Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Now What?

 As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

The athletic hourglass gets loaded with only a few modest scoops of sand.  Peak performance is fleeting.  An athlete’s “best buy” date lurks ominously in the not-too-distant future.  One’s twenties are the golden time – the human body never runs faster, jumps higher or endures longer.  In some sports, age 30 is a cautionary marker.  By 35, nearly all athletes are in precipitous decline.  Few last into their forties.  By the mid-forties, it is time for church leagues, weekend beer clubs and a lot of embellished talk about the old times, before personal odometers and aches and pains claimed one-time physical superpowers.

This reality creates an athlete’s mentality: get all you can while you feel good and your prowess allows, prepare for the inevitable end and bow out gracefully before the wheels fall off, the game passes you by and the door of opportunity slams shut.

Conventional wisdom found its antidote – times two. 

A 44-year-old, seven-time Super Bowl champion quarterback retired in February after 22 unprecedented, age-defying NFL seasons to spend more time at home with his children and supermodel wife.  It seemed a well-earned respite and graceful conclusion to a career that had already thumbed its nose at Father Time – until it wasn’t and he returned six weeks later!  Ten days thereafter, a 25-year-old tennis star, ranked number one in the world, at the apex of her game and fresh off an Australian Open win, hung up her racket to pursue other goals.

Introductions are in order.  Tom Brady, this is Ash Barty.  Ash Barty, this is Tom Brady.  Ash, Tom, this is everyone else – all of us equally confused and inspired.

As a fellow father, I want to believe that Brady just couldn’t handle the domestic heat.  He went home, tasted the daily grind of tending to a family, irritated his wife in some way, ruined dinner, forgot his chores, sheepishly waved the white flag in the face of real responsibility and scurried back to the tranquility of the football field.  In reality, he probably just couldn’t extinguish his competitive flame - one that has proven to burn hotter than darn near anyone not named Michael Jordan - and decided to feed his unquenchable hunger at least one more time.

Barty’s decision was both confounding and fascinating.  She admitted to being scared in her farewell speech, but also excited to pursue other personal goals.  There was a tinge of relief in her address – hinting that she had mustered the courage to flip the script on tennis and to dictate to it how her life would unfurl, external expectations and perceived obligations be damned.   

What then to make of these two athletes?  They stood together at a fork along sports’ road – one leading to retirement, the other to career continuation.  Everything pointed to the football-ancient Brady staying on retirement road and to Barty, in the prime of her career, continuing to dominate women’s tennis.  One can imagine them winking to one another just before switching lanes and shocking the world.

Brady and Barty both found themselves in a “Now what?” moment, one having seemingly already answered that question (Brady) and the other prepared to provide an unconventional answer (Barty).  Ultimately each athlete followed their heart: Brady returned to the game he can’t yet live without and Barty bid adieu to an old friend because her passions were leading her elsewhere.    

John Lennon, as the story goes, claimed he was once asked by a teacher what he wanted to be when he grew up.  He answered “happy.”  The teacher said he didn’t understand the assignment.  Lennon said the teacher “didn’t understand life.”  The game of life, unlike football and tennis, often dictates the responsible or the necessary be chosen over the path to personal joy.  But not always, and not entirely.  Assuming we only get to tour this little blue dot in the galaxy once, Brady and Barty, and Lennon before them, remind that being the best version of ourselves isn’t only about meeting expectations and obligations, it also involves making some decisions, if not in whole then it least in part, just because it makes us happy. 

No comments:

Post a Comment