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Ankle Weights

March 8, 2023

13 of 40

It was the summer of 1970, and I was the slowest human amid those trying to be fast. I was also weak among the strong. But more, I was meek in a place of aggression.

But I was alone after years where being with my family was more dangerous. I could see myself, versus fear the room. For reasons unclear I was sent away, and then even less clear, football was a new room.

And I failed. The speed I did not know I lacked was disastrously present on hot August afternoons the year before. The fear was even more debilitating.

So I bought 5lb. ankle weights, black vinyl bags filled with lead shot, with Velcro straps. They sat at the side of my bed for two years, or were in my gym locker, the other waking hours that I was not at an athletic practice they were on my ankles.

“The word” is that ankle weights are not good for you. Perhaps this is true for athletic performance, or even health, but they, and my effort, were all I had. After a summer of running, biking, and being in them I was no longer the worst failure on the field. I was fully failing, but a few were, now, “the worst”.

Knowing nothing, the ankle weights were with me the next two years. They saw me be one of the better triers of passion. The ankle weights died their best death: I was busting it around the angled, elevated, curved bed track above the Downtown Buffalo YMCA basketball court, and pushing into sprint at the end of 20 minutes, one bag on my ankle simply exploded, and a shower of tiny lead shot flew across the track. Which I, laughing, swept up.

They finally failed, but I had not.

I bought those bags of lead, or rather my mother gave me the money to buy them, but it wasn’t the weights, or the protein shakes, or even the screaming coaches that made me not need them. And it certainly was not some justified reward for effort.

No, it was what I had been given. The ankle weights were but the human attempt to define myself. That self was always there, God given, but the bags of lead were all I had. The two years that I wore them were a blind reach.

I just wanted to get better, and all I could do was work.

I had no clue that God was there, but I knew I was not alone, living alone wherever I was. Once fear left as the metronome of a young life, I might see that. Like these mornings pumping on a bike, allowing the rest of me to listen.

A wounded deer leaps highest,
I’ve heard the hunter tell;
‘T is but the ecstasy of death,
And then the brake is still.

The smitten rock that gushes,
The trampled steel that springs;
A cheek is always redder
Just where the hectic stings!

Mirth is the mail of anguish,
In which it cautions arm,
Lest anybody spy the blood
And “You’re hurt” exclaim!

—Emily Dickinson

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