Just came across this David Foster Wallace gem about the deficiencies of the fitness memoir. While I liken myself to a sort of flash-fitness-memoir connoisseur, I can’t say that I’ve ever been subjected to the doldrums of Tracy Austin. The way Wallace tackles her prose can be reduced to a sort of “athlete’s paradox”:
It may well be that we spectators, who are not divinely gifted as athletes, are the only ones able truly to see, articulate, and animate the experience of the gift we are denied. And those who receive and act out the gift of athletic genius must, perforce, be blind and dumb about it – and not because blindness and dumbness are the price of the gift, but because they are its essence.
In short, the ability to shut off the sensible part of one’s brain for the sake of athletic achievement, is the same ability that prevents Michael Phelps from making an articulate post-race statement OR persuades Tom Brady to sport his mUggs (that’s man Uggs for those of you not in the know) about town.
Now, if there were a dislike button in heaven, I would tell Mr. Wallace that I disagree with him on a number of fronts. BUT, perhaps he’s right that the closer you are to anything, the harder it is to honestly reflect upon it. Athletic genius might not contribute to the fitness literary genre, but it may open the doors for other avenues. Wallace is the first to admit that professional athletes are indeed an intelligent breed:
Anyone who buys the idea that great athletes are dim should have a close look at an NFL playbook, or at a basketball coach’s diagram of a 3-2 zone trap…or at an archival film of Ms. Tracy Austin repeatedly putting a ball in a court’s corner at high speed from seventy-eight feet away, with huge sums of money at stake and enormous crowd of people watching her do it.
So how should athletes apply their unique brand of genius after retirement? Well, there’s Mike Tyson with his pigeons and Ryan Lochte with his fashion career…
And who should be tasked with composing the ever elusive fitness memoirs of our beloved athletic stars? Well, there’s always Bill Simmons or Aquagirl…