Vexations and Conundrums

By Katina Pontikes

Olympian Envy

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What a wonderful diversion from the plague! The worldwide Olympic Games are in session, after a one-year delay due to Covid-19.  The focus isn’t on illness (though there have been Covid cases at the games), but on exceptional health and physical ability. 

The sports performers are at the top of the scale of perfection.  Rippled muscles, flat stomachs and beautiful biceps are everywhere.  In a Hollywood touch, there are lash extensions, multi-colored ornate hairstyles and bright lipstick on the women, and some men sport unusual braids and tattoos with fancy footwear. I suppose they want to appear telegenic in order to gain endorsement contracts.  I consider my underarms, a bit dangly these days, and search for my three-pound dumbbells, a starter effort at self-improvement.

My husband is fond of track and field. He ran track in high school and reminisces of his days of training and competition. He is impressed with how much faster athletes are able to complete their distances now. Every year they set new records. He tells me that they have new training regimens, new shoes, new diets and coaching adaptations. My husband is invigorated by all this movement and he walks the house rapidly and goes on outside excursions too. He returns perspiring and invigorated, yet somehow newly stimulated.

As he watched the weight-lifting events, he casually picked up his eight-pound hand weights and did rigorous exercises to build his biceps and strengthen his triceps and deltoids. The Olympics offer tremendous motivation. Young people across the globe need to watch these spectacles to get them off of their devices and moving.

I am spellbound by the gymnastics competition where participants twirl through the air, flipping and twisting before they land and stick perfectly. I practiced a very elementary form of these exercises when I was young. I was exceptionally flexible and could do backbends, front limbers and splits.  My mother drove me out of state to meet with a respected coach who was going to teach me aerial maneuvers (no hand to ground contact). The elderly, white-haired woman yielded a stick and was stern in her direction. In a no-nonsense tone she informed me, “If you can do a limber, you can do it without using your arms!” My recollection was that she tapped her stick to my knees and ordered me to go into the air. I visualized the move and the inherent risks should I land on my head. I refused. Three times. I was relegated to the parents’ seating area where I had to explain to my mother why I would never be a great air performer. 

Another interesting thing I have witnessed in all the events is the emotion the athletes exhibit. Runners fall uninhibitedly to the ground, flailing and moaning at the finish line. One runner ripped his shirt open at the chest exuberantly when he posted a world record. Volleyball players touch each other supportively after each play, whether they win the point or lose it. Tears are the norm, and I am so relieved that they are not stifled as they so often are in everyday life.

Emotional displays can be healthy, as these athletes face tremendous stress in the Olympic competitions.  There was a high drama situation which underscored the psychological aspect of competing at this highest level. Simone Biles, the USA gymnast, pulled out of several competitions because she was not mentally on track to do her maneuvers. Her action caused controversy and gossip, but she came back in at the end to win a medal.

I have watched all of this excitement, deeply aware that I can hardly squat down anymore without straining to get back up. I’ve developed some arthritis in my hips, so forget doing any fancy moves, as I may end up on the floor, helpless, not celebrating my physical prowess. Perhaps, having watched in awe all day, I will have a nocturnal subconscious viewing of myself taking to the air in a smooth summersault I never executed in my youth. In my dreams…


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