Drive minus athletic ability equals disaster

Burt's Eye View

When it comes to sports, I possess tons of competitive drive. But I misplaced my only ounce of athletic ability.

In an elementary school football game, I was wide open for a touchdown pass. I ducked.

On my junior high basketball team, I charged the lane and leaped. But I’d lost the ball somewhere around mid-court. I landed in a skittering heap of arms and legs about 20 feet out of bounds.

It’s how I became a humor writer. People didn’t think anyone could be that clumsy without doing it on purpose.

I resorted to finding competitions wherever I could to satisfy my drive.

“I set a record!” I shouted one morning. “I took a full shower in 3.2 seconds.”

Mom held her nose. “I can tell. Now get back in there and take a victory lap. And turn on the water this time.”

One November, I slammed my fork on the dining room table. “Done! I finished supper first.”

Mom carried a bowl of mashed potatoes into the dining room. “But I haven’t put supper on the table yet. Where’s your napkin? And the plastic pumpkin centerpiece?”

I never grew out of the need to compete.

A few years ago, I took up running distance races. All I had to do was stay upright and cross the finish line.

My crowning achievement was winning — yes, winning — my age group in a four-mile trail run. True, I was the only person in my age group. True, I finished dead last overall. True, the guy with the trophies packed up and went home before I finished clambering up hills, splashing across streams and leaping over gorges.

But I won.

When the trophy finally showed up in the mail six weeks later, I smacked it on top of the display case as a testament to my competitive drive.

My wife doesn’t understand any of this. She prefers some odd notion called “smelling roses.” (Once, I told her I could smell more roses than she could and ended up with a clogged nose for a week.)

For years, Terry and I have taken long walks together — with completely opposite goals in mind. My stopwatch is running. Terry acts like our time doesn’t matter.

She stops to watch frogs jump. She stops to study corn fields. She stops to talk to horses, dogs, cats — any pet at any house we pass. She stops to pick up random objects from the roadside. “Ooh, gloves. I can use these for gardening.”

Once, she stood like a statue in front of a house and squinted at it. “What color of paint is that?”

“I’m more worried about the guy with the shotgun staring out the window at you,” I said, tugging her arm. “Keep walking.”

The other day, Terry and her leisurely philosophy had to stay home. My competitive gears kicked into overdrive. I cinched up my laces and set out to shave four, six or maybe even eight minutes off our normal time. I powered-pressed the pace. Fast. Hard. Determined to hit my best time ever.

The doctor says I probably can get rid of the crutches in four or five more days. Turtles shouldn’t jump in front of competitive people like that. I probably could have hopped over him just fine if I hadn’t tripped over the grasshopper.

— Drive I’ve got in buckets. My spoonful of athletic ability evaporated in the heat of competition.


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