Sunday, April 4, 2010

Chapter 3: The Lost Year

[continued from Chapter 2]

Bowling had started again, and the Green Lady was primed for action. In our second season, we had lost our fourth team member. Z finished up is MA at the university and headed to Albuquerque to start his adult life. Likewise, our sub Jimmy Jazz went back to Tucson to finish up his PhD. We were left high and dry, and that year we had a rotating group of fourths; most consistently Woody took the spot. To compound the problem, I missed something like six weeks of bowling due to injury.

I am often an early arriver to the office. I like to get there by 8 AM if not 7:30. Where I work, there aren't many people around at that time except for janitors. One of them, like most janitors, is a really friendly, easy going, and talkative guy. During one of our conversations, he brought up his basketball team and how they needed another player. I grew up playing ball but had not done so in years. Here I saw the opportunity to play competitively at the rec center against other folks my age. It sounded like fun. I told my friend I'd be there that night.

Around six o'clock on a cold Wyoming December or January night, I showed up to the Laramie Recreation Center. It is only about 10 years old, and it is a marvelous facility. It has something like four full basketball courts, swimming pools, weight rooms, cardio fitness machines, a track, etc. In my opinion, it is an awesome expenditure of public tax revenues. Our team, named something like "Bernie's Mexican Restaurant", was facing a bunch of young and energetic early 20-somethings who all seemed like they were 6' 2". On the first possession, the ball was passed to me around the right side of the free throw line. I was unguarded. I took two dribbles, pulled up for a 12 foot jumper, and it went cleanly through the rim.

It was a minor victory, the kind I had not experienced in a long time. "I can still play," I thought. What I didn't realize was that my amazing basketball comeback would only last six minutes. About five possessions later, I went up for a rebound among the trees under the rim and came down with the ball. Going straight back up would have meant certain rejection. So, I jumped under the rim with an outstretched right arm, trying to pull off the old up and under move. I never saw where the ball went because when I came down on my right foot, I felt my knee bend the wrong way, or as the orthopedic folks say, it was "hyper-extended".

If you have ever ruptured a ligament in your knee, you know what a strange feeling it is. For one, you can feel it pop, like a rubber band breaking. If there is not a lot of other noise, you can even hear it go. Given the feeling and the sound, you would think it would be painful, but the pain is not severe. It is just uncomfortable. After about 30 seconds, I got up and tried to keep playing. The knee felt like jelly. It felt like it wanted to dislocate, like the femur was trying to twist on the tibia.

If you ever find yourself in an argument with someone who is a proponent of intelligent design, simply point out the "design" of the human knee, which if designed is an excellent example of "retarded design" (sorry, Sarah). The two distal condyles of the femur simply sit on top of the proximal condyles of the tibia with little articulation. The two bones are held together with a bunch of ligaments. It would sort of be like attaching the ends of two 2x4's with rubber bands. Contrast it to the much more dependable joints in your hips or elbows, and you will quickly realize that evolution has done its best with the raw materials with which it had to work. You must remember that our species has only been upright for about 4 or 5 million years.

I limped out of the Laramie Rec Center knowing I had just ruptured my anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL. The cold harsh wind was blowing snow into my face, and I hated life. A few years back, I had blown out the same ligament in my left knee, and the road to recovery after surgery is slow and painful. I knew that this injury would shorten my bowling season.

I managed to bowl with a braced knee in the three or four weeks leading up to surgery. Thankfully, it was my right knee. I think the left would have been much more problematic since being a righty, I plant and twist on the left. My surgery happened in February, and it put me out of commission for a while. I do remember returning to bowling well before I had the green light from my doctor and physical therapist. The guys needed me. There were nights when they were struggling to even find a 3rd man to make our team legal.

In our second season, John and Joe made huge strides. John increased his average 12 pins from a 128 to a 140. Joe added 20 pins, a 118 to a 138. By contrast, my averaged dropped seven from a 135 to a 128. I had gone from the best Movement to the worst in one season. Sure, I can blame the knee, or the awkward start to my relationship with the Green Lady, but I don't want to make excuses. In Year 2, I just plain stunk. But you know, on a trampoline, before you go up, you gotta go down. Maybe I needed this dip to get a big bounce because the next year, in the 08-09 season, things were looking up.


  1. Moral of the story: Leave the up and unders to Kevin McHale.

    The funny thing about aging is that the mind ages a lot slower than the body. The brain continues to write checks the body can't cash.

  2. The first thing my dad said, "Maybe it's time to stop playing basketball." You are right about aging. Still, I find myself avoiding bodily harm much more than I did even five years ago.


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