Coach's Corner

While contemplating his inability to do a pull-up, Coach comes to appreciate the beauty of the Tour de France and Tiger Woods' steady brilliance.

"Okay, sir," said the young guy in the black shorts, "do one pull-up." This was my first personal training session. I was, quite frankly, insulted. Who did this ex-Marine or whatever think he was talking to? I may have passed my fifth decade, but I'm in good shape, or so I imagined. Can't this guy see, I'm thinking, a neurotic exercise fanatic when one's standing in front of him? I run, play tennis on 100-degree days, and walk any golf course I can. This young pup calls himself a professional?

I'd been waiting for the Powerhouse Gym to open for the last year, and now, on my first day, I'm thinking I made a mistake. I glanced at Tom the Trainer with a mix of contempt and pity. "One pull-up," I said with typical overdramatic incredulity, "I can do five ... at least!" Five seemed, to me, a reasonable number. I clearly recall the 18 pull-ups I did the last time I tried. Tom raised his eyebrows, glancing up from what I would soon learn was his omnipresent clipboard of torture. With a tone of barely suppressed sarcasm he said, "Really. Wow, that's super. Let's see."

He steps back from the chinning bar and with an expansive, chivalrous sweep of his right arm, indicates the bar is mine. Shaking my head at this guy's sorry-ass miscalculation, I walk over and with a quick, spry hop, launch myself up at the bar. Within whatever time segments are possible within a second I knew; perhaps I'd overstated my case. Regardless, I'm committed and up I go. With an expenditure of energy that even Vince Lombardi would acknowledge as total, I shake, strain, huff, and blow my way to maybe half-way up to one pull-up.

Totally humiliated, I drop to the ground with as much dignity as possible under the circumstances, telling the smug trainer I'm going to try again. Once again, with cat-like agility, I project myself skyward. Though I strain and squirm, I never move from the dead hanging position.

I'd never been more genuinely surprised in my life. What in the name of Dunkin' Donuts had happened to me? As I sputtered and stammered, the all-knowing personal trainer gently nodded his head. "When, exactly, did you do these 18 pull-ups?" Well, that's easy, I'm thinking, it was just yesterday. I remember the little park with the pull-up bars; I remember challenging my friend David Weinberg to a pull-up contest. "Well, shit," I began, "it was just ..." I started peeling back the years -- 38 of 'em. "Okay, Mr. Cotton [Mr. being a sure signal you're no kid], I guess we can start now."

That was two months ago. After many sadistically painful weightlifting sessions, my pull-up total is up to one and a half. I'm writing this from a hotel room overlooking a lush garden, with the gentle roll of the Pacific Ocean audible in the backround. I haven't done so much as a push-up in a week. I feel guilty. Most of all I fear our session later in the week. The hotel has some barbells. This afternoon, I promise myself, I'm going to do a couple of drop-sets for Tom the Trainer.

I've been aware of only two sporting events during a week of blessedly comfortable beach vacation: the British Open and the Tour de France. My wife Kelly, I've come to understand, is a cycling fanatic to a degree unknown to me. Each day at 4:30pm PST, we had to be back at the house for ESPN2's daily Tour wrap-up. Even shopping expeditions were curtailed (or never begun) if any possibility whatsoever existed that she wouldn't be sitting in front of the TV at 4:30. So it was that three other adults and two teenagers became quite wrapped up in a bike race. (Which, speaking for myself, I'd have thought impossible.) Kelly revealed herself to be quite an expert on the terms, strategies, and tactics of team cycling, not to mention the life and times of Lance Armstrong. She explained what a peleton was, how teams worked within said peleton, how drafting worked, who were the sprinters and the mountain climbers, what team was what color, and why this Pantani guy wearing pink was called Il Elephantino.

The British Open appeared, from the start, dull. It seems that without awful, foul weather, those Scottish courses are just too easy for the modern pro. These courses are so old there's nothing left to toughen them up. With no weather drama, the Old Course looked bad on television, like a burned-out cow pasture. Fairways and greens on the treeless, featureless moor were indistinguishable from each other. Then I read a story in the L.A. Times by one J.A. Adande. I might have been missing the woods (sorry) for the trees. Adande's Sunday lead went like this: "It's time to be awed by the onslaught, to recognize the mastery in the mundane." And he's right. An athlete barely old enough to vote has sapped all the drama out of golf's major championships, reducing them to museum exhibits. Tiger's so dominant, it's no fun to watch. He's turned all of the aspects of golf -- short game, sand game, driving, wedges, irons (short and long) -- into something resembling a Lee Trevino trick shot exhibition.

Some day soon we'll be reading stories headlined, "Can golf survive Tiger?"No

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