This weekend, for the first time in over five years, I did not watch a single minute of live sports.
Oh sure, I caught the highlights of the Stanford game and read about how the Patriots out-dueled the Falcons in the Georgia Dome.
But I didn’t watch. I really couldn’t.
I’ve been a sports nut since the ripe old age of 8. Never having really been an athlete, I contented myself with watching the pros in action. I made a living eating the tasty orange slices that the bench players were supposed to guard at youth soccer games. Quite simply, it felt like the athlete gene was missing in me. I thought so, my dad thought so, my brother thought so. Most damningly, my coaches thought so too.
My mom never thought so; she was always the one telling me that anything was possible if I set my mind to it. To her, the biggest failure was giving up without a fight. Though she barely watches any sports, sports and my mother are irrevocably joined at the hip in my mind. My love of one (my mother) begets my love of the other. But while I can live without one, there is absolutely no way of living without the other.
My mother suffered a stroke last Tuesday as she was talking on the phone with my brother. Under the grimmest of circumstances, she self-diagnosed her condition and was at the hospital within thirty minutes with my father by her side and myself and my brother fully aware of what was going on. She underwent brain surgery the next day and is thankfully out of danger. However, the left side of her body has been paralyzed.
To those who know her, my mother is a ray of sunlight in a cloudy world. Exceedingly kind, capable of nearly infinite love, loyal to a fault, brutally honest and ever smiling, the golden person underneath would be apparent to anyone merely laying eyes on her. Mere words do not do her justice, but they will have to do.
The scariest part of this whole affair is its suddenness—my mom was the paragon of good health. After having sprinted in high school, she has kept herself fit and active in a way that astounds me to this very day. Even now, as she fights to get herself back to the way she was, she does so with a cheery outlook and a resilience that leaves me in tears.
I said earlier that my love of sports stemmed from my mother. Football has always been my favorite sport, even though I am generally atrocious at it. I only started playing in high school, and the lack of experience (among other things) showed, with some of those other things, including a lack of height (5-foot-3 when I started ninth grade), a lack of weight (115 pounds) and a lack of viciousness (I would rather run away than try to make a tackle). Though I was determined to stick it out and get better, I would be lying if I said that I had any faith in myself. How, I wondered, could I ever try to compete?
Naturally, it was my mom who picked me up when I needed it most. Her words to me were as simple as they were powerful: “Hard work will always yield results.” She has always believed that it doesn’t matter what gifts you are born with; the only gifts you are measured by are what you earn and show. No words have ever been more empowering.
One of the favorite quotes my mom and I share is from the movie “Chicken Run,” where protagonist Rocky Road proclaims: “You see, flying takes three things: hard work, perseverance and… hard work.” A naysayer guffaws, “You said ‘hard work’ twice!” To which Rocky replies, “That’s because it takes twice as much work as perseverance.” The movie might have said it, but it is my mom who lived it and made me live it too.
There is much power in sports; few other spectacles bring so many people together and bind them with strings as taut as steel hawsers. They balance incredible joy with incredible sadness, sandwiched around themes of brotherhood, camaraderie and athletic perfection. They have, one way or another, impacted my life and my pursuits over the last 12 years.
Events like those of last week tend to put everything in perspective. For once, my overriding fear was not related to an external entity I had somehow chosen to support; it was my mother, her health and her wellbeing. Everything else becomes irrelevant in that instant. There are a ton of things in the world bigger than sports, and for one week I’m using these words and paragraphs to talk about those things instead.
The doctors said that over time, with aggressive rehab and a little luck, my mom would slowly regain control of her body. Last Friday she came off life support, over the weekend she began talking and eating on her own and, just yesterday, she managed to twitch her (supposedly paralyzed) left leg a few inches. I have no doubt at all in my mind that she will continue to recover, progress and fight her way back with hard work, perseverance and hard work. And my brother, my father, the rest of my family and I will be there every step of the way, cheering her on.
It’s funny how things come full circle that way. When I was down, it was my mom who picked me up and set me down straight. Now, it is my job to return the favor. Much love to all, and God bless.
Contact Vignesh Venkataraman at viggy ‘at stanford.edu.