all there is in “small time” sports.

I played a couple of sports at the D III level. Pretty pitiful lacrosse player and golfer relative to my teammates, relatively OK football player. Not a one of us made a pro roster. Indeed, not a single athlete from any team sport in the entire NESCAC (comprising some 10 or so small schools in New England) in that era played a single minute as a pro in anything. As a group we all went on to do rather pedestrian things like become teachers and cops and doctors and lawyers and bankers and…well, you get the idea.

Were our games any less meaningful than last night’s ND/Michigan game? I’m certainly biased, but how can the answer be anything other than ‘no’? We sweated and suffered and sacrificed our time for the joy of playing the games. Our schoolmates came to watch us play. Alums followed the teams whether or not they played on them. Follow them still. The games and the teams keep Alma Mater connected, provide a little line that ties us to our school in a way that is no different than the pull of Ohio State.

There is a purity in the “small time” that should shame the shamans of the Big Time, so sullied are they by the continual necessity to pretend that the Big Time is nothing more than the “small time”, only bigger. It just isn’t so. There is an honesty in the “small time” that is simply absent in the Big Time. The very best D III teams, the ones that win championships, still send only a trivial number of players to the pros in any sport, and therefore have as little relationship to A-level baseball as do those teams that never see an NCAA D III playoff game.

What does this have to do with CrossFit? Fair question; like anything else written on Sunday the answer may be ‘nothing’! But I do see more than a little similarity between CrossFit as The Sport of Fitness and college athletics. What I see is that same honesty present in the “small time” college athletics, though, even at the highest levels of our sport. There’s money to be made at the top, but there is no subterfuge, no obfuscation or deceit: if you are really good you can make money doing CrossFit. Period. Not being able to make money at it does not exclude anyone else. Period.

Very few people make a living from CrossFit, as competitors or trainers or trainers-of-trainers. The ratio of participants to pros is rather similar to any professional sport you wish to use as an example. Like “small time” college sports we have all manner of competitions we can enter as CrossFitters; if you enjoy the games and you wish to compete, the games are there for you to play and for everyone else who wishes to watch.

Unlike the Big Time, in the “small time” the games are simply part of who you are, not why you are.

 

Sunday musings 7/14/13

Sunday musings…

1) Aquisitive. Covetous, with a bonus syllable.

2) House. Downsizing, but upgrading. Mrs. bingo gets it right, again.

3) Festival. The CrossFit world is chock-a-block full of weekend competitions. Some, like “CrossFit for Hope”, “Hope for Kenya”, and the annual FGB, are a uniquely CrossFitty way to support large, grand charitable goals. We’ll have one for the “Hotshots” on August 19th I believe it is, to remember and support the families of the Prescott firefighters who recently died.

Those are all examples of CrossFit and CrossFitters playing “long ball”, going for the home run, the big hit. Just as CrossFit is growing in what seems to be inexorably exponential on the grand scale, so too are smaller, more intimate, local gatherings becoming the norm. Every weekend there’s a place in your town where one or two or twelve boxes are doing something that involves a competition

In my neighborhood this weekend it was the “Team Williams Showdown” at CrossFit NFT. Way out in the country, not in the least bit suburban, no fewer than 20 gyms sent athletes to compete and members to cheer. A get-together for the fun of feeling butterflies flip (no prize money), meet some new folks, and provide a little bit of financial support for Kim Williams as she travels to Carson. I knew almost no one there, and yet it felt like what Aromas 1 must have been like. I felt like I’d known everyone forever.

All we needed was a little Coors Light.

4) Amateur. The last amateur to win the U.S. Open in golf was Bobby Jones, Jr. in 1930. Indeed, the last true amateur, someone who doesn’t play golf full time, who won the U.S. Amateur did it more than 20 years ago, perhaps longer. Track and Field, swimming, ski racing, you name it. The days of championships being won by amateurs, especially part-time amateurs, are over. As extinct as your favorite Dodo or Rhino or what have you. Survival of the fittest is a full-time gig, now with a paycheck.

Willy B. Sutton could have been quoting Darwin.

As I look around at the CrossFit Games I find much the same. Mind you, this is neither good nor bad on its face; it just is. The athletes who have a truly legit chance at a podium spot simply cannot be described as part-time. There are no hobbyists. There are hardly any we could describe as amateur. We had our Roger Bannister moment last year as we watched Julie Foucher take Silver. That may have been it.

Did anyone know this would occur? Was this all carefully planned, the result of some CrossFit “Star Chamber” years and years ago? Well, you’d certainly have to ask the people at the very center of the Games (Dave, Tony, Co@ch, etc), but I think they all expressed very honest surprise that two entire teams of sponsored (paid) CrossFit athletes (Pioneer awards to Rogue and Again Faster) could be assembled for the Tahoe Throwdown; Co@ch said as much on film. CrossFit as a sport should certainly be credited to HQ, but I think CrossFit as a PROFESSIONAL sport was a bit of a surprise, at least the speed at which it has become so.

Is it good? Is it bad? Does it even matter? Well, it’s certainly not for me to say. Personally, I am enjoying watching that tiny group of men and women who do the CrossFit that I do and do it for a living. Just like I enjoy a Sunday in front of the tube watching Tiger and Phil and Rory, or Natalie and Sun Re and Patty make a living playing golf so much better than I ever did. I pretend to see myself in Rich and Dan and Speal just like I did in college as a very average DB watching Ronnie Lott and Michael Haynes and Lester Hayes play my position. Lester even wore my number.

I still root for the amateur, though. Still harbor a secret little desire to see some Justin Rose win that British Open as a 17 year old, or some 32 year old stockbroker who plays on the weekend steal a U.S. Amateur from one of the Flatbellies one win away from turning pro. There’s a little catch in my throat when I think of Roger Bannister, the medical student, breaking the 4:00 barrier during a study break. SIR Roger Bannister.

Yeah…that was pretty cool. I still root for the amateur.

I’ll see you next week…

Posted by bingo at July 14, 2013 10:31 AM

The CrossFit Open: How Much Is Enough?

This is the time of year, the CrossFit Open season, when I find myself thinking about volume. No, no, no, this isn’t a ‘size matters’ thing. I’m talking about the volume of work you do to increase your fitness. Have you been following the video series from the Games competitors? I find it fascinating and very enlightening to be a fly on the wall for those discussions, especially the ones about training volume and strategies for competitive WOD’s both in the Open and outside.

Used to be, when we had more like 5-700 posts every day on CrossFit.com, that we would get an equal number of questions and concerns on both sides of the training volume thing. Is the WOD enough? Should I do more? How much do the Rockstars do (Hi Jackie at CrossFit Reload)? Or things like, what if I can’t do the WOD as Rx’d? I’m kinda tired and strung out after 1 or 2 or 5 months of WOD’s; should I take a break? Pretty much an equal number of questions from folks looking for more and folks overwhelmed by the WOD.

Now? Well, at this time of year if you only look at Facebook and the Games site you’d think all of the questions have been answered by the sponsored athletes and those of their ilk. Ya gotta do more, More, MORE if you’re gonna get Crossfit fit. Right? I mean, that’s what we all have to want to do, right? Be CrossFit like Julie or Annie or Jason or Josh?

BZZZZZZT. Wrong. Sorry. Elite fitness is a self-defined term, one that each one of us defines for ourselves. In truth, if we’re doing this CrossFit thing correctly, elite fitness is always just a few more WOD’s away, a few more trips along the neuroendocrine response highway. Face it…for most of us Crossfit is nothing short of the best fitness program (no matter what version of CrossFit we might do) we’ve ever encountered, bringing with it massive fitness returns on our effort invested.

But that’s it. You vs. you. Still.

There’s a quote that came up in a Sunday paper from a non-CrossFit Masters athlete: “if you undertrain, you may not finish; if you overtrain, you may not start.” Pretty good, eh? There’s some genius in that little gem. How much is enough? The answer to that lies in an open and honest evaluation of your own personal goals, your own personal needs, your own personal barriers and boundaries. For example, I have 60-75 minutes 5 times each week for my entire fitness experience, and any injuries I suffer will not only affect my ability to “start” in the gym, but also affect my ability to “start” in my day job. This is true of my everyday fitness journey, and it is certainly no less true of whatever might constitute this year’s CrossFit Open experience. You?

The genius of CrossFit–and it IS genius–and the gift given to us by Coach, is not the competition between CrossFitters produced for spectator consumption, but the competition produced in ourselves. By defining fitness, WCABTMD, Coach, and CrossFit give us something totally new and vitally important: fitness that is measurable, observable, and repeatable. We then have a goal for each workout, to achieve an increase in intensity, an increase in power, as well as a strategy with which to do so (constantly varied functional exercise…).

I love the videos we see at this time of year, I really do. And I love the CrossFit Games,  so far still more fitness festival than commercial convention (as always we will see what this year’s changes bring). But the beauty of CrossFit lives on Crossfit.com, on the CrossFit Community page on Facebook,  and in the 5500 and counting Affiliate gyms where each one of us willingly put ourselves through the exquisite challenge of a WOD in order to achieve our own individual goal. Our own version of of fitness.Our own version of a better you tomorrow than what you were yesterday, through the efforts you make today.

So…how much Crossfit is enough for YOU?

 

Bingo Does the Open II

How am I going to approach the 2012 CrossFit Open? I’m a realist. I will not qualify for the CrossFit Games. I’m in the Masters age 50-54 division and even here I am simply too small and weak as a kitten (at least in comparison with my competitors). We will be required to use the same loads and do the same exact WOD’s as the 20-something firebreathers. Last year the weights were simply too much form me; I don’t see ‘em getting any lighter this year.

So what will I do? Well, I’m certainly going to make the effort to get a legit score on each workout. Like the 2011 Open it’s exciting to be a part of the conversation. I have every expectation that the loads will be on the very edge of my abilities, but so what? It’ll be a worthy test.

However, I did learn a very important lesson last year. The Open totally messed up my training. Wrecked it in fact. Five weeks of inconsistency. I altered my WOD’s early in each week, and I rushed to CrossFit Cleveland every Thursday to get the Open WOD done at a registered Affiliate. Remember the mantra “form then consistency then intensity”? Consistency got the shaft.

This year my approach will be a bit different. My CrossFit program is designed to fit around my life, specifically my OR schedule. Some of those Open workouts were so beyond my reasonable ability that they were essentially worthless as training, and that made me lose one workout each week. One of four. My Open experience this year will fit my schedule and my training program. I train for tomorrow…for life. I’m pumped for the Open, excited to be part of the conversation, but my competition still needs to be “you vs. you.” After I give my all to the Open WOD as Rx’d my plan is to do a scaled version adjusted so that I get the same TRAINING  stimulus from the WOD as the better CrossFitters are getting.

Will it work? Heck, I dunno. Might be the best of both worlds, but then again I might crash and burn, too. I like the idea that I’ll be testing myself not only against the rest of the CrossFit community but also against myself. Last year I allowed the Games to occupy me.

This year I occupy the CrossFit Games!

The Lonely Athlete

My CrossFit INTERVIEW (you can find it on CrossFit.com) starts off like this: “I was bored and lonely in the gym.” 6 years ago I discovered CrossFit and now I am no longer bored. The CrossFit mantra, constantly varied, has seen to that. But the lonely part? That’s a little more complicated.

CrossFit has a couple other mantras that apply. We seek a type of “broad, inclusive fitness” that we define as “Work Capacity Across Broad Time and Modal Domains.” To achieve this the CrossFit programming utilizes “full-body functional movements performed at relatively high intensity”, and the order in which we engage the program is “form followed by consistency, and then intensity.” Here’s the complicated part: in order to achieve “consistency” I work out in a commercial gym that is exactly 2 miles from my office and 2 miles from my home. Smack dab in the center, it’s on my way to everywhere. It’s not a CrossFit gym, so I work out alone.

I’m still lonely.

For the longest time the online CrossFit community was where I found my gym “mates”. I’d log on, post my results, and check in on everyone else. I know…I know…it’s not the same as being there with everyone, but it was close enough in the beginning, and it was enough when the early gains of the programming came so quickly and reliably. Converging trends have combined to render the cyber-gym the pale substitute it probaby always was: 6 years in the gains come more slowly and at a much greater “price” without the support of collaborators, and the denizens of the online community have emigrated to real, live CrossFit gyms.

I’m alone, again, in the gym.

What makes a successful CrossFit Affiliate gym has little to do with the stuff in the gym. It has little to do with the address, the structure, or the decor. What makes an Affiliate successful is the manner in which it combats the loneliness that exists in most commercial gyms.

Think about it. What is it like where you are working out if you, like me, are working out in a commercial gym? You’re doing CrossFit, which almost certainly means that you are doing it alone. How many other solo exercisers are faithfully there? Not many, huh? It kinda explains the whole “personal trainer” thing to me, the “training” that goes on in the commercial gym. Most “personal trainers” are simply keeping the customer company, at least the ones I observe. They combat the loneliness.

The successful athletes I see in non-CrossFit gyms work out with one or several partners. This collaboration cuts the essential loneliness in half, at least. There’s a kind of sterile safety that loneliness confers, in the gym and elsewhere. It explains, I think, the endless plateau occupied by most exercisers.

Not in a CrossFit gym, though. No, Sir. Not even in a commercial gym where two or more CrossFitters work together. The essential collaboration of spirit inherent in the CrossFit group instills a tiny dollop of courage, of fortitude, a dash of valor to the spirit that allows one to forge ahead and beyond. It’s there, beyond the boundaries of loneliness, that we succeed. It’s there, lifted by the collective spirit of the group sharing our particular type of discomfort, that we break through.

The magic of CrossFit is in the movements. The genius of CrossFit is in the programming. The soul of CrossFit is wherever two CrossFitters collaborate to break free of the lonely athlete’s safety zone.

 

It’s Hard To Make It Look Easy

It’s really hard to make something look easy. Think about it. The best knee surgeon takes 1/2 the time and gets twice the good results of the average surgeon. It barely looks likes he’s working at all. The very best LASIK surgeon makes the most difficult case look like a piece of cake, just like the easiest and most straight forward cases done by the average surgeon.

None of this happens without an enormous amount of hard work, practice, study, and yes, a little bit of natural ability doesnt’ hurt either.

Think about double-unders, jumping rope with two passes of the rope under your feet for each jump. A CrossFit legend named Chris Spealer did a Tabata Double-Under set (20 seconds of exercise followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated 8 times) and got a lowest score of 40, or something crazy like that. Looked like a snap, too.  My best is 10. TEN! If you are a CrossFitter and you’ve struggled with Double-Unders (and who hasn’t, eh Jeff Martin?) you watch and you say it’s easy for him. You gotta know, though, after watching all of the Speal videos, that there were countless hours of work behind that. He just makes it look easy. It’s not.

Samuel Beckett had a run of some 10 years or so where everything he published was nothing short of brilliant, and there was a ton of it. If you are a writer and you have stared at a blank piece of paper or a blinking empty screen (and who hasn’t, eh Daigle?), you might think that Beckett was simply gifted, that the words simply poured out onto the page fully formed and prepped for posterity. Reading Beckett’s letters, though, tells a different tale entirely, one of anguish and toil, brutal hard work. He just made it look easy. It wasn’t.

We tend to discount the hard work behind any skill-based endeavor when we only see the “game film”, so to speak. The untrained eye is often unable to discern the subtleties in some performance or job that the best of the best just blow through, making it look like an everyday, ho-hum whatever. In most circumstances we just don’t have an adequate frame of reference that allows us to see how an average or “regular” surgeon, or athlete, or debater struggles with the curveball, the surprise. We don’t even get a chance to compare how the true superstar handles a truly mundane “game” in comparison with the middle-of-the-Bell Curve guy, at least outside the realm of sports.

This lack of perspective, along with a lack of awareness of how hard the best of the best have worked to get there, leads us to minimize the excellence before us. The average cataract surgeon in the United States takes more than 20:00 to complete the surgical aspects of a case. The very best among my peers take 5 or 6:00 to do the same thing. No movement is wasted, and each tiny step is literally a microscopic ballet. The complication rates for average eye surgeons are 5-10X greater than that of the top surgeons, and the best surgeons routinely achieve better outcomes by all measures.

The best surgeons make it look too easy. Our response as a nation to this is criticism that eye surgeons are overpaid for such a “quick and simple” procedure; there is a palpable, barely hidden contempt for the highest achieving physicians among healthcare policy makers. This is just wrong.

It’s really hard to make it look easy, almost everywhere and in almost every endeavor. We should be MORE amazed and have MORE respect when we see something and think: WOW…she really made that look easy!

 

The Magnificence Of The Struggle

“What counts in sports is not the victory, but the magnificence of the struggle.”

There is more than a little merit to that quote. Have you played a sport? Been on a team, or stood alone in the crucible of game day? Everything you have done to prepare, every sacrifice you have made to arrive at that moment in that place now there for the realization. The struggle is not only that which lies before you in the match, but also that which lay before that you could be here, now.

You enter the arena, perhaps filled to the rafters with spectators, just as likely empty and near silent. It matters not; your struggle has brought you here, ready for the game. It’s you vs. them, or him, or her, but it’s just as much you vs. you. Will I commit fully to the struggle? Will I do anything and everything in my power within the rules of whatever game we play to emerge victorious? Aye, and if I have done so, and if the score at the end says I’ve lost, was my struggle any less magnificent? Any less worthy? I did what I could. I did ALL that I could.

Coaches from time immemorial have preached a gospel of lessons learned on the pitch applied to a life outside the sport. You play how you practice. It’s a 60 minute game, and you’ve got to play all 60. Call your own fouls. Be both a good winner and a good loser. It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it’s how you play the game. I think it’s instructive to make a tiny little change in that quote, one that might have been said by any number of non-sports sages:

“What counts in life is not the victory, but the magnificence of the struggle.”

This fits. This fits in an infinite number of ways and an infinite number of places. Why? Because life has no clock, at least not a clock that we can follow, or a clock on which we can base “game strategy”. We can’t “run out the clock”, manage the shot clock, or make it to the TV time-out. The struggle is continual, and it is endless.

Everything else fits, too. The struggles of yesterday hopefully prepare us for the struggles of today. What will we bring to today? Am I ready for the struggle today? Will I fully commit to the struggle before me today, do all that I can within the rules, all that is asked of me, expected of me, required of me? Life, unlike sport, is not a zero-sum game. I win, if one can call it that, if I’ve done my best. In life, but not necessarily sport, others may win as well, but it is not necessarily so that others must lose so that I, or you, may win.

“Struggle” is a very good word in this context. One doesn’t read “struggle” and think “easy” or “soft”. The magnificence of the struggle lies there, I think, in the inherent difficulty of the endeavor. One is struggling. It’s hard to live well. It’s hard to do the right thing because the right thing is so often the hard thing. It’s how you play the game.

Isn’t it?

The struggle is indeed magnificent when you engage in it. When you don’t turn away from the struggle because it is hard but rather embrace it in an attempt to win. That in itself is rather a victory; failure to struggle, failure to try, failure to do what must be done because it is a struggle is a loss. It takes courage to do so. It takes integrity and honor to engage the struggle when no one is watching you, you are alone, and you must make the call. On the pitch and in life.

At some point, in the game or in life, we will be called upon. Take the shot. Make the call. Hold the line. Make the save.

When the game is over, when life winds down, each of us will look back on the struggle and ask these questions. What did I bring to the struggle? Did I fully commit myself to it? Did I do all that I could within the rules, all that was asked of me, all that was required of me?

How magnificent was my struggle?

“What counts in sports is not the victory, but the magnificence of the struggle.” –Joe Paterno

 

 

The Swinger. A Shank.

“Hilarious…a sensational novel.” –Golf Magazine

“Will leave you howling.” –Florida Times-Union

“An entertaining, revealing, thought-provoking, and cautionary tale.” –NY Times

“A must-read.” –Yahoo! Sports

 

Really? Did they all read the same novel I read? “The Swinger” by Michael Bamberger and Alan Shipnuck? Can’t be. The book I read was exactly none of the above. In golfspeak it was that most horrific shot imaginable…a shank.

“The Swinger” is the story of Herbert X. “Tree” Tremont, the best golfer on the PGA tour, who happens to be black, married to a beautiful white woman from Europe, who manages to blow up the most ideal life imaginable by being a selfish, self-centered serial philanderer. Hmmm. Sound familiar? Of course it does. The veneer covering this “fiction” is thin to the point of non-existence. We are invited, nay, led to believe that we can assume that all of the details are true; the names have been changed to protect the guilty.

Laugh out loud funny? Please. I picked up the book mostly for the amusement. I looked for the funny parts. I don’t think I got so much as a chuckle out of 200 some odd pages of drivel. The hilarity of near misses and hair-raising escapes? Nah. Each sordid episode was more soulless than the last, and each escape only dulled any inclination that I might have had to find some tiny iota of sympathy for Tiger…er…I mean, Tree.

“Is this how it really happened?” asks one of the reviews? Well, that part is at least a little bit interesting, at least as far as the writers are concerned. I found myself wondering which one of the authors was/is “Josh”, the aging, good guy golf writer who gets sucked into the cesspool and becomes Tree’s publicist/apologist. Which one got suckered and is now trying to weasel his way out of accountability?

Nope, in the end “The Swinger” was a disappointment in every respect. Simple prose steeped in simile and bereft of metaphor, the writing equivalent of a cheap muni course not worthy of joining the Muirfields of golf literature. The characters were as flat and two dimensional as an Oklahoma City track. Where is all the complexity in Tree? The Americablinasian,n,n,ness? Is THAT part true, too?

I felt empty. Cheated. Did you ever pay to play a really famous course only to find out that you have to take a cart, you have to keep the cart on the cartpaths, and all the greens and tees were just plugged? Pretty pictures on the scorecard but nothing but “no fun” from the 1st tee. Yah…that. It was totally contrived, like a porn movie without the goofy, repetitive jingle in the background.  I neither laughed nor cried, and I couldn’t work up an ounce of “I care” for a single soul in the book.

Frankly, I get more emotionally involved in Satellite Tour events on the golf channel in the middle of a sleepless night. My most prominent reactions were sadness and boredom, and I really like golf. And I really like Tiger. My advice for someone looking to pick up “The Swinger”? This one’s as gimmicky and trivial as a vacationland miniature golf course; it’s not worth the green’s fee.

For Mike and Alan? Take a mulligan, boys. That was one, ugly shank.

 

 

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