Lost Among Europeans

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This sporting life

Last Wednesday, a couple of my colleagues from the office were trying to recruit people to play football (they call it soccer) for their team, as they were short. A few of them had tried to get me interested before, so this time I offered to play with them, on the understanding that I’m no good. It was fun. I hadn’t played football in many many years. After the game, we all stayed for a couple of drinks, chatting and watching other teams play. A fine way to spend an evening.

In my last year in New York, my friend Mike and I got Bear Stearns to sponsor a basketball team, and we played in a league. It was nice, of course, but it got a bit competitive, and a lot of the people in the team didn’t know each other, or come together as a team. Still, I made a few friends, had a couple of good games, and got some exercise. Shortly after the end of the basketball league, Helen told me she had started frequenting a running group, and encouraged me join her sometime. Helen had decided, on her birthday, that she needed to achieve things, and had set for herself the goal of running a marathon. Since her running team met a few blocks from my apartment, I decided to go along once or twice. The first couple of times were nothing special. I would try to help Helen a bit, and I liked having a physical activity programmed for Tuesdays. Then, a group of people started showing up regularly, and getting to know each other, and as time went by, we started to go for drinks after our runs, and to become friends. It made a great difference in my last months in New York.

I’ve been running regularly as of late, so I can run with the team when I visit New York in less than two weeks. On Thursdays, I run with a group of people. They’re nice, but are more focused on running than I am. For me, it’s just a game.

I think I’ve been involved in sports almost all the time since age eleven. First it was an obsession with basketball, then the swimming team, then a basketball team with my friends, then the rugby team for a couple of years, then back to the basketball team, then hiking trips.

I remember, when taking exams of English language, like the Trinity College and the Cambridge Proficiency, that for listening or reading comprehension, there was always some essay about sport “building character”. To me that always sounded, and still sounds, like nonsense.

I don’t know if I have learned lessons from sport, and I don’t know if it has built my character. Sports, for me, and especially team sports, are about the pleasure of physical exertion, and friendship. Enjoying sports has gained me friends, given me a certain identity, and allowed me to cross social boundaries. Who cares what effect it has on character and cholesterol?