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Sometimes Less Is Best

For the past few months, I’ve had the pleasure of writing about some truly amazing women. So you can imagine my surprise when the good folks at Title Nine suggested that the next customer I profile should be me. “What?” I exclaimed, “there’s nothing special about me.” “Precisely,” my T9 contact said with a smile. And I knew exactly what she meant. She wasn’t being rude. Quite the contrary, in fact. What she was getting at is this: Whether we’re stay-at-home moms or single working gals, elite athletes or weekend warriors, lifelong sports enthusiasts or fledgling fitness fanatics, we share a common bond—through a desire to challenge and improve ourselves athletically, we better ourselves as a whole. In that regard, we’re all special. And if we scratch beneath the surface, there’s a compelling tale—maybe of struggle and accomplishment, dedication and transformation, or sacrifice and renewal—just waiting to be told about each and every one of us. This time around, I’ll endeavor to share mine.

My name is Amy Thomas Buscaglia. I am a 38-year-old full-time mother, part-time freelance writer, and frequent volunteer. As a determined athlete, a devoted coach, and an avid fan, sports are a central part of my life. First and foremost, I’m a runner. My second love is tennis. I exercise because it makes me feel good. I also enjoy the competition, but that hasn’t always been the case.

A Young Athlete in a Small Town
I am a lifelong athlete, but until relatively recently, I’d been gifted with a lot more talent than tenacity. As a kid, I loved sports, and I was good at them. By the time I entered high school, I was a highly sought after recruit. I ended up playing basketball and softball, but my youthful enthusiasm didn’t translate to the kind of competitive drive required to thrive in small town varsity athletics. I enjoyed a successful high school sports career, but I wasn’t loving it as much anymore. As the fun faded, I began to focus more on other interests. I played guitar. I studied hard. I worked afterschool jobs. And sadly, I took up smoking.

Surf’s Up
After high school, I took a long break from competitive sports. I played casual tennis and racquetball and was a member of a few low-key softball teams, but for several years that was about it. Shortly after graduating from college, I moved from New Jersey to California for a publishing job. There, despite a lifelong fear of sharks—or perhaps, because of it—I decided to take up surfing. Every time I entered the water I felt like I was staring death in the face. Every time I emerged alive I felt like I had conquered death. Melodramatic? Maybe, but it added to the exhilaration of an already exhilarating sport, and it gave me a great sense of accomplishment even on days I didn’t catch a single wave. Surfing was also responsible for introducing me to the love of my life—my husband, Ted, whom I met through a mutual surfing buddy.

Striving for Less
Meanwhile, I was still smoking (nearly a pack a day at that point) and working crazy hours as a freelance writer and editor to help pay off two mortgages and a family loan on our first house in Santa Barbara. It’s fair to say that I was a stressed out workaholic. Soon enough, I wasn’t even surfing anymore. Something had to change. My husband’s sudden transfer to Dallas—a much cheaper place to live than Santa Barbara—provided the perfect opportunity. I took up a new self-corrective campaign. My motto? “Strive for less.” Less work. Less stress. Just less.

After seriously ramping down my workload over the first six months or so in Dallas, a boon to my mental health, I decided it was time to whip myself into better physical shape, too. Naturally, the first step was to quit smoking. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and it brought a host of unexpected short-term consequences. Perhaps the strangest was a complete loss of coordination. After a couple embarrassing attempts to play racquetball with my husband—a sport we played regularly—I swore off any activity requiring hand-eye coordination. I actually worried that my athletic days were behind me forever. But after a few brutal months of being uncoordinated and dull-witted and catching every cold in Texas, I was over the hump. I was also a good 15 pounds heavier.

To work off some of the extra pounds and continue my quest for fitness, I decided to take up running. I could only muster about a mile at first, but within a couple months I had run my first 5K race. I was hooked. Over the next several months, I ran in nearly every 5K in the Dallas area, often placing in the top three of my age group. Then I entered a few 10K races. Eight months after I started running, I completed my first half marathon in just under two hours. I wasn’t super fast, but I did meet my personal goal for the race. Crossing the finish line was the greatest feeling of athletic accomplishment I’d ever experienced. After 32 years and scads of sports, I had finally found my competitive drive. And it made me happy.

Reinvention Through Sports
My newfound love of running was just the beginning of an athletic rebirth of sorts and part of a larger move toward a more balanced life. After moving back to northern California a few years ago, I started playing USTA tennis, which further stoked my competitive fires. It also reminded me of the special camaraderie between teammates. Some of the women on my tennis teams are now among my closest friends.

There’s something contagious about the fun and friendship found in team sports. I feel compelled to share it with others, which is why I help coach a Special Olympics basketball team. Funny thing about coaching, you get more than you give. Watching the kids compete is one of my greatest joys.

Another one of my great joys is cheering for my favorite sports teams, the New York Jets and Oakland A’s, a pastime I particularly enjoy sharing with my sister and her two boys. I should come clean and admit that I’m one of those crazy geeky fans who get dressed up in team gear to watch the game at home on TV. Enough said. Let’s move on.

My Current Fitness Regimen
These days, I run four or five days a week for a total of 15 to 25 miles, depending on whether I’m training for a race. I generally play tennis two or three times a week—sometimes more if I’m lucky—mostly singles, but also doubles depending on the season. I do a smattering of other sports—including cycling, swimming, softball, and soccer—on an occasional and often streaky basis, but running and tennis are my two mainstays.

Because I work freelance and only part time, I have a flexible schedule. Getting in my runs is a breeze. I just pop my nine-month-old daughter, Madeleine, in the jogging stroller and hit the road. Hitting the tennis courts requires much more coordination. I rely on a combination of my supportive husband, my generous USTA team captain, and my health club’s excellent childcare facility to watch my daughter while I play.

Sports as a Point of Sharing
As you can see, sports are a big part of my life in more ways than one. For me, athletics have been a vehicle for fitness, fun, and personal transformation. Perhaps most importantly, sports have provided an avenue for meaningful shared experiences with my family and friends. These days, for example, my favorite runs are the ones I do with my husband and daughter. This past July 4th, my little family of three ran our first 5K race together, and it was not without some sense of accomplishment that we crossed the finish line first in the stroller category. The best part is, I have so many precious moments like this to look forward to. I can’t wait for the day my little girl can hold a tennis racquet and join me on the court. I can’t wait for the day she beats me. I can’t wait for the day she crosses the finish line on her own as I shout, “You go girl!”

That’s my story. What’s Yours?

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. Stephanie #

    “Strive for Less.” “Less work”. “Less Stress”. “Just Less”. I love it. I am a full time mom of 2 (well 3 if you count my husband =) active, witty, and energetic boys! I also work full time outside of the home. My workouts are my sanity — even when it means I must fit them in between 5-7am 3-4X/week. Which I have become dedicated to for the last 4 years and still going strong. During these unprecendented and challenging times, I find I am often drawn to my priorities and make decisions about them every day. Those 3 priorities are My Family, My Health, and My Work. In that order — having a busy full time job outside — contstantly makes me think — how do I simplfy? Reading your blog gave me a simple statement to keep reminding me and looking for new ways to “Strive for Less”; and that is a good thing with the right priorities!

    November 30, 2008
  2. Anna Hite #

    Way to go, Amy! You are one heck of an inspiration for us all. I can’t imagine how hard it is to quit smoking, but schooching athletic endeavors into one’s life, I believe is the key to overcoming virtually anything. That’s why my 41/2 and 6 year olds girls are going to live sports like I did.

    I caught the sport bug early on in my life in Colorado Springs. Sadly, although the U.S. Olympic Training Center was there, in the days of my endeavors my sport wasn’t really a focus down there. Sure, the OTC hosted tons of volleyballers, runners, table tennis-ers and even boxers, but no gymnastics. In fact, there weren’t any elite gymnasts in my town at all, although there were several gyms. My mom drove me and my three buddies to the gym 40 minutes away (both ways uphill in the snow…you know the drill!) every day after school. We went to Broadmoor Elementary, then it was into the car for workouts every day of the week from 4-8 pm. To this day, I am convinced that I put my homework under my pillow and it was done for me by homework fairies in the night. Thanks fairies! Dinner was alone every night, and my folks were so supportive that by the time I was 13, they allowed me to answer an ad in International Gymnast for tryouts for Bela Karolyi’s team he was forming at the Univ. of Oklahoma after defecting from Romania. Well, long story short, I made the team and left home at 13 to live with a family of another gymnast in Norman. Although I only stayed 9 mos., the experience was a life-changer for me. Those middle school years are pure hell, but I always had my sports to differentiate me. I didn’t get mucked down in the mire of teenage angst like many of my peers because I was always at the gym! When I got back to Colorado, I continued some gymnastics, but also joined the dive team, played high school tennis on a team full of state champs (not me though!), and of course, resumed skiing my rear end off. The OK experience was sort of extreme, but the importance of instilling confidence through sports is in my veins. Now that I have two wild women of my own who see that sports and exercising are a part of our lives, I’m hoping the gift of being active will serve them well. Long Live Sport!

    November 16, 2008
  3. Elaine #

    Count me inspired! I’m 51 years old and working on being able to simply complete a one mile run. This story has given me a role model to envision as I pursue my goal: to run a 5K! Thank you, Amy, for your honesty about the difficulties you have encountered. I have a sense that I’ve turned the corner fitness-wise and I credit this article for it!

    November 9, 2008
    • Amy Thomas Buscaglia #

      Wow! Thanks for your thoughtful and generous feedback, ladies. I’m delighted that many of you can relate to and draw encouragement from some substantial nuggets of my life. It’s yet another way that sports can provide a point of sharing, this time among athletic-minded women. I, for one, am grateful for the opportunity to share my experiences with gals like you.

      But sharing goes both ways. I want to hear your stories. A few of you have shared a bit in your comments, for which I thank you, but I’m greedy for more. Please, I encourage you to click the “What’s Yours?” link at the end of the article and tell us about the mountains you’ve climbed, the hurdles you’ve leapt over, and how athletics are a meaningful part of your life. Who knows, the next amazing woman featured in this space could be you!

      Thanks again for reading and sharing.

      -Amy

      November 11, 2008
  4. Mina #

    Dallas sounded good to me. It was where Amy began her “quest for less”,
    quit smoking, found her competitive drive in her love for running, and became
    happy. Not bad! Part I liked best, crossing the finish line first in the stroller
    category. I wish I played tennis well enough to join my daughter, Amy, on the
    court.

    November 8, 2008
  5. What an inspiring story! I ran the Portland Marathon in 2000 and loved it. I have wanted to do it again, but life has tended to get in the way…but recently I have felt this intense fire to get over myself, to get the message that less is best and to realize that time is precious! Thank you for sharing!

    November 8, 2008
  6. “Strive for less”… I love that. As a mom of two, working part-time and constantly feeling stressed and frantic about getting everything done, I can really see the merit of this idea. I enjoyed your article. Thank you! :)

    November 8, 2008
  7. Vicki Anderson #

    You make Dallas sound sub-par. Go Cowboys!

    November 7, 2008

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