Monday, July 5, 2010

Remember that thing?

Do you remember that toy, that was like a ball, but it had a platform on it, and you stood on the platform and squeezed the bouncy top half of the ball between your feet, and boinged up and down?

We were talking about this at work today. I had to share with you all the magic of Google (and also in the process show why I am a super surfer, and the pre-eminent chooser of search keywords):

First hit. Amazing! I present to you, Pogo Ball:

I had blisters in between my feet for months from overuse of this thing. I don't think it was particularly physically strenuous, but I couldn't seem to leave it alone.

Thinking back on  toys of that era, there was also the infamous skip-it... the slip-n-slide... the invention of the super soaker... Why does it seem like all the fun things to do back then required getting up, and moving around, usually outdoors? Whereas now we have PS3. And...what else? the iPhone. What do kids play with nowadays? Facebook? Are toys outdated?

I'm reading a book about running (Born to Run), and the book describes a tribe of people in Mexico who have had ultra distance running (100+ miles at a time, some up to 400 miles straight) in their blood for centuries: the Tarahumara. They are absolutely fascinating. Even in tribes, they live miles apart, preferring privacy. They live in canyons and on cliffsides, in homes carved into the mountains. Subscribing to the theory that the best way to avoid conflict is to run, and run fast, they have taken care to criss cross their home territories with trails and encampments that are nearly invisible to the human eye, running pell-mell down steep ravines that others would go down with a rope, and up again. They hunt by running their prey to exhaustion. They run with simple thong sandals, without carb loading, without gel packs, without stretching or doing any tapering or training at all, and routinely run 50+ miles at a time (this sort of sounds like the Dos Equis man commercials but it's all completely true). Their principle entertainment is a game that is basically a marathon version of soccer, kicking a small ball for hundreds of miles in two teams. They will take off for a run with no planning or forethought- just with the sandals on their feet, and no fear, and a soft and easy confidence in the self to be able to run out of or through any problems that may come up.

In the book, one of the men influenced by the Tarahumara (a running coach for elite Olympic level athletes) makes an interesting connection: many of the greatest runners of all time are described as compassionate, loving, joyful. They run because they love to. Not because they are trying to get fit, or lose weight, or win. They run because it is something that is in their souls that brings them enjoyment. I'm not quite able to grasp this completely, because I have only ever thought of running as a complete chore, but I can understand this idea. If you are putting your time into something for the wrong reasons, you will not excel. In order to win, you have to not want to win. And that attitude, that desire to simply participate and revel in an activity, to truly love it for what it is-- whether it be a prerequisite or a byproduct, that attitude seems to propagate and infiltrate a person's very being.

So, you look around at our society today. We have gone from slip-n-sliding down choice hills, enthralled by the feeling of wet grass under our feet and plastic slipping smoothly under our bellies (small rocks underneath notwithstanding) to cloistered in dark rooms with plastic controllers that make our thumbs sore, and moving images on a screen where we are always competing for a higher score, a win, a... what?


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