Stopping sport was easy, getting started again is the hard part

SMH.  Portrait of Peter FitzSimons for a cover story about how much weight he has lost.  Pic by Nic Walker.  Photographed at his house in Neutral Bay.  Date 22nd December 2015.

SMH. Portrait of Peter FitzSimons for a cover story about how much weight he has lost. Pic by Nic Walker. Photographed at his house in Neutral Bay. Date 22nd December 2015.

Back in the day, see, at the Herald we used to have Greg Growden doing rugby; the late, great Mike Cockerill doing the soccer; Louise Evans leading the athletics coverage; Phil Wilkins on the cricket round; Mick Cowley being Mr Basketball, Heather Smith covering netball while my own round was "Me, My Life, and What I Think About Things".

Yes, successive sports editors over the decades have tried to broaden my repertoire so I could write about, you know, other people, and other things, but, just this once, as the current sports editor isn't looking, can I return to the old days?

See, my experience in terms of sport is probably typical of hundreds of thousands of Australian males who are now 20 and 30 years on from their prime. While we pursued our sports like mad things in our 20s, there came a day when we gave it away, and for many of us, it was like turning off a tap. From being obsessed with it for 10 years and more, and having it fill our lives, suddenly, NOTHING.

In my case, after playing my last rugby match for Sydney Uni in September 1992, my chief pleasure the following season was not merely not training. No, what I really liked doing was sitting in my car on a cold, wet, Tuesday night, in a spot overlooking Sydney Uni No.1 Oval, and putting the heater on, while smoking, having a beer and eating packets of chips. All while watching my old mates doing scrum training in the stinking mud!

Mercifully, the madness of smoking didn't last more than a few years, but it would be well over 20 years on, and starting from a position 30 kilograms heavier, that I completely kicked the drinking and lessened the chips. As previously discussed, that was the best thing ever for my health, but it seemed anything along the lines of seriously competitive sport was destined to be no more than a distant memory.

And then, a couple of years ago, a mate insisted I go to the local gym with him for a session with his trainer. I hated every minute of it. But as it was only 30 minutes, it was manageable. I was convinced to go back again and before I knew it I was "hooked". That is, where if you don't go to the gym on any given day, you feel like a miserable slug. Somehow, even though well into my 50s, that drive for intense physical activity was there, as was - and this is what really amazed me - a fair chunk of my one-time physical strength. Yup, even after all those chips, all those durries, all those bottles of wine, somewhere inside me - just as I suspect a lot of it is still inside hundreds of thousands of blokes, and women, my age - it was still substantially intact. To my amazement, it was even possible to get involved in intense competition again!

See, a few months back I started to get interested in those indoor rowing machines I had previously sneered at - a sneer that came in part, I guess, because I had never rowed seriously. But then, I started measuring how many metres I could row in 60 seconds; how long it took me to row 500 metres, or 2000 metres, and found out I was competitive with others my age!

Who knew? Not me.

As I think I might have mentioned in my Saturday Fitz Files column once or twice - OK, OK, OK, 13 times - a couple of months ago, your humble correspondent even became the NSW indoor rowing champion for the 60-second "rip" - punching out a distance of 345 metres. Since doubling my training, I have taken it up to 369 metres in 60 seconds. On Sunday, live on Channel Nine's Sports Sunday, seeing as you ask, I am going to go after the national over-55 record for the 500 metres, which is now one minute 26.5 seconds. I am going to SMASH that record, and you heard it here first!

And of course not just in rowing, but in so many other sports, there is this whole world of competitive sport for specific age groups that goes on, of which I had no previous idea.

So, my advice to those who thought their days of competitive sport were a long way behind them, because they have been so long retired? Go back to it. Find the masters version of either the sport you used to be in, or, a totally new one, and give it a go!

I only give others my age, fair warning: when I do have a go at that record on Sunday, it will be after months of serious training and after having my heart fully checked with an MRI scan, to make sure I am up to the task I am setting it. Please see your doctor, if pain persists.

But, win, lose or draw, the revelation for me is how, just because the days grow cold and we grow old, we needn't get the slipper out, just yet.

So get out of my way you slow-pokes up ahead: I AM COMING THROUGH!

Twitter: @Peter_Fitz

This story Stopping sport was easy, getting started again is the hard part first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.