Friday, July 4, 2008

Why do I compete? ....

... because it feels so good when I stop. That's what I concluded today, my last day at Nationals, talking with my fellow adult competitors. I mean, is it really worth a week of sleep deprivation? (I've woken up earlier than planned every day this week, and I can't get back to sleep with my brain obsessing over past or future performances.) Is it really worth a week of upset stomach and nervous digestive system? (I'll spare you the gory details, but I had to force myself to eat this morning. I never have that problem.) Is athletic glory really worth it?

Well, I'm not sure. But after I finished competing this morning, I was the proud possessor of two bronze medals, as well as a rejuvenated appetite. I feel pretty good about it. I thought I performed my form about as well as I could; it didn't score as high as I'd hoped, but I still earned a medal, coming in third out of four competitors. Some of the kids on my team were in divisions with 20 or even 30 other competitors, so they weren't as fortunate. They all have a great attitude, and the team as a whole had a great tournament. A couple of golds, three silvers, and a over half a dozen bronzes, all coming back to Michigan. I'll be glad to be home, with some nice souvenirs to remember my week here in Madison.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The House of the Seven Gables: The Official Haiku Review

After struggling through Moby Dick's 700 whale-detail-filled pages, it was a pleasant change of pace to open up Nathaniel Hawthorne's 300-page romance. (Strangely enough, it was published the same year, 1851, as Melville's epic, which he dedicated to Hawthorne "in token of my admiration for his genius.") So here is my Official Haiku Review:

Suits not the New World's temper
Love is the best wealth

Granted, there were some places where Hawthorne's prose approached the lavender, if not downright purple. But this story, which on the surface is about a New England family cursed by an ancestor's greedy land grab, really explores the American temperament of the mid-1800s. Were we to be a country where family wealth or prestige (for good or ill) predetermined the course of our lives? Or were we to truly embrace the brave American experiment, where "all men are created equal" and an individual could achieve his own destiny through hard work and determination? It is clear where Hawthorne stands on the matter. That he explores these questions through a story which involves mystery and romance made it all the more fun to read. It may not be a grand epic, but I'm glad I included it in my summer Remedial Lit Project. I think next I shall tackle another American writer I overlooked, JF Cooper, and see if he breaks the tie.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

You win some, you lose some ... TKD edition

So, I've had my first day of competition at the AAU Taekwondo Nationals. It's a huge event, with some 1500 competitors over six days, and I'll admit I was pretty nervous before competition started this morning. I was scheduled to appear at staging for sparring at 8:23 am, which sounds awfully early but since we're in Madison it was really more like 9:23 am (or that's what I tried to tell my body, anyway). The worst part about going into sparring competition is worrying about the bracket: how many people will be there? how many matches could I have to fight? will they really be the same age and size (they reserve the right to combine divisions, after all)? will my body hold out?

Things looked good at first. My division was only three people, and I was scheduled to receive the bye, which automatically put me in the gold-medal round. Only one fight, I thought. I can do that. So we were led out to our ring, where we proceeded to wait. And wait. And wait. They started a group that was staged after us, while we continued to wait. And then they decided to combine another division into ours, which meant I had an opponent in the semi-final round. That would mean two fights to get a gold medal. Hmmm. So, a tougher row to hoe. My new opponent was older than me (not by a lot), a lower rank than me (although there's not really a big difference between new 2nd degree and a 1st degree), and lighter than me. However, she was also taller than me, and looked fitter overall. I thought I had a good chance to beat her. I had been training pretty hard, after all.

Fighting for two two-minute rounds doesn't sound that hard, does it? Well, don't believe that until you've tried it. The first minute is pretty easy, but then you start to get tired. You're trying to throw kicks, and they don't always connect. You have to move out of the way of your opponent's kicks. My opponent was pretty quick, and scored a few kicks on me. I managed to score a head shot (which is two points).

I think this photo is early in the second round (I'm on the right, in the blue corner). I was only down by two points, and she scored a kick on me but then I got another head shot. Unfortunately, that is when my asthma really started dragging me down. I had taken my wheezer (inhaler) when we first arrived at the ring, since it takes 20 minutes to work. But we didn't fight for at least another hour and a half. I didn't want to take another puff (taking too much can make your heart race), because I couldn't be sure it had worn off. Maybe it did, maybe it didn't. In any case, I ran out of gas and couldn't make up the diffference. You win some, you lose some.

After all, even though I lost my only fight, I still ended up with a bronze medal. Other fighters in bigger divisions don't get that consolation. Although I wish I could have performed better, I still feel great about sticking with the training and actually going up for competition. I don't know that I'll try it again—I'm in the upper end of my age division, 35-44, and there's a big difference between mid-30s and mid-40s. But at least I gave it a shot. And if you had told me when I was a klutzy teenager that someday I would be a National Medalist, I wouldn't have believed you.

Oh, and on Friday I get another chance to compete for gold, in forms. So here's to persistence and good luck.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Photo of the Week--6/23/08

Our first major trip after relocating to London took place in January 1999. My parents brought my grandmother over for a visit—thus proving you're never too old to try new things, for at age 80, this was her first trip to Europe. We then headed over to Italy and started exploring the lovely city of Florence (or Firenze, as the locals call it). This is the city of Michelangelo's David, and it was filled with architectural marvels. The Ponte Vecchio, the Uffizi, many beautiful Piazzas, and of course the marvel that is the Duomo. This cathedral, covered in green and pink marble, was lovely from every angle. But I particularly liked this shot, looking up from the ground, for the quality of the light and the clarity of the sky.