When I was a child in elementary school, I had dreams of becoming a great athlete, of winning the 100-yard dash, of stealing a basketball from an opposing player and rushing down the court to slam dunk a basketball before a crowd of cheering fans, of hitting game-winning home runs.
But, alas, it was not to be. When God passed out athletic skills — you know things like speed, agility, coordination, the ability to throw a 90 mph fastball, etc. — all I can figure is I must have been complaining about my nose.
I was not born to be an athlete. I’m slow, naturally clumsy with no detectable natural abilities that would benefit me in any sport. Because of my farm work, I was stronger than most of my classmates, but I was considered too small by most coaches. (In high school, I actually tried to get my weight up to 200 in hopes of playing football, but despite all my efforts, I could never top 185 and weighed only 160 when I graduated from high school. I mention this only because I now seem unable to get my weight down to 200 pounds. Dream on, old man.)
At the same time I was discovering my woeful lack of talent in athletics, I was learning I had talents in other areas. For example, I don’t like to brag, but I was the best speller in my fifth-grade class and once spelled down five other young spellers from the other fifth-grade class to almost single-handedly win the spelling title for my class.
But what boy wants to be known as the best speller in his class? Certainly not me. I would have gladly traded my spelling skills for the ability to hit a curve ball. But it was not to be. In fact, none of my so-called talents impressed me.
However, now that I am approaching birthday No. 65, I am glad I was given talents useless in sports.
Most of my friends who were great athletes and who I most envied as a teen have seen their athletic skills decline over the years. Oh, they may be able to play a little golf and bowl a decent game, but their fastball disappeared long ago and the only foot race they can win is when they run against other old men.
Like my athletic friends, I also cannot run as fast as I once did, but one of the best things about always being one of the slowest runners is no one notices when you begin to lose a step.
The same thing can be said about my natural clumsiness. I am still a klutz, but no more so than I was 40 years ago. And a lifetime of experience has taught me how to fall down without injuring myself.
While the great athletes have lost most of their skills, I can still write and I am still a good speller.
On my 40th birthday, I complained to my wife I could no longer go deep in the hole at shortstop and throw out a speedy runner at first base.
“John, you couldn’t do that at 20, so what are you complaining about?” my wife replied.
I realized she was right and most of the things I could do well, I still could do, just not as often.
So when I turn 65 in a couple of months, I plan to keep on doing what I have done for the last 40 years or so. I am thinking about retirement in a year or so, but it is not because I can shut off my brain and take it easy. It is so I can set my own hours.
JOHN CANNON can be reached at (606) 326-2649.