I can remember a time when I was the greatest. No, I was never Muhamad Ali, but when I was in the 6th grade I was invited to a track meet.
Granted, my competition was other 6th graders from the now defunct Mississippi Private School Association, and, yes, there were only three other schools competing, but I distinctly remember that glorious feeling that I was the best on that field. And by a 12-year-old’s logic, I was the greatest in the world.
That day I won every race. That day I truly felt like a champion.
I have shared my personal story of total domination with several people during the course of the last 24 years, but it was not in a way that you may think reading this today.
I was not talking about how, like Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite, “if I had only gotten my chance” I could have been in the Olympics, or caught touchdown passes from Drew Brees in the NFL.
Whenever I have reflected on that day the conclusion has always been, “If only I hadn’t peaked so early.”
From there I went on to high school as a very active and athletic kid who, against that same level of competition mind you, did pretty well for a white kid from Yazoo County.
I played all the sports my little school offered because I had a lot of energy.
When I graduated I took a cheerleading scholarship to community college.
You may jab me for that, or make jokes, but let me tell you- being a male cheerleader was the most physically demanding activity in which I have ever participated.
Having lived my entire life as an over-average active being, I never considered what would happen next-- I graduated.
There were no more teams to try out for, there were no more mandatory practices or weight lifting sessions.
There was just me and my life that I was about to start and I decided to do... nothing.
Fifteen years removed from a built in requirement to stay healthy, I did nothing to keep myself up.
I’ve always had a tall and lean frame, but after nearly two decades of sitting behind a desk or riding from one sales call to the next, while drinking beer every weekend and eating whatever I wanted, this weird, unfamiliar growth appeared above my waistline that seemed to hinder my ability to effectively put on my socks.
One day I woke up in my mid thirties and realized I had become an old man.
I had chronic back pain, to the point that once I couldn’t walk for three days because I literally sat down on a couch too fast.
I was thrilled to go surfing for the first time in my life, but was so exhausted by the time that I paddled out to the waves that I didn’t even have the strength to even attempt to ride one.
As painfully sad as it all was, I had resigned myself to the fact that I was just past my prime.
Then, something happened.
I had to get active.
I’m sure that as you have read up to this point, you must be thinking to yourself, “This guy must be a professional writer or something.”
Alas, I am not.
For the past several years I have managed a construction company from the comfy confines of an office chair or truck seat.
I have spent month after month reviewing work completed by other men and submitting it for inspection, all from a safe and comfortable distance away behind a computer screen. All was well in my little world until, not too long ago, there was nobody else available to do the actual work of remodeling the houses. I was faced with the fact that if I didn’t go out and do it myself, it wasn’t going to get done.
God bless my wonderful wife who, aside from raising the kids with me away at work for weeks at a time, also has had to listen to me complain about my “aching back,” my “sore hands,” and my “early-onset arthritic knees,” or how I wasn’t gonna “be able to do anything around the house when I get home.”
She’s the real hero of this story.
But it’s true. I was hurting.
I really didn’t know if my frail 36-year-old body could handle it much longer.
Then, without me really noticing, things changed. My brain still wanted to tell me that I was aching, or make me contemplate if I could pull off riding in an electric scooter at Walmart, but my body felt better.
I noticed it a couple days ago when I leaned over to tie my shoe and didn’t groan.
It’s incredible! I feel like a brand new man.
Now, I’m not saying results are typical or that anybody at their particular station in life should drop what they are doing and start working construction, but I am saying this: do something.
If you are like me, you will hurt. You will be miserable for a while, but you will feel better than you have in years.
I certainly don’t want to jinx myself, but I think I want to get out there and do some of the things I did when I was younger.
In fact, I’m officially challenging all you sixth graders to a foot race.
Martin grew up in Yazoo County and has lived in Oak Grove since 2006. Married to Lorna, he is the proud father of two daughters, Molly, and Quinn. In his spare time, he enjoys pickin’ and grinnin’ with his musical cohorts, the Pine Belt Pickers.