Whether to continue with activities from your past or whether to put them behind you, so as to free yourself to be better able to move on into the future with less nostalgic clutter? This is a question we all face as we age and one that is much accelerated with ALS. There is no formula for a single right answer, of course. I had been committed to continuing the sports that I had become rather good at well into old age but ALS quickly makes a farce of the idea that you are actually capable or competitive. Old age will make a farce of that too, but with aging, I was taking my friends along with me and was mentally swapping in new competitors that I could tangle with, while giving a nod to, and no longer worrying about, the ones that were getting beyond me. This was my plan, at least, as I was only contemplating the beginning of this trajectory before my disease set in.
What I think I have learned is that it is fine and dandy to continue a sport that one is declining at. The key is that you must occasionally reinvent it for yourself, making new and different models in your head as to what it is, what you are and what you are striving for. I find this a tall order but it eventually, sometimes, comes.
What precipitated this story was a recent orienteering competition that my wife and I had gone to. Orienteering is a sport that I was in the top level of, having competed in competitions across the country over many decades.
Team ‘FreiPers’ (that’s consists of my wife, Mary Piper and I) enjoyed the The Saint Louis Orienteering Club sprint race at Jefferson Barracks Park this Wednesday. Mary drove the “team” wheelchair around the course, dropping me as close to the control as possible, while she navigated the rest of the way there, punched, then returned to drive the team bus farther down the course. We worked well together and cleaned up in the wheelchair division. I couldn’t ask for a better partner.
The sport of orienteering was invented in Sweden not long before the second world war. Major Ernst Killander, of Copenhagen, developed it as a training exercise to teach their military precise and rapid land navigation, using topographical maps. The skills were famously put to good use by Norwegian commandos on a clandestine mission that blew up the Nazi nuclear program’s heavy water plant, during the war. This was the subject of the 1965 movie “The Heroes of Telemark“. The sport involves disappearing into the woods with a topographical map and a compass, and finding a series of checkpoints as quickly as possible. Due to it’s solitary nature, it is not for everyone, but it can be great fun and has a tight knit following. It is very big throughout Europe.