I Grew Up In The Backyard
An excerpt from A Life Derailed: My Journey with ALS
I grew up in the backyard, on the sidewalks, streets, and driveways, and in the half-dozen parcels of woods that made up the neighborhood. My brother and I, and the handful of kids close by, grew up under each other’s supervision, mostly outside. We rode bikes and built tree forts (three that I can think of); we played basketball in the driveway and roller hockey in the street; we spent winters walking with sleds to hills in the woods known only to kids. We made up and adapted games, from “poor golf ” to “tree ball” and “0-2” to playing ping-pong with cardboard cake-round paddles on an unhinged door in the basement. We built an ice rink with full-size plywood boards and made our own goals, many of us learning to skate in the process. We spent every spare moment—throughout the spring, summer, and fall, during the day and under the lights, in the heat and in the cold—playing game after game of Wiffle ball at “Dumont Diamond” in my backyard.
I never thought of any of it as exercise. When other kids would say they liked to “hang out with friends” on the weekends, I was confused, unsure what that meant. But what did you do? I’d think to myself. The kids in the neighborhood, from across the street and a few blocks away, were always in motion.
It’s what we did and became who we were. As I made my way through high school and college, and the neighborhood’s activities and characters were gradually left behind, I found new interests among new friends. In my brother’s footsteps, I took up cross-country skiing; we went running and hiked mountains, always with speed and ease, like we’d done it before. In college, I started downhill skiing, going on canoe and camping trips, playing pickup basketball, and walking, biking, and rollerblading all over town. Early in my post-college career, I added more golf and spent my winter weekends at the mountain.
Almost all of the people I spent time with, throughout each of the phases of my life, I met through sports. I never thought to ask what we had in common; I never had to. Though my life was always full of more questions than answers, I never needed to wonder who I was or what I liked in the world of athletics and competition.
Through the difficult times in my life—whether sad, or lonely, or stressed—physical activity was always there. When I needed to clear my head or feel the satisfying, familiar sense of accomplishment, I instinctively knew where to turn. When I began to lose that pillar of my life, I did the only thing I could: I fought to keep it.