“A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” Ernest Hemingway, Old Man and the Sea
Three hours after I signed the necessary paperwork to participate in the try-outs/combine for Seattle’s new professional Ultimate Frisbee team, the Seattle Raptors, I limped off the field. I was discouraged, damaged, and destroyed. And yet, I was not defeated.
How could I be? I had just spent three hours this past Saturday matching up — to the best that my ability and age would afford me — with 40 young, vibrant guys who were competing for the 28 spots on the Raptors, the American Ultimate Disc League newest professional team. I gave every ounce of effort I could muster. I put it all out there to prove that a 52-year-old could hang with 19 to 30-year-olds.
I did my best. A reoccurring flare-up of my lingering plantar fasciitis and my dormant, derelict hamstring waved the white flag after about 2-1/2 hours into this three-hour tryout.
I resigned myself to the sidelines and made small talk with guys who could be my sons. It’s safe to say that there was no one within 20 years of my age.
I don’t want to say ‘I felt my age’ at that moment of resignation; but I did. I could feel it deep in the tissue. I could feel it in the joints. I could also feel it in my confidence.
If nothing else, I usually have a pretty high opinion of what I can do. My wife would say that it’s a false sense of confidence. And until just recently, I could have made a feeble case that she was right only part of the time.
Now, I don’t know.
I don’t know if I can ever recover any of that spring that will get my standing jump higher than the meager 17” it was measured at during the Raptors’ combine. I don’t know if my hamstring will ever fully recover from an injury I sustained three years ago. I don’t know if my knees will ever stop aching, especially when I keep putting them under excessive stress.
I just don’t know. But, I need to remind myself, that’s why I am doing this experiment of a 50-plus-year-old staying active, to find out what I can do.
Yes, I really was destroyed. When I got beaten badly on a deep throw during the scrimmage that gave these aspiring pro players a chance to shine in front of the scouts, I could only look at my temporary teammates and apologize. I knew what they were thinking.
It’s important to remind myself that these are some of the best players in the entire Puget Sound area. These guys are young. And this translates into blazing speed and excellent talent.
They also have different priorities. They talked about bars, not stock portfolios.
Some of these guys probably hadn’t worked out for this combine more than a couple of times in the past three months. But, compared to my measurements and times, you couldn’t tell. In fact, each and every one of them looked like all-pro, all-league players compared to me.
But I am not defeated.
This is about getting out there and making a statement. What that statement is may get a little blurry at times. A guy I had played with once before, who will almost certainly be signed, came up to me at the beginning of the combine/try-out and innocently asked, “What are you doing here?”
I didn’t have a good answer. He’s 28. I’m almost double his age. And he was one of the older guys at the try-out.
Why was I there?
Because life is too short to look back with regrets. And I’d never had a chance to try out for a legitimate professional team.
This was the day.
I will always be able to look back on this professional try-out and say that for three hours on MLK Day weekend, I had a chance to be judged, not by the color of my gray hair, but by the score of my combine performance. I had a chance to run with some of the best ultimate Frisbee players on the west coast — and I finished dead last.
But for three hours, I was free. I was free to get out there and do something I had always wanted to do, but had always felt shackled by the chains of my own ego and society’s conventional logic. Today, I didn’t worry about what the young guys were thinking. And I can find a little satisfaction in the fact that I was the only guy over the age of thirty in the entire Puget Sound area who showed up to try out for one of the 25 professional Ultimate Frisbee teams in the nation.
Free at last, free at last. I think King would have approved of what I did this weekend. Hemingway, too. Remember, the only thing the old man was able to bring in from his battle with the sharks was the carcass of the great marlin. But, that’s not what was important. Once again Santiago could dream of the lions.
Maybe that’s why I did it.