Tuesday, February 2, 2016

When Things Change

by Kevin Purcell, D.C.

As we mature and move onward, so does the way we view our health, and by extension, performance.

Performance can be measured in the work place, in a home setting, in our communities, as mentors or in any number of athletic endeavors. Then there is the all-important measurements done “in our heads.” Each area may age in different ways and some of them seem to overlap.

Readers have probably heard the expression “getting old sucks.” I imagine that saying came from somebody who was aging because aging supplies that kind of context. Drilling deeper, we might imagine a guy or gal expressing that feeling, in any number of ways, who held onto strong memories of “what it used to be like.”

To be clear, in my view, there is nothing wrong with holding onto memories of the good old days unless the memories make the good new days seem less good. Making the present seem less attractive by focusing on memories of the past is not productive; and unless you live alone or in a cave it has the unintended risk of affecting everybody else around you.

To be fair, our relative high levels of performance don’t happen by accident; and that means there were years, countless hours, sacrifice and an emotional toll that went into a personal best in any area of a life. Hopefully, the hard work and success brought a modicum of lasting happiness. If not, it could be viewed as time spent in an odd way.

There are good reasons why a person would let a skill fade or disappear that they had worked a decade or more to master. Perhaps no longer being able to do the action that was once a “joy” as well is enough of a reason. I don’t offer any judgment. I have enough trouble trying to figure me out, let alone somebody else’s motivation.

I recently enjoyed an indie film titled “The Last Quartet”. In it, Christopher Walken plays a hypersensitive aging cellist. He is diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and cannot continue to perform at a world class level for long so he plans to stop playing music altogether. He proposes to the quartet that he retire after they perform Beethoven’s celebrated String Quartet No. 14 in C-sharp minor (Op. 131). He explains to a music class that this technically and physically demanding work must be played without pauses for more than 40 minutes, leaving the musicians with no time to retune.

Done badly, Walken’s character explains, the piece can end up a mess. The metaphor of music as life is clear. “What are we supposed to do?” he asks of Beethoven’s quartet. “Stop? Or to continuously adjust to each other up to the end, even if we are out of tune?”

I propose that we continually adjust to ourselves and changing environments. I started lifting weights when I was seven years old with my dad. I was very skinny and saw a picture of a boy about my age on a hot cereal box named Marky Maypo. He was making a bicep and doing a good job of it. I decided I wanted a couple of those. As I enter my sixth decade in the gym since that project began my biceps are going in the wrong direction. However, I enjoy the gym and the project as much as I ever have.

Recall, if we employ some perspective to our imperfect memory of a personal best, we leave wiggle room to top that. What does that mean? Let’s say there are about 20 35-year-old men on earth who can do an ironman distance triathlon under 8.5 hours. That is rare. How does it compare to the number of men 50 years old who can go sub 9:30? I don’t know the answer, but it is rare.

I wish I had started riding my bike in a serious way 50 years ago. And that reminds me of something I said to my wife, Laurie, 35 years ago:

KP “I wish I could play the saxophone like you do.”
LP: “Apparently not badly enough.”

Keep it rolling….


Kevin Purcell, D.C., works with long course triathletes; from elite to those new to endurance sport. Coach KP has guided dozens of athletes to qualification to the Ironman World Championships in Kona, including over 15 IM age group championships. Dr. Purcell is certified in Active Release Technique (ART) and has completed a medical rotation at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista. Coach KP retired from competition in 2006.
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