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FROM FIRST AND SPRING

Needing to Know but Dreading the Answer

An Editor's Note

July 09, 2006|Rick Wartzman

Unlike many of those whose stories are told in this Forever Young Issue, I am deathly afraid of both needle and knife. So I've tried to defy aging the old-fashioned way: by sweating and staying fit.

When I turned 30, I added to my morning routine a regimen of push-ups and sit-ups. Over the years, I've supplemented that with regular trips to the Pilates studio and, at least a couple of times a week, a three-mile run. And then there's the most fabulous form of exercise of all, as important for my head as it is for my gut: my basketball game on Sundays.

It's worked too. Week in and week out, I've stretched and strained, keeping my weight down and my spirits up. That is, until about a month ago.

That's when I drove to the hoop, jumped, floated the ball over the rim--and crumpled to the ground. Pain shot through my left leg. As I lay there, writhing and screaming things unsuitable for publication in a family newspaper, I saw that my knee had popped out and was perched a good three or four inches from its usual position.

The official emergency room diagnosis was a dislocated patella. But countless friends and colleagues, who looked at the big brace I was wearing and asked what had happened, offered their own analysis, sometimes barely containing their glee: Aren't you getting a little old for that?

On my first visit to the doctor, I couldn't even bring myself to ask. Had I been delusional to think that, at 41, I could keep up with a bunch of twentysomethings? Would this spell the end of full-court basketball for me?

Feeling depressed and scared of what the doctor would say, I instead sought out somebody I knew would be encouraging: Julian Myers, an 88-year-old Hollywood publicist who finished the Los Angeles Marathon in March in about 14 hours--shaving nearly three hours off his 2005 performance.

I explained to Myers how I dreaded the prospect of not playing again. His response was just what I needed to hear: "Never stop."

Myers, who already is making plans to run 90 miles to San Diego County over eight or nine days to celebrate his 90th birthday, predicted that I'd be hooping it up again before long, though he hinted that I may now need to recognize my limitations, to play within myself. "Part of becoming mature--really mature--is knowing how to protect what you've got," he says.

Thus buoyed, but still unsure, I decided to finally hit the issue head on. During my next visit to the orthopedic surgeon, Robert Audell, I took a deep breath and put it out there: "When it comes to basketball, doc, am I done? Am I just getting too old?"

Audell smiled. "Actually," he told me, "this particular injury is more common in younger patients." After physical therapy, he added, I should be good to go.

I've never felt more joyful. I wanted to leap off the examining table and do the happy dance. But my knee hurt.

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