One of the many reasons I love synagogue is because even in my 40s, congregants still call me “young man.”
After my Army Physical Fitness Test last week, I don’t feel like a young man. In what is becoming increasingly common for me, I struggled with and actually failed the 2-mile run. I have good days and bad days. When I run the distance in my workouts, I can muster 15+ minute times. Other days I’m lucky if I clear 17 minutes. Friday, I struggled to hit 19.
It wasn’t like my muscles ached or I couldn’t breathe. It was literally the overwhelming pain in my knees. They hurt all the time. Two years ago, I learned that my arches were completely savaged by years of jumping and road marching, and this is contributing to my knee pain as those tendons pull my patella to the inside of my leg as I walk or run. After physical therapy and stretches, along with orthopedic inserts, things have improved, but there’s still the matter of sometimes debilitating arthritis.
I never was on solid ground with my knees. My dad’s knees kept him out of Vietnam, and I’ve had intermittent, but undiagnosed issues with them over the years, especially after an injury I incurred early on as a paratrooper. My military service is drawing to a close, and I work in a staff position, so it’s not as crucial I be a high physical performer as it once was. But the toll has been taken. I was always driven, whether earning my Expert Infantryman Badge, or being honor graduate from Air Assault school…I pushed myself hard early and often in my military career, and we pay for it. So when I received my counseling statement for the APFT failure, I accepted my tongue lashing for my subpar performance, but I also realized my best physical days are now behind me when it comes to Army Physical Fitness. I feel pretty good that I’ve held it together as long as I have. Only that much longer to go.
Aside from the transient aches of day to day living in the woods, or the lingering remnants of military service, I do lead a remarkably pain-free life. I am struggling to reconcile with these new limitations. I liked running. I love hiking. One of my goals, post-military, is another series of thru-hikes, perhaps even the Triple Crown. 20-30 days, the kind I used to do, seem like a pipe dream now.
I guess this is what aging is. You build up a reservoir of wisdom, only to be hobbled by the ravages of time and experience. You have the learning to take on the world, and you fall asleep unexpectedly in your easy chair. I’m hoping for another 30-40 years at least on this orb, and it terrifies me to see myself becoming less and less capable.
I know freeing myself from the physical expectations of the service will help. Always in the back of my mind when I am working out is, “2 mile run time.” During my breaks in service, it was lovely how exercise could just be about health and well-being.
I got my hopes up when this octogenarian flip-flop hiked the Appalachian Trail recently. Saw him wearing a Korean Veteran hat. As it turned out, he was an “era” veteran and not a war veteran, and his honorable service didn’t include beating his body up.
I worry about the future. I just published my book, “The Kosher Backpacker,” and we have an Appalachian Trail Guide application specifically for Jewish hikers coming out for the 2019 season. Am I going to be in the shape to go do this myself, when I finally have the time?