"The University of Illinois is also in turmoil. The university sports an Interim Chancellor, an Interim Athletic Director, and an Interim Football Coach; the game will be played at Soldier Field, making this an Illini Interim Home Game."
A Google search for “sports as escape” produces about 300 million results. A similar query for “sports as entertainment” reveals over 3.5 billion.
A search for “sports as inspiration” generates 296 million—a lofty number, sure, but it’s telling that (at least by this wholly unscientific method) we tend to view sports as a way to avoid our problems instead of a source of motivation from which we can better ourselves.
I include myself in that number. Normally, when watching sports, it's for entertainment, or to take a break from whatever pressing real life issue I don’t want to deal with at the moment. Through circumstances largely outside of my control, however, covering Michigan basketball this season became an exercise in understanding and appreciating why we really care and what can be produced through a deep connection with sports.
In my junior year of college, I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome—also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), a less common name for the illness that better captures its severity—and I’ve suffered from symptoms going back to my senior year of high school. It’s a disorder about which much is still unknown, including both its cause and cure. In fact, it's still the subject of controversy, especially regarding the CDC (a story that is both too unrelated and too lengthy to detail here, but I’d strongly encourage you to read this article).
The primary symptom of ME is “post-exertional malaise,” or what ME patients often refer to as the “push-crash” phenomenon. It is exactly what it sounds like. The amount of energy available to an ME patient varies greatly on a case-by-case basis, but we’re all in the same boat—if an ME patient uses more than their allotted energy (whether over the course of a day, week, month, or even year), they will pay for it dearly, with compound interest, in the form of worsening symptoms.
I’ve experienced crashes before, but mostly in the years leading up to my diagnosis. Without knowing what I was dealing with, I spent my first three years of college taking 16 credits per semester, working as a receptionist at the Michigan Union, and living the social life of your typical liberal arts major at a state school. My family and I realized I was dealing with something more than a sleep issue when I was fired from my job for repeatedly calling in sick and put on academic probation for failing, of all things, an intro-level stats class—one I probably attended twice, choosing much-needed sleep instead.
Pretty shortly thereafter, I went to see a world-class ME specialist in North Carolina, Dr. Paul Cheney, and received my diagnosis. In the aftermath, I slowly but surely made significant alterations to my lifestyle. I took fewer classes, pushed off graduation for a semester, and moved back home (for those who aren’t familiar with me, I grew up in Ann Arbor and attended U-M) for my final year-and-a-half of school.
Upon graduating in December of 2010, I did not go searching for jobs. Instead, I stayed home, enjoying my new-found freedom to spend more time with friends and posting on my old blog. I turned down a chance to interview for a PR position at GE in Cincinnati; on its face, because that wasn’t the field I was interested in, but mostly because I wasn’t in a position to take a demanding job away from my support system.
When Brian posted the MGoBlog job opening in August of 2011, I leapt at the opportunity to continue blogging—a profession that allows me to mostly work from home, with flexible hours and the opportunity to write about my hometown school and alma mater. For my first year on the job, I continued to live with my parents, and despite the new work demands my health improved markedly.
At both my parents’ and my own behest, I moved out last September, renting a place with two close friends just down the street from Michigan Stadium and the Crisler Center. Dealing responsibly with ME while still trying to live a normal life is a constant game of testing one’s own (constantly changing) limits, and it was time to find out where mine were. Through the end of football season, things couldn’t have gone better—work was going well, I had a sufficient social life, I got to live away from home with a pair of great roommates, and I even resumed some level of physical activity, playing co-ed soccer over the summer at Fuller Park and working out in a gym we set up in the basement. When basketball season rolled around, I took the chance to expand my coverage and applied for a season credential, looking to attend every home game and some handpicked away games.
As it turned out, I added a little too much to my plate. As Michigan raced out to a 20-1 start, I felt my health start to decline. Nowhere was this more apparent than at Crisler, incidentally. While I hunched over my laptop, my lower back ached, a signal that my body was tapping into my adrenal glands for an unsustainable source of backup energy. I became increasingly sensitive to sound and bright light—pregame player introductions were particularly uncomfortable, even painful. But I wanted to be there, and not only because of my job—I savored every second of watching the Wolverines electrify a building transformed from gray obsolescence to modern basketball mecca.
In January, I was granted a credential for the February 2nd game at Indiana. A few days before the game, I asked Brian if he’d like to go in my stead; I’d spent the week feeling flu-ridden and unable to think clearly, and even though he declined to take the press pass I didn’t make the trip down to Bloomington. For the past two months—except for the week when Brian mercifully granted me sick leave—I’ve mostly worked from my bed, and in this final push before the offseason everything in my life has taken a back seat to work. This week, I came back to my parents’ place in order to make matters easier on myself, and we’ve decided that it’s best for me to move back home when my lease is up in the fall.
I promise that there’s a non-depressing point to writing all this, but first I feel the need to say something about what I’ve just revealed. The reason I’ve only told a small group of family, close friends, and co-workers (actually, just Brian) about my illness is that one of the worst aspects of being sick—for anyone, in my experience—is being related to as a sick person by other people.
I am not defined by my illness. I do not need your sympathy, which could be better directed towards any number of other places. I live a rich and fulfilling life. I love my job. I have a very understanding boss. I have a great group of close friends. I have access to world-class, cutting-edge medical care. Most importantly, I have a wonderful, supportive family. As soon as I’m able to get some rest, I’ll be back to my normal self, and even if my normal may not fit your definition I happen to really enjoy it.
The reason I’m writing about this, and writing about it now, is to illustrate a larger point. I should probably get around to that now, shouldn’t I?
Sports were an escape for me before they became my job, and even then the, let’s say,wide-ranging nature of blogging versus more traditional media has allowed me to continue relating to them as a fan. I’ve never been one to focus too much on the Sports As Microcosm Of Life, Big Picture stuff (except to convince my father that I’d chosen the right career path). I simply love watching them, and am endlessly fascinated by humans pushing their bodies to unseen heights, as well as the intricate strategies and minutiae that drive team sports—hence my gravitation towards football, perhaps the most violent and entertaining version of chess. When Tom Rinaldi appeared on my TV screen, poised to tear at my heartstrings over a soft piano soundtrack, I almost always changed the channel.
When searching for inspiration, I never turned towards sports, instead looking to any number of other things: music, beer, friendship, traveling, beer, family, school, job hunt, beer, etc. These last two months, however, I’ve either been cooped up in my room or covering Michigan basketball—alternative options have been limited.
If this were a Michigan hoops team from another year—especially any of the years of my childhood—perhaps I’d be feeling different about my life right now. I’ve been so fortunate to cover this particular team, in person for all but a couple of home games and from home for the rest. Their success alone has been a source of considerable joy, of course, but it goes far beyond simple wins and losses. Even given the same success, a different team with a different coach probably wouldn’t affect me the way the 2012-13 Wolverines have.
It hasn’t been hard to muster the energy to write about these guys, and frankly that’s not the case when it’s time to put together a football recruiting roundup. Getting to watch this crew, whether I’ve been in the press seats at Crisler or glued to my couch, has been a true pleasure. They’ve made my job easy at a time when that can’t be said for much else in my life.
I’ve drawn inspiration from Trey Burke’s unflappable will, the way his expression never changes regardless of circumstance*. The same goes for John Beilein’s genuine decency and mastery of his profession; Mitch McGary’s infectious enthusiasm for, well, everything; the sacrifices players like Jordan Morgan, Matt Vogrich, and even Tim Hardaway Jr. have made in the name of the team; the love these players showforeachother. I wouldn’t change a thing about these last two months, crash be damned, and those guys deserve much of the credit.
Sports can be an escape, sure, or simply a source of entertainment. But there’s a deeper level, too, and looking back I think it’s influenced me more than I’ve ever acknowledged until recently.
Yeah, I write about kids playing games for a living. That may not sound fulfilling to most, but it works for me. I’ll feel no shame about my maniacal fandom this weekend, allowing this team to grab my emotions and take them where they take them. They’ve earned that right. Whatever happens in the next four days, I’ll never forget this team and what they’ve unknowingly taught me—about perseverance, loving what I have, and appreciating being a part of something greater than myself—in the course of their being kids and playing a game.
*Celebrating miraculous 30-foot game-tying jumpers excepted, of course.
thank you for sharing some insight into your world, it is inspirational even if not intended to be so. That said, I hope you considered the potential long term repercussions of posting any part of your medical history, especially a sensitive issue that could affect future employment opportunities, on the Internet...where it will stay forever.
First of all, in light of the above you can see why I'm not exactly searching for the next job—I rather like it here. More importantly, future employers are far more dangerous to me if they don't know what's up.
For sharing this with all of us. Good to hear that you have a great support system in place. You add great insight and information to this blog, so thank you for that as well. Get some rest on Tuesday and keep fighting the good fight.
"It is better, of course, to know useless things than to know nothing."
As someone with Crohns disease, which isn't as serious but can be just as draining on the body I know what you are going through. This article has me fired up for this weekend about how truly special this team is and your post is just what I needed to read. Thanks Ace for all your hard work on here!
You know, Dude, I myself dabbled in pacifism once. Not in 'Nam of course.
Ace! keep up the great work!!!...and not to be a downer but Vogrich would be riding the bench on any top 5 big ten team, so he really isn't sacrificing a lot other than getting a full-ride for practicing at the greatest University in all the land!!!...but nonetheless, keep up the great work and i am glad this team helps you do that!
Wow, great stuff Ace. A few weeks ago you wrote a piece about watching the Bulls play as a child and I said it was the best thing you had written for Mgoblog so far. I said so far because I thought you could top it in the future, and you just did. I've always felt your contributions seemed so enthusiastic that you were sort of the McGary of the Mgostaff, that enthusiasm is even more impressive now that we know the extraneous circumstances. Keep up the great work and get some well deserved rest.
Ace you do a great job with everything you post. You always speak how you feel. It takes a lot to admit something like this to a lot of people you don't know and probably will never meet. Keep up the awesome work.
Thank you, everyone, for the overwhelming and touching response to this. I'm incredibly lucky to be a part of the MGoCommunity—your support doesn't just keep me employed, it keeps me motivated to continue doing what I do.
I'm sure. if not this particularly disease, nearly everyone who reads MGoBlog has been touched or knows someone who has faced similar trials, and it's encouraging to read how people can overcome the obstacles life puts in their way.
There were a lot of people going for the job opening at MGoBlog. I don't know if any of them were better writers than you, Ace (they would have had to be pretty darn good), but I'm glad you got the job, because beyond the excellent job you do, I'm happy the position went to someone who really needs and can use the flexible lifestyle blogging allows. I say flexible, because it certainly doesn't look like any less work; but it has a freedom from structure that allows you to do good hard work. Work that we enjoy.
I for one have always enjoyed your work covering Michigan sports, from your days of tWB continuing on till today. Certainly we all have to balance our personal/private life with our public/work life, but I've never noticed anything but consistency with you and it has been much appreciated. I trust you will find a deeper understanding of your condition that enables you to enjoy life to the fullest.
Having been involved in blogging, both personally and professionally, I know how hard it can be even when you love your subject. Your unique health situation adds another wrinkle.
I appreciate what you do and the passion you bring to it. Thanks for bringing the joys, and disappontments, of this season to me through your writing. Best of luck finding the right balance moving forward.
Well...before reading this, I was going to post some sarcastic quote with Samuel L Jackson saying "Hold on to your butts", from just going off the title of the post. But, now it, well, it still may be called for, but not without Serious Words beforehand. We all have trials in our lives, some larger than others', and we all have to find a way to overcome them. It may take time, and answers don't always come from where we are expecting. I'm happy for you Ace as you have found something in your life to help you with your trials, especially at a young age. It's a blessing not everyone has. Have fun this weekend and hopefully you can celebrate by getting some deserved rest.
Thanks, Ace, for your honest, heartfelt piece. As has been stated numerous times on this here blog throughout the season, we should really appreciate and treasure this '12-'13 Wolverines Basketball team--they are truly something special, even without the Final Four run (which, of course, makes it all the better!).
Thank you for sharing your personal situation--I love reading your pieces, and you're truly an asset to this blog/community, but your health should always come first!
Your writing is my favorite part of this blog. I wish I had been aware of your blog back in the day. We are very fortunate to have two really special teams like this back to back. What exciting times we live in.
Most of us don't like conditions that, if others knew, would make them pity us, or, consider us stupid.
I am ADHD, which I was the last to know. Everyone around me figured it out first. Sort of. It is NOT a disability, or, to me, a disorder, I use the initials so people know what I am talking about.
Being, for unknown reasons, othewise considered a smart person, it puzzles people when I leave the water running for hours, or lock the keys in the car with the engine running. How could I be so stupid?
Well, it is what it is. Which is, not much, considering the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.
As the comments reflect, it is the human condition to have challenges. It is our calling to help each other with them. There is always a risk in sharing our vulnerability, but that is frequently when others can find out how they can help us.
What a great family you must have!
In posting this, you have given us readers a chance to show that we stand with you, we will keep you in our prayers, yet, we will not lower our expectations for your performance.
was waiting til the last minute to do anything, because I was afraid of failing so bad that I couldn't concentrate on any project til the absolute last minute. That and the Adrenaline rush of finnishing a paper at the last minute helped be focus-- including the 36 hours I wrote my 40 page senior thesis in.
"Pat Fitzgerald is coming on shortly. He seems like a guy who knows his way around an oatbag." @bearringer
I officially joined the blog early last year but was lurking/stalking for about a year prior. It's always tough to come in after someone like TomVH leaves as he has already gained the respect/admiration/following of 99% of the members here.
I've been reading your pieces now for over a year and a half. It's be nice to see your progression from when you started until now. Your writing has gotten much better and I find myself actually reading your writeups all the way through now instead of just skimming them (I know that kind of sounds like a bit of a left-handed compliment but I assure you it's not). Time is always at a premium and I rarely read any news/blog article in it's entirety anymore....