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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

Off the Grid: New sports defer the aging process

By Ammi Midstokke For The Spokesman-Review

As we age, I notice some of our peers taking up new sports. They aren’t just dirtbag climbers or ski bums all year, waiting tables in the shoulder seasons or purchasing new mountain bikes as part of a midlife crisis. They do things that require storing equipment in a garage, which requires they don’t actually live in that garage.

While I pedal my bike and wear out my running shoes, I’ve been strategizing which new sport might hold the appropriate social status for us. Not necessarily when we play, but when we subtly brag about it at a wine-tasting fundraiser perhaps. Or a sailboat show. Anyway, I read that learning new things keep us young.

We might not have to actually play or do the thing at all. I think it counts if we just store the accessories in our garage, which is already storing a number of athletic endeavors we claim but seldom partake in, from a dart board to crash pads to kettlebells. And a vintage weight set that has only been lifted when moving house.

Considering which new activity we wanted to invest ourselves in was challenging. The term “pickle ball” came up a lot, but I’ve only heard people over 65 or the occasional early-retiree claim this sport, so we don’t qualify yet.

Golf seemed another viable option, with the added benefit of requiring a significant amount of spending on equipment and new shoes, the latter making it a front-runner for me. Then I remembered that I played golf once and dropped an obscenity in earshot of my grandmother and had to drink one of her Bartles & James afterward to calm down. Out of 8,000 swings, I made contact with the ball approximately three times.

I’m saving Pilates for when I become a snowbird in my retirement. I took salsa lessons once and couldn’t get over counting my steps. Sailing is too dangerous (because I’ll try to move onto a boat and head to Fiji).

Also, it should be a couples thing. We’ve been married for two years now and we’re running out of ways to spend quality time together. While making tacos is an inexhaustible source of joy and bonding, we’re not sure it contributes to our longevity the way a new sport would.

So for our anniversary, I booked us private tennis lessons. Benefits: At least some new equipment for the garage and those cute little outfits. Disadvantages: I couldn’t hit a ball to save my life, no matter how big you make the racket.

When I was born, a number of decades ago, my eyes were so crossed the church folk gave my parents money because they thought I was intellectually disabled. For the better part of a year, both eyes were in a steady lock toward the tip of my nose. They decided to operate when I started walking – mostly into walls. I had a pirate patch for a while, and now I just have a wonky eye and the inability to tell how far away things are.

I pour drinks onto the counter. I trip going down stairs. If there is a dark spot in flooring, I stumble around it. I scare the life out of my husband when he rides passenger. And playing ball sports mostly ends with me getting a black eye – or swearing at my granny.

So far, I just run back and forth at balls my husband lobs across the court. It reminds me of when I’m cleaning up after the kids or something. As soon as I’ve picked up the art supplies on this table, I sprint across the house to get a glass of that sill. Apparently, I’ve been training my whole life for tennis.

I swat at the air like someone having hallucinations. The ball is inevitably yards in front of or yards behind me. Sometime I run after the ball as if I am going to overtake it like a “Looney Tunes” cartoon and casually tap it back.

Most important, and I hear this is key to being a good tennis player, I grunt and holler a lot as I flail about the court. It brings legitimacy to my efforts.

I thought it was all going swimmingly well. I’m a runner – I’ll chase balls for 50 miles if I have to. Unfortunately, shuffling along the forest floor is not the same as trying to sprint across a court. “Sprint” is a loose term. I’m rather like getting a rhinoceros up to full speed, which explains the shape of my knees.

When I woke up the next morning, the error in my optimism was clear. It took me 5 minutes and a lot of legitimacy-groaning to get down the stairs. Maybe I am ready for that Pilates class. Or we could just skip straight to joining a backgammon club. Whoever coined the term “aging gracefully” did not play tennis, of that I am sure.

Ammi Midstokke can be contacted at

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