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The aging athlete is a pitiful thing in America, especially when their glory days are more a matter of our own conjecture than any pen-and-ink record of accomplishment. Yes, I am guilty, and so what? I was a better-than-average high school baseball player and a terribly reluctant and, therefore, less-than-average high school football player. But since I have qualified for the Senior Discount at Burger King, I have tried to maintain some semblance of athleticism.
I have been a runner for more than 40 years, and today I run 15 or more miles a week. In addition, I stretch three days a week to work the core muscles, and I play to a respectable 16 handicap in golf when the weather permits. I rarely feel any twinges or strains after I am finished with any of it. However, there is one activity that can be considered athletic only at the periphery, but it is the most arduous test that a normally sane person can subject himself to during the calendar year.
I am writing about it today, because Sunday I rode in the Bacchus parade, one of the signature events around Carnival (aka Mardi Gras) in New Orleans. My muscles, bones and head remind me this morning that riding in a parade is the single most grueling physical activity of my year.
Don't get me wrong. I enjoy it, along with about a thousand of my closest friends – including my brother, Jerry – most of whom consider riding in Bacchus less an athletic activity than an escape from hum-drum reality. Still, it is not a physical activity that you leave at the ballpark, or, in this case, on the float.
The morning after the parade a rider feels like he spent much of the parade being run over by the float. It must be similar to how college basketball referee John Gaffney felt Sunday morning.
The day before, Gaffney officiated the Marquette-DePaul game on Saturday afternoon and then was summoned to do the Louisville at Notre Dame game Saturday night after the northeastern storm canceled a scheduled official's flight.
Two-a-days are tough enough, but the second game went into five overtimes before the Irish won. Normally, I do not empathize with officials, but today I feel Gaffney's pain.
Float riding has other similarities to athletic performance. Like the best-laid schemes of an NFL offensive coordinator, float riders must determine how many beads to buy in order to satisfy the hungry crowd's appeal to "throw me something, mistah!"
Estimate a throw every 6 to 8 seconds, a float rider will toss at least 1,500 beads, stuffed animals, bracelets, miniature footballs or specialty items during a 4-hour parade. Considering that in an average baseball game, each team sees around 120 pitches, a float rider throws the equivalent of 12 or more complete games over the course of a parade.
We are just talking numbers and not intensity, although tossing a strand of beads onto a balcony or into the last row of revelers 15 to 20 deep can be as taxing as breaking off a hard slider on a 3-and-2 pitch.
Arm fatigue is not the only residue from a ride. Unless you are a professional shrimper, you probably are not accustomed to keeping your balance for 4 hours on a pitching and rolling deck.
That is exactly the sensation a float rider experiences. Planting your feet firmly, then adjusting for quick starts, turns or stops puts pressure on the lower back and legs that will have the rider begging for an Advil smoothie.
So, if you will excuse me, I am retiring to the couch for the remainder of this rainy Monday, where I will do nothing more than spend the rest of the day watching NCIS reruns. No screamers begging for throws. Only Leroy Jethro Gibbs and company investigating wrongs and saving the free world.
I wonder how Gibbs would handle riding in a Bacchus parade?
Jim Miller, a native of Simpsonville, is a former journalist, pro football and college sports executive who lives in New Orleans. His book, Where The Water Kept Rising, about the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the city, the University of New Orleans and his life, is available at www.amazon.com.