Two SeptembersÂ ago, exactly two weeks before I got married, I decided to try somethingÂ called “The Survival Race,” kind of a 5K onÂ steroids. It served asÂ a bonding experience with some longtime friends, and a relatively wholesome “sowing wild oats” kind of thing before I tied the knot.
My fiancÃ©e was fine with it, though she made me vow not to let anything happen to my face, and not toÂ 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 RaceÂ 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 mileÂ left, I scaled a 12-foot wall, misunderstood the obstacle and leapedÂ off the top instead of climbing down. I had that sickening feeling when you hangÂ in the air just a little too long andÂ found myself flat on my back. I bounced up, shook it off and finished the race, but I drove home withÂ 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 castÂ at myÂ 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 itÂ 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’sÂ 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 afterÂ his demolition of Paul Williams leadsÂ Martinez’sÂ Wikipedia Page.
Sergio was nothing short ofÂ magnificent forÂ 11 rounds against Chavez, effortlesslyÂ fightingÂ 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. HeÂ held on and won a wide decision,Â and we went to bed happy — and relieved.
But as we now know, that fateful 12th roundÂ was the beginning of the end.
A former soccer player and a gifted athlete,Â Martinez wasÂ slick enough to specialize inÂ keeping his hands at his waist a la Roy Jones, luring opponents for counters.Â But he returned from right knee surgery the following spring without the speed and elusiveness that made him special.
MartinezÂ looked every one of his 38 years against Martin Murray while winning a decision I wasn’t sureÂ he deserved. He then requiredÂ another operation on his knee.
After 14 months of rehab and training, Martinez returnedÂ 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 24/7Â swear thatÂ his knee was fine, that the largeÂ brace heÂ was wearingÂ was merely a precaution. But if you looked close, you could see a hint ofÂ 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 hisÂ toughness and perseverance that the fight lasted eight more rounds, it was clearÂ that while hisÂ mind was still willing, his legsÂ weren’t quite able.
It’s a feeling I know all too well.
I think we’re generallyÂ 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.
But little things started cropping up, and they kept adding up. I came down with plantar fasciitis thatÂ sidelined me for four months, and it’s never quite healed all the way. My left knee achesÂ one day, my quadriceps another. Lately, I’ve dealt with tightness in my left leg; I can’t ascertainÂ 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 feelÂ invincible. AÂ late bloomer, I got into runningÂ atÂ 20 — the same age Martinez took up boxing — startedÂ to love it at 24 and ran two marathons at 27 and 28. MyÂ infrequent injuriesÂ seemingly healed within hours. I never once iced postrun.
I don’t want to say I took it all for granted — I remember specificÂ runs that were so euphoric that they were almostÂ spiritual experiencesÂ — but there’s no question youth is wasted on the young.
Watching a stunned Martinez staggerÂ 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, IÂ hope he doesn’tÂ — but it doesn’t take away from his terrific legacy, or fromÂ the wonderful experiences my wife and I shared attending and watchingÂ his fights.
Likewise, itÂ bothers me I may never run another marathon, sinceÂ I tend to break down after going much farther thanÂ four miles. But I will always treasure the two I completed.
Besides,Â I’m kind of liking the conceptÂ of mud runs lately. Montana ran oneÂ with me last year, and we had a blast crawling under barbed wire and leaping over fire pits. Not to mention, I honestly thinkÂ I got moreÂ fromÂ completing an ordeal like thatÂ with my wife than I did running the marathons alone.
As such, we’reÂ running our second Rugged Maniac about a month from now. This is how it goes:Â You move on, youÂ find new challenges, youÂ get in where youÂ fit in.
Because whenÂ 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 Â it doesn’t distractÂ from everythingÂ you have to look forward to.