Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Even now, Sports teaches us lessons


It's been said many times that you don't know what you got until it's gone. I've realized that more than ever these last two weeks.

Self-isolation, social distancing -- no problem. I'm an introvert, a loner, I've been practicing for those things my whole life, but usually I'm watching sports while I'm doing it.

It's also been said many times that sports teaches us life lessons and that is still the case even as the COVID-19 pandemic has cut sports out of the world.

Ever since I can remember I've been a sports fan. Even when I was 4 or 5 I knew every member of the Washington Redskins and all their stats (at least that's what I've been told). Yes, I was a Redskins' fan when I was younger (I didn't know any better back then).

I like to think that sports is the love of my life. Sports has meant so much to my life, but even as recently as this past fall there were times when I stopped watching. I went the entire month of October without watching a single college or pro football game. There are times when I get burned out and need to take a break.

Of course, even then I still have high school football to cover and watch. There's never a time when sports hasn't been a part of my life in some way or another. I've wondered before what life would be like without sports and now, unfortunately, we are all finding out.

There's no question it's been tough as I'm sure it has been for many. With too much time on my hands I've found myself thinking about the past. I've watched videos of past games and matches on YouTube. This way I control what games from the past I can watch.

Watching the reruns many memories came back to me and the passion and excitement I had for the games. Somewhere along the way, I've lost some of that passion and I'm taking this time away from sports to recapture it.

I realize that I'm so blessed to be able to do what I do for a living and the way my life has been connected by sports.

Some of the videos that I have been watching have been of my beloved New York Yankees. The good times and the bad.

I can still remember watching live and seeing Mariano Rivera give up the walk-off hit by Luis Gonzalez to lose Game 7 of the 2001 World Series to the Arizona Diamondbacks. I was at work and can remember throwing my hat clear across the floor in anger.

I can also remember watching the Yankees come back from 2-0 down to beat the Atlanta Braves in the 1996 World Series. The joy of doing that for the first time since the 70's was amazing.

Some of the videos I've been watching have been of (my favorite athlete of all-time) lJennifer Capriati tennis matches. Some might know that I was a Maria Sharapova fan, but before there was Maria there was Jennifer.

I can remember skipping class in college just so I could watch her matches (maybe that explains why I didn't do so well in college). I can remember that feeling, that knot in my stomach before a big match.

I can remember the shock and sadness I felt when the news broke that she had been arrested for drugs in 1994. I can also remember crying and the joy I felt as she won her first grand slam title eight years later. To me her story is still the greatest comeback story ever.

It was yet another example of how sports teaches us lessons, especially about overcoming adversity.

The point is I had so many emotions because I was so invested and so passionate about it.

Then there's Duke Basketball, more importantly Duke Women's Basketball. I have been a DWB fan since the late 90's when they beat Tennessee and went to the National Championship game.

Again, I have been so invested in the program and I've seen highs and lows, joy and sorrow. That's just what makes sports -- sports.

I was there in 2006 for the Final Four when DWB beat LSU in the semis. Many of the players were staying on the same floor in the same hotel as me (I promise I bribed no one). I can still remember hearing the excitement, the pure joy they had after winning in the semis. The yelling in the hallways.

Two days later, after a heartbreaking overtime loss to Maryland, the hallway was very different. I can remember players in the hallway crying and I thought to myself how different the emotions can be from one outcome to the next. As the saying goes, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.

In the end it's sports being sports and that's why we love them so much. The players moved on and they learned from the loss, yet another life lesson from sports.

My job has given so much joy and I've learned so much more about sports. I consider myself to have the greatest job in the world, because my job is sports.

I've been so fortunate to have been at so many big events whether through the job or personally. I've been to Daytona International Speedway races twice. I've covered other NASCAR races, covered the NFL, MLB, several professional tennis tournaments, professional golf tournaments, Virginia basketball and football, Virginia Tech basketball and football.

I've been lucky enough to talk to many superstar athletes such as Tiger Woods, Roger Federer, Andre Agassi, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and many others.

Then there's high school sports. For the last 25 years I've been lucky enough to cover high school sports in the area. I've seen state championship teams, even some that had dynasties, teams that came up a little short in the most heartbreaking of ways, teams that did not have good records, teams that had average records.

But the reality is the wins and losses have never been important -- it's those lessons that are learned. It's the passion and excitement that we have for the games. It's giving everything you got and knowing that you tried your best -- win or lose. It's finding out that you could do more than you thought and overcoming any adversity that life throws at you.

My heart breaks for all the seniors who lost their spring season to the COVID-19 pandemic. I know it's tough, but I also know that they will find their way and overcome this adversity just like our country and the world will.

One of the highlights of these last few weeks has been taking part in my league's fantasy baseball draft. For the first time in 18 years, I'm in a fantasy league that started in The Northern Virginia Daily's offices. It started in 1989 in the NVD conference room and this will be the 31st year for it. I was in it for three years from 2000-2002.

The members are either former NVD sports staff or freelance writers or kids of former NVD writers and three doctors. The draft was safe and we took all the necessary precautions. It was nice to get away for a little bit and talk sports and not think about COVID-19. We said a prayer before the draft and to me the best part was getting together with friends and sharing in a common bond during a tough time. Sports brought us together just like to does so often even in the tough times.

I know there's a dark cloud hanging over the world right now. However, just remember that two or three months out of your life isn't really that long. We will make it through, just like sports has taught us in the past. We will overcome this adversity.

Sports will be back. When it comes back we should all remember this time and how it felt without sports. Don't take it for granted like I have in the past. If you get to play enjoy every second. If you like to watch enjoy the moments and remember that at any time it is possible to lose sports again. Remember to appreciate every moment that you have. Yet another lesson that sports has taught me.

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