Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Last Sunday I picked up a baseball bat to hit some grounders to my brother who's playing in a 30+ baseball league. We're both a little rusty, me more so than him; I haven't picked up a Louisville Slugger in a good ten years. And I'm feeling it now. My whole left side is sore from shoulder blade to hipbone. How could this be? A victim of my own hubris after only 40 or 50 swings of a bat?
All the swinging and catching and throwing over the weekend led me to a deeper appreciation for running, specifically the symmetry of running. Foot racing belongs in the most regaled spot in the pantheon when ranking the purest of sports because it exemplifies beauty, purity, grace, and perfection, which are all defining characteristics of symmetry. Witness the faces of those most beautiful, the Jolies and Pitts of this world. Their faces (and if you look lower, their bodies too) are perfectly balanced. And what is the archetypal symbol of perfection: the ring, the circle, the sun in the sky? Yes. Cut each one in half and the other side will fold itself neatly into the other.

So, a syllogism.
Perfection = Symmetry
Symmetry = Running
Therefore, Running = Perfection

Only running and the two other triathlons sports, swimming and biking, offer such balance and harmony. You can discount every single ball sport immediately. Baseball, basketball, football, tennis, golf, even hockey require a dominant hand, which leads to favoring. Such asymmetrical movements are balky and slovenly. I think of ping pong, racquetball, volleyball, soccer, lacrosse: no, no, no, no, no. All are asymmetrical, yet the symbol of perfection, the ball, is the central object of their game. Oh the irony. Players of ball sports covet control of the one thing running inherently has--symmetry. And these sports use running and sprinting (as already noted, both symmetrical activities) to attain the symbol of symmetry.

But enough about these subaltern hobbies. Let's get back to running. Watch Carl Lewis or Florence Griffin-Joyner or Usain Bolt bolt from the starting blocks to the finish line of the one hundred meter dash. It's a thing of beauty. (My only complaint about FloJo was her one-legged tights--so asymmetrical.) Their symmetrical form can be all the more appreciated from the straightaway camera angle. Each knee fires to the same height, arms swing as if they are mirrors of one another, even nostrils flare evenly. Yes, symmetry is easiest to recognize in these sprinters, but you can see it in distances up to the marathon and beyond as well. The best of the best are machine like, maximally efficient harriers that don't waste an iota on anything other than forward movement. See Hall, Culpepper, Goucher for proof of my symmetrical claim.

The best of the best are always symmetrical, but the slow are often that way too. Go to your local gym, and you'll see one of two things in front of a treadmill: either a television or a mirror. The mirror isn't there for us to admire our own Adonis bodies. It's there so we can relish in our own symmetry. And if we are not symmetrical, the mirror is there to help us correct our form in an effort to become more symmetrical.

So if you're considering rugby, hai lai, or water polo as your sport of choice, please reconsider those incongruous options. If running is your sport, cherish the symmetry.

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