The first time I played kayak water polo, I was 58.
Jacki, an active, innovative friend, had just purchased a fleet of kayaks for a teen club. So since she had them anyway, why not invite one and all to play once a week at an indoor pool? Having been a paddler of one sort or another all my life--I mean since I was, like, two years old--I bit.
The thing that caught my eye my first time was a woman about sixty years old who was ferocious. I decided on the spot that "if she could do it...." She only played a couple games more before she left town, but I was hooked. It was also encouraging that there were as many women playing as men, and the women were mostly better at it. I like sports that are inclusive.
I may have been hooked, but I wasn't all that good. Sure, I could paddle fast. And yes, I knew how to maneuver and outmaneuver. But polo is as much about the ball as the boat. I had a lousy arm, bad aim, and no sense of strategy. In a game where the second greatest joy, besides scoring a goal, is to push someone out of their boat, I had to adjust my pacifist tendencies.
I'm a lefty, and about the time I started getting better at all this, my right elbow and my left shoulder began to hurt so badly that I could barely paddle or throw the ball ten feet without deep pain, but for some reason I didn't think either of those were relevant. Still, I finally went to an orthopedist. My wife would probably point out that I waited until the polo season was over before I went to the doctor, but I prefer to see that as coincidence.
I have now been playing three years. Exercises at home cured the pains, and practice has made me a formidable competitor. That's not the word others would use, but I'm the one writing this blog. I can smile broadly while dumping the smallest child out of his boat. I can adapt to rules as they are made up or broken. I can score sometimes. I can ram and scram with the dexterity of a teenager. That's not the word a teenager would use, but I'm the one writing this blog.
Yesterday I played my last game before leaving town. It was raucous and anarchistic, which are words any observer would have used. In a fit of brand new 2013 delirium we tackled players who didn't have the ball, refused to give up the ball even when we were out of our boats, held on to each others' boats and refused to let go. I scored the last goal of the game standing in the water about half a pool away from my boat, which normally wouldn't have counted, but it did this time. At the end, we said goodbye to each other, and cried. Who would ever have guessed that I would have forged such special friendships with so wide a variety of people playing a sport that I only started at 58 years of age.
We are not too old to start something new. At fifty plus, we have the tools and components to invent our next self in ways that will surprise us. The process may be slower than it used to, but things we have done before will suddenly pop up and speed our learning curve.
The first thing I ever want to say when someone invites me to try something new is, "Sure, I'll give it a whirl." If they think I can do it, who am I to say I can't?
Here's the best part: the older I get, the more likely it is that someone will say, "He's pretty good for his age." The lower the expectations, the easier it becomes to exceed them.