Still in the game
BY DEAN CLARKE
I spent my childhood with a ball at my feet and a racquet in my hands. After school, I would play soccer with my mates at the park or in the backyard against the dog with our house as the goals.
Most days, my mum would tell me not to kick the ball against the house. I never listened. In my teens, I discovered squash and learnt to play against a mate’s dad who would give eight points start in a first to nine points game.
Through my 20s, it was nothing to play two soccer games every Saturday afternoon. Then life changed with marriage and career and relocation, so the soccer ball went flat from non-use. I joined a squash club, and, by this time, I was giving points starts to others.
With my children, my priorities shifted and while no longer a carefree 20-something, in my 30s, my wife Vicki taught me the benefits of playing the game. I had an active role running the local Salvo activities, and, like most jobs, that came with pressures and stresses. Most weeks, I got away for an hour and smashed a little black ball around the court. I would come off feeling tired but satisfied and would then enjoy conversation with my competition.
Although my problems hadn’t changed, I felt able to face them after playing. When I didn’t play, Vicki would say, “You need to go and have a game of squash!” She experienced my coping better with life and being a nicer person to live with when I exercised. Something happened in me when I got myself moving.
Hitting my 40s saw more changes as kids grew and time became more precious. My game changed from squash to touch footy, and as the teenagers sprinted past me to score, I began to seriously confront the reality that I couldn’t play like I used to. By this time, I had learned the benefits of activity and adjusted my competitive expectations.
The next generation
As I fast approach the end of my 50s, I am back on the court. Squash has become racquetball, which means longer rallies and more running. I love the game, and the game is treating me well.
With age comes some maturing awareness, and I know that I am not only fitter but healthier all round because I play. Getting older means I don’t play as quick as I have. I take longer to recover and must be intentional with warm-ups. Some nights I limp in, and Vicki laughs and asks, “What did you injure this time?” But I can still beat a few young guys. And I am inspired by guys well into their 60s who can beat me.
As I move into my 60s, I hope to be still playing the game – being active for the benefit of my health, my relationships, and my influence. Forty years ago, an older man cared enough to teach me the game and talk to me. Over the decades, I have played many people and taught a number the game as well. We play, and we talk on the court and off. I have had lots of conversations about work, marriage, family and faith. Our conversations are often like Proverbs chapter 27, verse 17: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”
As a young boy swinging a stick to hit a ball, I never imagined myself being old and playing racquetball. But now, I imagine myself older and still in the game because it is good for my physical, mental and relational health. And maybe I can also find a kid like me to teach him the game and talk about life.
MAJOR DEAN CLARKE IS A SALVATION ARMY OFFICER IN SOUTH AUSTRALIA.