I'm old now. I just had my seventy-fifth birthday. I have grandsons that are athletes. Sitting around on a snowy Saturday, my mind went back to when I tried my hand at athletic endeavors.
To be completely honest, I was never hugely successful. Sports that required hand eye coordination were not my strong point. As a lad, rowing on my college crew was probably my best sport. But as most boys do, I tried my hand at baseball, a complete failure, football, tackle position suited my meager talents, shot put, forget it.
I was a pretty good swimmer. I enjoyed free diving, no SCUBA, and spear fishing. That is where I first found the "zone". One fine summer day I was diving at Pt. Judith, RI. I dove down to the twenty-five foot bottom and lingered waiting for a nice plump gray chin tautog to come along. I looked up and realized that while I had been down on the bottom for a considerable time, others were not able to dive deep enough to join me. I was in the zone. It is a remarkable experience.
My next experience with the zone was while I was recovering from back surgery. My doctor suggested that I find a pool and swim laps as part of my recovery regimen. While I was a good swimmer, my style left something to be desired. My swimming was roughly akin to a snowplow after a blizzard. There was no subtlety in my technique. Needless to say, I did not cut the water like a knife.
One evening I went to the pool. At the end of my usual ten laps where often, I could barely breath, I was breathing fine. I felt like I could go on forever. Once again, I was in the zone.
Later in life, around my fiftieth birthday, some sadistic friends got me interested in bicycling. They were doing a hundred mile run in the Fall of that year. I was older than them and I had just taken up cycling. That did not prevent them from busting my chops. While they were planning to do the full century, they, in a moment of kindness, suggested that maybe, being an older type, I might make a half century, fifty miles.
There was an organized rest break at the fifty mile point. I did not think that I could get back on my bike. But I did. I went into the zone. It got me to mile ninety-five. I peddled those last five miles. I don't remember any of it until I rode into the parking lot at the finish. My first year cycling I did the full century. Almost half of it in the zone. That was the only way I could have made it.
That was my last experience going into a place beyond. I think most endurance athletes go there at some point. In retrospect it is a marvelous experience that should be experienced by all. It taught me that there is something in me that, in time of need, I can tap into. Something that makes me better than I am.