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April 16, 2012

The Old Boys

We were standing around in a circle, sweating, waiting for leg muscles to start seizing up. "Who are we gonna lift?" Had this been asked ten, even five years ago, no one present would've given it much thought. But like Tennyson's Ulysses, we were not once we what we were, and the thought of two guys having to lift a third gave everyone reason to pause.

In rugby, when the ball goes out of bounds (or "into touch"), a line-out occurs. The team who didn't take the ball out of bounds gets to throw it in; both teams get to vie for possession. It looks a bit like this:



So somebody had to get lifted. The two "smallest" guys were Josh and I; Josh was the scrumhalf, so he was out. "Looks like it's you," one of the guys said. "Oh fuck that," I replied. I was a back - we run and score, avoiding the stupid stuff the forwards do, like scrums and getting lifted up in the air by a couple of guys in their forties, creaky and winded with age. 

Not that I wasn't. Four weeks into training for an upcoming tournment, and I was still praying for Death's sweet embrace at the end of every practice. The routine was the same: 45 minutes of tag rugby (no tackling, but no breaks, either; the touch game is pretty much non-stop running), then 45 minutes of tackling drills or full-contact scrimmaging. So far I'd managed to avoid any serious injuries. The right knee was my biggest concern; my brief rugby career had been derailed some six years ago, when I stepped into a hole during a practice and my knee went one way while the rest of me tried to go another. In addition to two practice sessions a week, I'd been hitting the weights and the track. My knee was fine. Everything else hurt, and constantly.

And I shouldn't have been the one to complain. After all, the whole thing was my idea. About a week into Lucas' most recent season, I suggested to my fellow coaches - all guys with kids my age, or older - that we get together and play, just for fun. Then I remembered that the Catalina Rugby Festival was in May. This was strictly an Old Boys' tourney, for semi-retired guys like myself to get together, play rugby, and (of course) drink beer on beautiful Catalina island. I realized that not only did I want to show the kid that the old man still had some gas left in the tank, I missed playing. Rather, I still felt cheated by Fate and that knee. How dull it is to pause, to make an end, to rust unburnished, not to shine in use! I took things a step further, suggested that we put together a team, my fellow coaches enthusiastically agreed, and so here we were.

Kevin, the big forward from Oceanside, gave us instructions. He would be one of the lifters, Shaun - an big former college rower who'd never played rugby before - would be the other. "Grab him by the shorts. He'll call it off - one, small step to the left, two, get ready, three, lift him up. When you do, move together - that'll help steady us and if someone runs into us it'll make it less likely that we drop him." (Wait, what?) Kevin looked at me. "Keep your feet together, like you're diving into the pool. That way you don't kick us in the head or the chest. When you're in the air" (really wish he didn't put it that way) "lean in - you know the ball has to go down the center, so you're gonna want to go after it." I nodded. 

We assumed the formation. I was going over the routine in my head. "One!" This was nuts. I'm 43 in six weeks, playing a game that wears out guys half my age. Lean in, get the ball, get it to the scrumhalf. "Two!" Run fast, tackle hard, think about how you feel right now - banged up, yes, but younger than you have in years. Seek. Strive. Find. Never yield. "Three!"


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