A friend and I got into a discussion after reading a very interesting couple of articles from a blogger named, Johnny B. Truant. They were about living life to its fullest and making sure your future self doesn’t regret wasting the past few years of your life. His writing was in no way clichéd or preachy. It was thought provoking. It was true. It was honest. It was the type that makes you step back, observe your own life and say, “Is this who I am? Is this where I want to be?” My friend, who is a Community Manager for the website, Chime.In, then posed the question to his community, “When have you felt the most alive?” He asked me to add my response, but I knew that my long winded response would just flood out everyone else’s and most people would end up ignoring the Chime due to the overzealous guy who thought EVERYONE should hear what he has to say. Since, I didn’t want to be “that guy”, and since I was feeling so inspired, I figured would dust off the old blog and add an entry here.
I feel a little embarrassed to say that my moment of feeling most alive is related to sports. And not a varsity or collegiate sport… an intramural sport. And not just any intramural sport… dodgeball. Let me explain. Freshman year at UC Irvine, I have formed a tightly knit group of friends among my dorm mates. The annual freshman dodgeball tournament comes around, and we are all ecstatic to support our dorm. Our team is fairly athletic, and we easily win our first few games.
Fast forward to our semifinal game against the only other team with a real chance at spoiling our title run. Nearly 70% of our dorm (entirely speculation) has shown up to support us, which is surprisingly high considering typical participation in dorm events is usually much lower. The match is best of three rounds and takes place on the community basketball court. Each team in separated by the half court line and players who are eliminated are sent to the opposing base line. They are allowed to continue throwing but only from said base line.
Round 1, we look good. I’m talking Purple Cobras good. Their last player gets knocked out and we still have 7 of our original 25 players on the court, myself included. Not only are our opponents still upset from losing to us in the basketball tournament a couple months before, but they’re also not used to getting dominated. Things get heated. Smack talk is exchanged as both teams switch sides.
Round 2, they start playing dirty. I get stuck in a clump of teammates early on and we get easily disposed of with one ball. A couple of unfortunate players on our side get pegged in the head, which is illegal. Smack talk ensues and the refs do nothing to calm the situation. Each team is down to about 3 or 4 players. As an opposing player gets knocked out, he walks off the court, finds a loose ball and chucks it at one of my remaining teammates. He isn’t expecting it and the ball hits him straight in the testicles. He is staggered for a second and there is a pause in the game. Everyone knows that he was hit illegally. Our teammates complain to the refs that there should be some sort of repercussion for this. The ref ignores what happened and as our remaining three players argue with him, two are pegged. The ref calls them out and tells them to leave the court. Our last player stays in, half paying attention, half arguing to the ref. He gets eliminated and everyone swarms the ref for some answers. Both teams argue their side, but the ref will not change the call. The other team begins taunting our players and light shoving occurs. Everyone separates and we switch sides to begin the next round.
Round 3, tensions are high. Both teams are pissed and I start playing like a man possessed. Nothing can hit me, and anything that is close enough to actually hit me gets caught. I didn’t keep a count of how many people I eliminated, but it had to have been in the double digits. On more than one occasion, I dive to the floor to narrowly avoid being hit. As much as I feel like we are winning, more and more of my teammates keep getting knocked out. It ends up being two on six, with us on the losing end. My teammate and I fight valiantly, taking out three of their players one by one. After I eliminate one of them I turn around only to see a ball barreling towards my head. It’s too late to dodge. I jump and the rocket flies into my chest. I attempt to grab it, but it has too much on it. Luckily, I am able to redirect it enough for it to bounce straight in the air. I carefully secure it, avoiding elimination. I look to the goon fraternity jock that threw it and give him the slyest smirk in the history of all smirks, as if to say, “Yeah, that just happened.”
My teammate gets knocked out soon after and I am left with a two man disadvantage. I have one ball, an opponent has the other. I dodge his attempt and counter with my own. One down. I get a ball back and chuck it at an opponent’s chest. He tries to side step, but the ball grazes his sweater. Two down. Both teams are at one a piece and each side has a ball. We both want to take quality shots, but in such a way that our teammates retain possession. One wrong throw could lose the game. Each side picks their best sidelined thrower. The other team picks the goon and the dance begins. One player throws, their side fetches. Their side throws, the player blocks it from reaching the opponent’s side. After one of my attempts is dodged, the ball lands at the feet of one of the LEAST athletic people from our dorm, appropriately named, Big Mike. Instead of tossing the ball to our designated sideline thrower and continuing our strategy, Mike tries to be the hero and chucks the ball “at” the opponent. I use quotation marks because the ball literally went 45 degrees from the direction he was aiming. The other team retrieves the wild throw and a collective groan is heard from our sideline.
I am now stuck ball-less in the center of my half. Dashing back and forth to avoid getting pinned down by the two throwers on either side of me. They are laughing, toying with me. I run from sideline to sideline in hopes that one of them throws wild. I know that eventually they will both be in a good enough position that I will not be able to see both balls coming, and the game will be over. My only shot is to force them to make a move. Hope that one person pulls the trigger too early and that I am able to avoid them both. So, I run across and stop dead in the middle. I turn my back to their remaining player and face the goon on the base line. I completely ignore the player to my back and just keep my feet planted. The move confuses both of them. I can only assume their player on the court looked to the goon with the ball as to say, “Wait, should I go now?” The goon puts up his hands as to say, “You going or what, Bro?” He loses patience and begins his big wind up. I take a large step to my right, hoping to blindly avoid the player’s shot behind me. I don’t see any balls go by. The goon finally unleashes the hardest throw he can manage, aimed straight at my shins. I must have channeled my newly found DDR skills, because I split my legs as if to score the two sideways arrows with perfect timing. The ball flies cleanly between my legs and I turn to see when the next ball is coming. Since I completely ignored him for a few seconds, the thrower assumes I am an easy target and carefully shoves the ball at me with both hands. I jump out of the way, nearly falling on my face as the ball rolls by me pathetically. I recover and am able to retrieve the ball before it crosses the base line, and, in a matter of seconds, their two ball advantage becomes our two ball advantage. Being hyped up on adrenaline from avoiding almost certain elimination, I can’t wait until my team is ready for a double team. I charge their player and wind up for the knockout punch. But instead of throwing my hardest, I give it the meanest curve I possibly can and aim straight for his core. He tries to step aside and avoid it, but the ball is locked onto him. It curves straight into him and grazes his hip. The ref calls him out and we win the game. My dorm mates elatedly rush the court and chant our dorm name in triumph. Our opponents drop their humbled heads as they quietly walk home in shame.
That last five minutes of that game will stay with me forever. Not just the feeling of victory, but the feeling of heavy pressure and nervousness. The feeling of overcoming overwhelming odds. The feeling of accomplishment from being put into a tight situation, formulating a strategy under time constraints, and successfully seeing that plan through to completion.
That is the last time that I remember feeling alive. Like I was not just going through the motions. Not just trying to do what was supposed to be done next in life. Maybe it’s a cop out for me to pick a sports story. Maybe it was just the recognition or even the attention. Not in a reality TV kind of way, but in a Noble Peace Prize kind of way. But maybe that’s what makes me truly feel like I am living for something worth living for. Maybe I revel in the fact that my efforts are appreciated, and that what I do is worth acknowledging. Or maybe I just miss being passionate enough about something to want (or have) to share it with the world. Yeah. I think I like that last one.