Friday, April 1, 2011

April Fool

I have a solitaire card game app on my iPhone. It has about 50 different versions of solitaire, but I keep playing the same one over and over.
It's called "Scorpion" and it doesn't take long to play but it's really difficult to win. According to my game stats I've played 813 times and won 34 times. That means I've lost 779 times. That's a 4.2% winning percentage.
That's not very good. In fact it's pitiful, if I do say so myself.
Yet I keep coming back to try again.

What is it they say about the definition of insanity? Something about doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results?

But in this case, sometimes I do get a different result. I won 34 times.
It's those 34 wins that keep me coming back for more.
Because it feels really good on the rare occasion that I do win. I love the challenge of it. I love the sense of hope that I feel every time I start a new game. "Maybe this time I will win." I tell myself.

I used to play the same mind game with myself when I was bike racing.
I started racing when I was 16-years-old and kept at it for another 16 years, until a bad crash in a race prompted me to finally hang up my wheels and give it up for good at the age of 32.
My biggest claim to fame during my racing years was winning three silver medals in the Gay Games in 1994. But other than a few top 20's here and there my racing career was for the most part pretty unspectacular.

Despite all the effort I put into training, the same scene repeated itself every weekend. I'd drag myself out of bed at some god-awful hour (usually 4 am) and drive to some distant race, typically in NYC or out on Long Island somewhere. By 6 am I was lined up at the start, usually with 5 other women and about 30-50 men. The gun would go off and organized chaos would ensue. Racing in a pack of riders is all about fighting for and maintaining one's position. Riders are constantly streaming up along the edges of the pack moving to the front, and in doing so they push the riders in the center to the back. And once you're at the back all it takes is a little surge in speed in the pack, or the road tipping uphill and before you know it you've lost contact. One bike length become two then three then four and then you're left watching helplessly as the field crests the hill and is gone for good. A pack of rider always travels at a much faster speed than a single rider, and once you're dropped there's little chance of catching back on.

On flat roads I could hang with the men until the cows came home, but throw a hill in there and I would shoot out the back like a cannonball. The guys had a weight to strength ratio that I could not match, and the women who kept up with the men on the hills were typically natural climbers - they stood about 5 foot nothing and weighed 100 lbs soaking wet. In comparison, I was a natural sprinter. At 5'7" and 140 lbs I was a lean, mean, power machine on the flats, but my thunder thighs were not made for going up hills at a high rate of speed.

So my race days typically had me hanging in the field for 3 or 4 laps (about 15 miles) but before long I'd find myself drifting further and further towards the back...and then we'd hit the hill one more time and I'd come unhitched.
I'd spend the rest of the race riding alone trying not to get lapped by the field and pulled from the race.

This happened nearly every weekend.
Yet I kept hauling myself out of bed and lining up at the start line, because as difficult as it was, and as much as the odds were stacked against me, I never lost hope. "Maybe this time I will win." I'd tell myself.

I told myself this on a weekly basis and on a yearly basis.
In October the racing season would end, and on November 1st I'd begin training for "next year." I drew up training schedules, kept meticulous training diaries, and fully believed that "next year" would be different.

Every year, on the first Saturday in April, I'd find myself back on that start line. The sun wouldn't even be up yet and we were lucky if the temperature was above freezing, but I reveled in the difficulty of the task. I was hardcore. And hardcore people have what it takes to win.

And on at least three occasions, I did win. I felt the weight of the medals around my neck, basked in the glory of the applause, and taped my race numbers up on my bedroom wall as a reminder of my success.
That was enough to keep me going - to keep the hope alive.

Tomorrow is the first Saturday in April.
I will not be on the start line with all the crazy fools that continue to do what I once did. I've left that world behind.
Instead, I rise early on Sunday's and join the fools who stream into our houses of worship. On occasion, I'm lucky enough to be the one who steps into the pulpit, but even then I'm no different from everyone else gathered there.
We come because we have hope.
We come because no matter how many times life knocks us down we still make the effort to get back up again.
We come because no matter how many times we lose, we still think we have what it takes to win.
Because sometimes we do win.
We experience joy, peace, fulfillment, satisfaction, contentment, and connection.
And somehow it makes up for all those times we experience sadness, restlessness, emptiness, dissatisfaction, discontentment, and disconnection.

We are a resilient bunch, aren't we?
I'm convinced that God built a HOPE gene into our DNA.
Otherwise we would have given up the fight long ago.
Without hope we would all just curl up in our beds, hit the snooze alarm, and not even bother getting up and getting out on that start line.
I've been there as well.
More times then I care to admit.
But thankfully, eventually, hope won out and I found the strength to get up and continue on.

Here's to April fools.
The crazy folks who actually believe that life is worth living, despite the pain, pitfalls, and disappointments.
Here's to hope.
Thank you, God. That was a good one.

Glory Days 
Cresting a hill on Staten Island

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