I started this blog by writing a lengthy and mean-spirited rant about the cancer known as club soccer, which is derailing some of America's best athletes into a pipeline fraught with empty promises and a focus on turning a buck rather than putting the athlete first. It ran all of 900 words — all of which can be neatly summed up in the previous sentence, though with far more sarcasm and bile. In the name of positivity, and with full realization that my mental health is affected by this ongoing frustration far more than those I ridiculed, I hit delete.
I'll save that discussion for the next time I sit down with a group of cross-country coaches. It's a favorite topic of conversation when we all get together.
Surprisingly, all of this started as a warmhearted story about my own befuddlement. Several weeks ago my team ran a Fourth of July 5k. As we gathered afterward in the home of Gregg and Amy Hemphill to shovel down waffles and bacon, we also held a ring ceremony for the girls team that won their division in the Southern California championships last season. At the girls' request, I told a little vignette about each of the runners. There was the usual moment when I choked up, as I am wont to do, when reminded of a few extra-special memories. There were hugs, applause, and more than a little good feeling in that living room.
There was just one problem: two of the girls weren't there. For reasons having to do with family vacation and other obligations, the girls we call "Five-Oh" and "Little T" were unable to attend.
I had ridden my mountain bike the downhill ten miles to the Hemphills' that day. Facing a long ride bike ride home in 95-degree temps, I handed my wife the two extra rings. Together we put them in her car. Once I got home the rings would be removed from the trunk and secured somewhere safe. Which is what came to pass. I placed the rings in a special location — a spot so perfect and so safe that it would be the obvious place to look, while also providing protection just in case a home intruder came looking for very petite feminine CIF Championship rings inscribed with last names, initials, and a personal verse on the inside of the band.
A weekend passed. The time came to retrieve the rings and bring them to Monday practice.
I couldn't remember where I put them.
Of course, those rings were the first things the girls asked about that morning. I told them the truth, that I'd put them somewhere very special but couldn't remember just where. This went on for days. Then a week. Then two weeks. It got more and more embarrassing until the girls stopped asking at all, seeing my discomfort. My mother is in mental decline, and since I know that Alzheimer's is thought to have hereditary links, I began to doubt my own mental function. I ransacked my house, searching in drawers, bookshelves, laundry baskets, my car, my wife's car, my office at school. . . . There seemed to be no place I didn't look.
Just when I was about to phone Jostens and order duplicates, my wife poked her head inside our game room as I was riding the spin bike. "I found the rings," she said, amazed. They were in a small goody bag that the 5k gave away free. I'd put the rings inside, knowing that such an unobtrusive location would render burglars oblivious. It hid in plain sight in our closet for almost twenty days.
I still have questions about my mental condition. My hyper-focus is such that I can lock into a topic or task and lose myself for hours. The events occurring during this time seem to go unrecorded by my conscious thought process. On the one hand, this ability to create with such intense concentration allows me to do the jobs I do. On the other, I feel as if I am fine-tuning neural pathways so specific that others now lie fallow. Therein lies the beginning of Alzheimer's? I don't know. But I've heard that learning an instrument or a foreign language can be of help. So I recently purchased an adult beginner's piano book, which I've used exactly once. And I am still in the process of determining which language would be most helpful in my daily life. The obvious choice is Spanish, but wouldn't it be something to be conversational in Italian or French?
The brain is a funny thing. Once I'd made the leap to learning French, I lost myself in watching the actual Tour de France, which led to a discussion on Lance Armstrong's "Stages" podcast about the lack of young American riders entering the sport of cycling, which made me sympathize entirely because I suffer from the same difficulty getting young athletes to try cross country, which led to the obvious answer to the problem: club soccer.
And thus began my rant.
Which I will spare you.