For the first few birthdays, I took the advice as an impatient adolescent, focusing more on how much more awesome life would be when I finally turned 15... 16...18..., etc. The words seemed almost like a broken record from a nostalgic elder seeking to live vicariously through his son. Needless to say, they were scarcely heeded, and my idyllic pastime became wishing the days away until the next big change.
When I turned seventeen, the words took on a different meaning. The prior year had been spent playing every sport I could cram into my high school schedule. I played soccer on the JV and Varsity team, practicing every evening. On the weekends, I took to the 5k courses, racing on absolutely no training. When winter came around, I played basketball for the twelfth year of my life. The spring was then filled with cold rainy track meets until the sweatshop conditions of early May in Jefferson City. The summer after resembled an anachronistic version of the Lebron James' decision.
After a 4:22 mile off of 15 miles a week of training, my coach laid out the road map of my possible futures. Either I give up playing soccer and basketball, the sports I'd played and loved since I was able to walk, or stay on those teams and forfeit any chance of becoming an exceptional runner from the state of Missouri. Although in the following years there would be moments when I looked back on that day as the worst decision of my life, I truly can't say I made the wrong choice. It was the subsequent soccer-less fall that I first glimpsed the true weight of my dad's words. I miss the hell out of that sport.
As I turned nineteen, the words had fully sunk in. Even with a few full scholarship offers to D1 running programs, there was a distinct hole forming in my heart. A list was beginning to form around the things I'd never experience again. The fast-pace full court presses, the swivel hips into a cruyff... Even the long bus trips with the six guys I'd spent nearly the entire past two years training with were all just memories lost in the past. But, there was another direction to turn. Looking forward, the world seemed full of opportunities and promise, and the words were once again lost to the back of my mind.
At twenty-one, all the opportunities that once seemed so tangible were beyond unreachable. At this point in my life, the words became more of a cruel taunt than a memento mori, as I wanted nothing else than for the weeks and months to fly by to a time when I was healthy again. Countless times, I snapped at my dad when he reminded me how awesome it was that I had made it, and things would soon get better. Although his prediction eventually proved true, the stubborn, depressed young man I was refused to believe anything resembling optimism.
The year snapped past, and my plate of responsibilities piled high. At twenty-two I was tasked with two 18 hour semesters of high-level engineering classes coupled with unrelenting 80 mile weeks, all on top of mandatory twenty hour weeks working in a research lab on campus. As a senior in my last days of college, I'd finally reached the age where the words echoed in my head nearly every day. However, the nonstop workload constantly drove me to my breaking point. I found myself praying for the days where I no longer had to do so much work. Relaying that sentiment to my dad resulted in an incredulous response. He couldn't believe that someone who had such a gift would wish for the day he no longer had to use it. Yet from my perspective, he just couldn't fathom how much of a burden it seemed to carry. But still he'd persist, echoing the need to appreciate the time I had left.
Crossing the finish-line in Austin last May brought such a wave of relief over my tortured and tattered body. I'd be lying if I told you I ran more than 5 miles total in the next three months. And damn it felt good. As my friends continued to frequent the streets of Columbia, my fat ass ate cupcakes and played video games like my life depended on it. But now, nine months and twenty pounds after that race, I would give anything to go back and relive some of those days.
Nearly every day I fantasize about my past. The word "nostalgia" doesn't even begin to explain how I feel. And not just for running. I wish I could be on the field again with Coach Cooksey and the All Saints boys. I wish I could toe the line in that red FZS uniform and smile as I looked left and right at my competition. Hell, I even want to go back to being an actor in the Young Performer's Theater!! If given the chance, I'd slap some make-up on, pull up my bright green tights and sing higher than any man should if it gave me the chance to relive some of my past. "From now until you're 25 are the best days of your life." Where did those days go?
That was my mindset about two weeks ago, with my future undecided deep in the mid-Missouri winter blues. I missed my family and friends, and the fun I had before I became a sellout zombie staring at a computer screen 40+ hours a week. I was convinced that a weekend trip home was the best medication to get me through February, my aforementioned month of Mondays. Yet strangely, the ideal view of going back home was far from accurate. Ya, I had fun seeing a friend and hanging with my family, but it definitely wasn't the answer to my problems.
Now sitting with my former Mizzou teammates, bashing on the new crop of freshman and grilling up our weekly meal, I feel more at peace with the past being forever unattainable. The experiences I've had and the friends I've made don't have to be lost in my mind. And as Phil grows his army to take the crown with ten victory points in Nerds of Catan, I can't help but laugh as I tell them what I'm typing.
"Are you writing your thesis," says the Dicker-man.
"Haha good one. I'm actually blogging."
"You have a blog?? What do you write about?"
"Well, I used to write about running, and now I write about how much my life sucks without it."
I couldn't even finish that statement without laughing my ass off. It seems so ridiculous when I actually reflect on what I'm doing. So what started as a nostalgic day has turned into a retrospective look at why life will always be exciting. Although I'm knocking on the door of 25, officially ending the "best days of my life," there's no reason the coming years won't be full of great experiences and fun moments. For now I'll stick to being the wise old man on the team and expressing myself in blog form for any poor suckers who decide to read my word vomit. To all of you at my house tonight and everyone else reading this: take my dad's advice to heart. I can personally tell you that he's right; especially in the latter part of his chant.