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Exercising Your (Last) Rites

Kill yourself for sport!

by Scott McNutt

Boasting about one's physical ailments is a time-honored sports ritual (called "swapping war stories" in exercise jargon) and is the most fiercely contested part of any game. Indeed, competitors have sometimes ripped off their own arms in hopes of winning this event. (Not to be confused with rugby, where one usually rips off an opponent's arm.)

I had my chance to win such a competition. On a snowy Sunday morning last March, I played tennis for the first time in three years. We played for 2-1/2 hours. In exercise jargon, this is known as "such a nitwit thing to do. What the hell were you thinking?"

At the time, the cold had deadened most sensation in my body. And my teeth were chattering so much that I couldn't compete in the after-match one-upsmanship, anyway. But if I could have felt my muscles, and if I could have spoken without my teeth chomping my tongue into shreds, I might have won.

On the other hand, I might not have, because the pain would have been so excruciating, the only thing coming out of my mouth would have been "YAAAAAAAAAAH!" Three years' lay-off does that. But at the time, although I ached, I was mostly oblivious to my condition. For example, driving home, I supposed the paroxysms wracking my body were just really extreme shivers.

At home, I decided to type a while to allow for what, in exercise parlance, is called "cooling down." Why I needed to "cool down" when I was already freezing, I do not know; but exercise has its rituals, and they must be observed. Anyway, I thought I'd "cool down" until my toes were no longer purple, then shower.

On trembling knees, joints cracking and popping, I creaked into a chair. Then I started to type. At least, my brain thought I did. But my hands hadn't moved: My shoulders were not cooperating. "Brain," they said, "We're sore and tired. We're taking the rest of the day off and getting pizza and beer."

Ultimately, brain and brawn compromised: The shoulders would position my arms so my hands would be poised above the keyboard. Then my brain could send my fingers commands, and the shoulders could enjoy their suds and pie. This arrangement, however, proved unworkable: The commands kept stopping off in my shoulders for a beer.

My brain sent a couple hundred signals toward my hands, trying to get my fingers to do something other than be good pigeon roosts. They all got distracted. I figure eventually, somewhere in my body (probably my nose, since by then it was my only numb, non-throbbing part), a major kegger was going on. I conjecture this because, when the commands finally reached my hands, they were woozy and unable to remember why they were there. Instead of ordering the fingers to type, they were probably drunkenly shouting, "Come on! The shoulders are having a real blow-out in the sinus passages!"

So there I was, sitting at my computer, snot (or possibly foam) dribbling out of my nose, hands hovering above the keyboard, fingers occasionally making fumbling stabs at one key or another. After 15 minutes, I had completed this sentence: "Rectulan clom friddy ot wesr foo." I decided to hit the shower. I then discovered the true severity of my situation: To avoid physical torment, my back muscles and knees had locked up and gone out for the day. Voluntary movement was impossible.

Luckily, involuntary functions like breathing continued. So when Luna came home, all she had to do was wipe my nose, unbend me, and put me to bed. And then sleep on the couch, to avoid my muscle-spasm-induced convulsions of pain. Monday morning she shipped me to my chiropractor. After four months of intense (which is exercise lingo for "agonizing") physical therapy, I am able to type again, with only the assistance of a secretary. In a year or two, I'll be ready for another tennis match.

Obviously, I'm delighted: Next time, I will have THE winning injury story. After the match, as my partners drive me to the emergency room, I will triumphantly force them to read this column. In exercise jargon, this is called "YAAAAAAAAAAH!"

August 24, 2000 * Vol. 10, No. 34
© 2000 Metro Pulse