The covers of the slapdash tribute magazines for Muhammad Ali at the supermarket checkout counters all depicted him as a young man. That’s to be expected: It’s a lot more savory to recall Ali as the beautiful dynamo who conquered Sonny Liston than as the aged sentinel humbled by his own hubris.
October has come to present quite a paradox for me. Itâ€™s hands-down my favorite month of the year, home to the best holiday. But itâ€™s also the month my job crescendos in terms of stress and workload, often leaving me with limited time and energy to enjoy it.
This is, of course, the way things go. Iâ€™m 35 now, more than a decade removed from my salad days of spending every Friday and Saturday traipsing through haunted houses with teenagers jumping out and making loud noises. Given a rare Friday night off this past week, I opted for a relaxing dinner out with my wife and another couple rather than carnival food after a hayride or something.
But we still do a pretty good job of getting in the spirit. Our decorations arenâ€™t quite as over-the-top as my window displays of yore â€” which featured multiple strobe lights, spotlights and other fire hazards â€” but we do still have Chucky leering at us from a table in our living room. Every few nights, we curl up with our dog and a pumpkin beer and watch American Horror Story or some terrible movie from my collection. And we did squeeze in some apple-picking, a wonderfully campy daytime hayride and even a petting zoo.
The way we do things obviously changes as we get older, but one tradition Iâ€™ve continued is my annual Halloween Mixtape. Probably about a decade ago, I started curating my own mix to drive around with since I wasnâ€™t particularly enamored with the CDâ€™s on the market. Tubular Bells is great, but there are only so many times you can hear it before it loses its desired effect. And Iâ€™ve long since lost my affinity for Screaminâ€™ Jay Hawkins.
Two Septembers ago, exactly two weeks before I got married, I decided to try something called “The Survival Race,” kind of a 5K on steroids. It served as a bonding experience with some longtime friends, and a relatively wholesome “sowing wild oats” kind of thing before I tied the knot.
My fiancee was fine with it, though she made me vow not to let anything happen to my face, and not to break anything. No problem, I said. At the time, I’d never broken a bone.
I was in my best shape in some time back then, having healed a persistent shin injury and done CrossFit for the past six months. As such, The Survival Race did not live up to its foreboding moniker. No obstacle was particularly daunting, and I felt fast and strong.
They had a steep, muddy embankment, probably about a quarter mile straight up, with a rope to painstakingly guide yourself. I simply clambered up the hill, no rope necessary. Forget 32 years old; I felt 22 that day.
That hubris got the best of me. With a half mile left, I scaled a 12-foot wall, misunderstood the obstacle and leaped off the top instead of climbing down. I had that sickening feeling when you hang in the air just a little too long and found myself flat on my back. I bounced up, shook it off and finished the race, but I drove home with a searing pain in my right heel.
I figured if I ignored it, maybe it would go away. I even went for a few short runs the following week. It was only when I caved and got an X-Ray the day before my wedding that I learned I had broken my foot in the dumbest way possible.
I wasn’t all that discouraged. I toughed it out without a cast at my wedding, and I figured I’d heal up and get right back in the swing of things, a little bit of wishful thinking left over from my 20’s.
Exactly a week after the Survival Race — and a week before our wedding — I settled in with my broken foot and my soon-to-be-wife to watch our favorite boxer, Sergio Martinez, in his first big payday against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. And it was fitting, since Martinez’s rise to prominence directly correlated with the blossoming of our relationship.
We don’t really watch much sports together, but Montana and I had long bonded over our mutual enjoyment of boxing. Between us, we’d been to three of Sergio’s fights, including his stoppage of Matthew Macklin on St. Patrick’s Day 2012 in front of a raucous MSG Theater. We have signed gloves in our living room, and a picture I took after his demolition of Paul Williams leads Martinez’s Wikipedia Page.
Sergio was nothing short of magnificent for 11 rounds against Chavez, effortlessly fighting rings around his bigger, slower opponent. But he let his guard down in the 12th, got caught against the ropes and was dropped, and his knee buckled underneath him. He held on and won a wide decision, and we went to bed happy — and relieved.
But as we now know, that fateful 12th round was the beginning of the end.
A former soccer player and a gifted athlete, Martinez was slick enough to specialize in keeping his hands at his waist a la Roy Jones, luring opponents for counters. But he returned from right knee surgery the following spring without the speed and elusiveness that made him special.
Martinez looked every one of his 38 years against Martin Murray while winning a decision I wasn’t sure he deserved. He then required another operation on his knee.
After 14 months of rehab and training, Martinez returned a 2-1 favorite against fellow aging warrior Miguel Cotto, whom he had begged to fight for years. The day of the fight, we watched Sergio on 24/7 swear that his knee was fine, that the large brace he was wearing was merely a precaution. But if you looked close, you could see a hint of trepidation behind his bravado. I turned to Montana and said, “I think he’s in trouble.”
Cotto smartly swarmed him from the opening bell, and three first-round knockdowns later, a woozy Martinez knew he was out of his depth. Though it’s a credit to his toughness and perseverance that the fight lasted eight more rounds, it was clear that while his mind was still willing, his legs weren’t quite able.
It’s a feeling I know all too well.
I think we’re generally too proud to accept that we’re not immune to the shortcomings of growing older, needing to be humbled multiple times before admitting it to ourselves. And once you’re on the wrong side of 30 and something goes awry, it tends to have a ripple effect.
After a month confined to a walking boot and a subsequent month in physical therapy, I was back on the road. And there were days when nothing hurt and I felt like I could fly.
But little things started cropping up, and they kept adding up. I came down with plantar fasciitis that sidelined me for four months, and it’s never quite healed all the way. My left knee aches one day, my quadriceps another. Lately, I’ve dealt with tightness in my left leg; I can’t ascertain if it’s my hip, my groin, my hamstring or all three.
And it’s hard on me, because I’m not so far removed that I don’t remember what it was like to feel invincible. A late bloomer, I got into running at 20 — the same age Martinez took up boxing — started to love it at 24 and ran two marathons at 27 and 28. My infrequent injuries seemingly healed within hours. I never once iced postrun.
I don’t want to say I took it all for granted — I remember specific runs that were so euphoric that they were almost spiritual experiences — but there’s no question youth is wasted on the young.
Watching a stunned Martinez stagger around the ring on Saturday like Willlie Mays in the Shea Stadium outfield, it was just another reminder that nobody is impervious to gravity and time. To try to hold on to the way things were — the way we were — is a fool’s errand.
But that doesn’t mean we have to entirely let go, either. Sergio may never fight again — at this point, honestly, I hope he doesn’t — but it doesn’t take away from his terrific legacy, or from the wonderful experiences my wife and I shared attending and watching his fights.
Likewise, it bothers me I may never run another marathon, since I tend to break down after going much farther than four miles. But I will always treasure the two I completed.
Besides, I’m kind of liking the concept of mud runs lately. Montana ran one with me last year, and we had a blast crawling under barbed wire and leaping over fire pits. Not to mention, I honestly think I got more from completing an ordeal like that with my wife than I did running the marathons alone.
As such, we’re running our second Rugged Maniac about a month from now. This is how it goes: You move on, you find new challenges, you get in where you fit in.
Because when it comes down to it, I think it’s perfectly fine to look back at how things were once in a while, so long as it doesn’t distract from everything you have to look forward to.
Every year during WrestleMania, Twitter is split completely down the middle. On one side, you have people tweeting passionately about a fake sport; I’m typically in that group. On the other side, you have people complaining about that first group clogging up their timeline by tweeting about a fake sport.
My general stance is that you can’t really help what you’re into, and so long as it somewhat conforms to society’s norms, you should embrace it. There are blogs out there dedicated to Garfield comics without Garfield in them, or inserting images of Drake into scenes from Breaking Bad. And I think that’s totally fine. Who am I to judge? I collect ski caps with high school basketball logos on them.
This isn’t to say I believe it screams normalcy for a 34-year-old guy to enjoy watching men in Speedos pretend to fight with each other. But I cling to the belief that there’s a difference between me and the infamous “IT’S STILL REAL TO ME, DAMMIT”Â guy. I have a relatively legitimate job with a livable salary, I’m married to a lawyer and I appreciate a cup of tea and a good novel.
It’s just, I happen to think wrestling –Â for all its at-times egregious flaws, the steroids and misogyny and whatnot — is a tremendously entertaining form of television. When you watch a really well orchestrated match –Â to me at least –Â it’s an adrenaline rush on par with a great NBA Finals game. And somehow, wrestling is one of the only things I liked as a kid that I still really enjoy now, along with Spider-man, Batman and blue cars
Don’t get it twisted, though: I’m fully aware that wrestling is totally ridiculous. Though it has its share of self-reverential nonsense –Â Triple-H, in particular, takes himself way too seriously for a guy who literally slept his way to the top –Â it often can’t help but make an unabashed mockery of itself, usually by design.
When my friend TerryÃ‚Â and I relaunched SportsAngle five years ago, it served primarily as a place for me to talk about actual sports; several years later, I’ve found I have continually less patience for that.
As such, the site has become more and more a repository for obscure jerseys, high school basketball, Halloween mixtapes and whatever other random nonsense I’m into. And I couldn’t be happier about having that creative outlet, unencumbered by page views, editors or common sense. (Unless you count my wife, who has no qualms about telling me when something simply doesn’t work. And I love her for it.)
Last December, having been a dog owner for all of three days, I was letting our seven-pound puppy drag me around the neighborhood for about the 12th time that afternoon. I was completely exhausted, and I already had serious doubts I had what it took to make it work.
We ran into a congenial middle-aged man named Pat, in town from Ohio to visit his daughter. He calmed GG down, raved about what a handsome dog she was and we talked a little sports.
Something about Pat’s easy demeanor told me I’d found a sympathetic ear. Before we parted ways, I told him GG was my first dog, explained how difficult this first week had been and asked whether things would get better.
Pat looked me straight in the eye and smiled warmly. “You’ll have to put in some work,” he said. “But I can tell she’s a good dog, and you’re going to be just fine.”
Grasping for straws, I believed him. And it turns out he was absolutely right, everything worked out pretty great.
But it did take a lot of work, and things would get worse before they’d get better.
Back when I was a student at Duke, I’d frequently congregate with my two best friends for what we called “sessions.” I’d turn on my black light, we’d listen to Tool and have the particular brand ofÃ‚Â deep conservationsÃ‚Â you tend to have in a dorm room late at night.
Along with our standard agenda — girls, grades, graduation, the existence of God — we often explored how things might have been different had we gone to a big-time football school instead of one devoted to basketball.
Halloween is without question my favorite holiday, but it becomes a little harder every year to psyche myself up for it. My job gets a whole lot more demanding in October, so by the time we get late into the month, I’m pretty worn down and often under the weather. Besides, there’s bills to pay, dogs to walk, you know the drill.
When Hurricane Sandy wiped out Halloween last year, I couldn’t really complain about it, as weÃ‚Â got off pretty lucky compared to much of Central and South Jersey. No trees or anything fell on our home, and our only injuries consisted of minor burns suffered by my wife on Halloween night, when she was attempting to make me hot chocolate in a pitch-dark kitchen.
That said, for someone who views Halloween the way most people do Christmas, there was no escaping that there was a pretty big void for me last year. By the time our lights flickered back on, it was a few days into November. I hadn’t nearly gotten my fill of my favorite holiday, but time waits for no ghoul.
One tradition that fell by the wayside was my annual Halloween mixtape, which I was in the process of making, but didn’t have time or electricity to complete it. But it’s a new year, with crisp and clear weather in New Jersey, so I’m thrilled to present this year’s version for download.