I am not what you would call an athletic person.
I rarely play sports. The most involved I get with anything that requires me to stretch and exercise my muscles would be running, which I only do when it rains, I’m late for work, or if I’ve eaten too much curry and the men’s room is a considerable distance.
Even then I don’t run that often. So it came as no surprise that I almost had a seizure playing badminton the other night.
OK, “seizure” is a bit much. But it sure felt wrong. When your sweat transforms your t-shirt into cling wrap and you’re gasping for air like someone sealed you in a giant ziplock bag, something is amiss, no?
I must admit, I strolled onto the court feeling fairly confident. I mean, come on, it’s badminton – how hard can it be? You just hit the shuttlecock back and forth until it falls to the floor, gets stuck in the net, or smacks you in the face because you thought you could hit it with a fancy forward swing but, you thought wrong.
Look, ice hockey it is not. The thing is, a sport is a sport and at some point will require you to do the unthinkable, like move your arms, bend your knees, or explain that sweat in your eyes always messes with your contact lenses. I was hoping there wouldn’t be much of that, like perhaps I could hit incoming shuttlecocks with sheer mind power instead of actually having to use a racket, imagination, and some ol’ fashioned human strength.
I played my friend, a big-framed Finnish software developer who looks like Philip Seymour Hoffman except that instead of starring in Oscar-quality films he makes world-class software for a living.
He’s the kind of guy who, when thinking, frowns hard and tucks his chin firmly between his thumb and index finger. He speaks with a sophisticated European drawl and regularly dispenses professorially profound observations on technology and theology, his twin passions, while peering over steel-rimmed glasses and sipping obscenely strong coffee.
He’s also something of an expert at badminton (as far as I could tell anyway) and approached the game with such stoic calculation, such efficient, self-assured Finnishness, I felt I was playing a James Bond villain who kills his enemies by making them sweat to death on court (“Do you expect me to lose?” “No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!”)
He basically stood in one place, effortlessly returning my volleys, while all I could do was scramble to and fro to pick up flaming shuttlecocks before they melted through the floor.
At one point, after stooping for the nth time to retrieve a smoldering projectile, I stretched, recalibrated my spine, and let out a parched sigh that reverberated throughout the court like an unholy echo from the bowels of hell. I then turned to my friend to see him sniff. That’s right, he sniffed. No cracking of the neck, no wiping of the brow with his forearm. He wasn’t even sweating. He just sniffed and stared at me, waiting for my serve.
Needless to say, I lost the game. We didn’t actually score it but from the way I dragged my sorry backside off the floor (and the way my friend stayed on to play a few more games in quick succession), I knew who the better man was.
May I give a few suggestions to anyone like me whose gut is the size of an American football, has zero legs muscles, and thinks he can totally kill at a round of badminton when all he’s ever mastered is Scrabble?
Learn how to perform CPR on yourself.
And it helps to play someone just as clueless at sports as you are. If your opponent is calm, extremely intelligent, and grew up in a country that feeds this to their kids, steer clear.
Now if I can just learn how to breathe without swallowing my tongue, things might be better next match.