I was 41 when I went to law school, and I thought that was my red convertible. Nope. Turns out that was only the beginning. A midlife crisis doesn’t have to be a bad thing, even if it’s not always pretty. It’s only natural at the midpoint to look back and to look forward. I think I’ve gone looking for the parts of me that I lost, forgot or left along the way, first by taking back my fears.
My fear of team sports is not a new story. Yes, it goes back to grade school and high school. I was the chubby kid who couldn’t throw a ball and flinched if one came toward me. Picked last. Picked on. The easy solution was to avoid sports, and so I did. I stuck with the piano and violin.
Slowly, I’ve crept my way back to sports. Running in my 20s. Hiking in my 30s. Cycling in my 40s. You can do those in a group, but I still went alone. Team sports finally reentered my horizon when I moved to Portland. Watching the Portland Timbers for the past year, I no longer just wanted to watch. I wanted to play. I wanted to play soccer.
That was an odd feeling. After all, I walked off the pitch in 1978 without looking back.
The ten-year-old me, however, wanted a do-over.
I bought a soccer ball. Kicking the ball around in my building’s garage early in the morning, I discovered I have no coordination. And I still flinch. Nevertheless, I didn’t dive into my midlife crisis to stop there, so I set about to find a club I could join.
All I needed was a club that would welcome a middle-aged man who is a bit overweight, has never played soccer, and flinches when the ball comes toward him.
I decided on the NetRippers F.C., Portland’s LGBTQ soccer club, because their website said they welcome players of every ability.
I secretly scouted them out first, riding my bike past one of their practices. Men and women of all ages were playing, but everyone seemed to be a little too good. Where were the players of every ability? I began to think we had different definitions for “beginner.” I emailed them asking if they really meant all abilities were welcomed. I immediately got two responses back to reassure me.
Stella! and I rode to my first practice. One of the players took me aside to show me some of the very basics before joining everyone else for drills. They took the time to teach me.
They put me in as a defender. But then they coached me. I got muddy.
I blocked a shot on goal. A cross shot got past me.
I was nearly tackled by an Englishwoman half my size, a Chelsea fan through and through.
I took a ball to my chest, just as I did in 1978. This time I didn’t walk off the field. I finished the game. Best. Day. Ever.
After the scrimmage, as I left the field and sped away on my bike, I was ten again. This time I was the ten-year-old I wanted to be. I got my do-over.
(A few hours later, my so very sore body reminded me that I was no longer ten. Yoga helps.)