There are two things that seem to have followed me throughout my life as passions: writing and sports. That’s not to say I love both of them equally (it really varies day to day), or even at all (occasionally I will actively hate my writing or whatever sport I’m watching or playing). However, the two are still large parts of my life. So seeing the merging of these two passions, often with the act of writing about sports or the comparisons between the two, captivates me. I’m often drawn to other people who also share these two loves at once, and share it through the act of writing about their sport. Sometimes this will include an athlete who has taken up writing and found they are good at it, or a writer, who has been athletic in their life in a more than casual way, reflecting on their past in sports. I’d like to share some of these people whose writings I’m attracted to.
Rusty Woods is a Canadian cyclist with a fantastic blog. I’ve been reading him since 2015. Interestingly, he started out as a runner (well, actually a hockey player, but unsuccessfully). He still has the fastest mile run on Canadian soil by a Canadian; under 4 minutes, too. He switched to professional cycling at age 25 after stress fractures forced him to retire from running. But before I waste more of your time gushing over him as a comeback kid, I should talk about his blog. It’s fairly intense, going from hard fought races to nasty crashes gone viral. I don’t follow cycling too closely, but he makes it incredibly easy to understand the sport itself and his own mindset in each race. I’d recommend starting at the beginning (oddly enough called “The Finale: Part 1”). My personal favorite entry is “The Finale: Part 3” which I won’t spoil but in which he finds himself sick after drinking water in Mexico and compares the struggle to the Battle of Minas Tirith.
You can find his blog here.
Nate Jackson is a former professional tight end who spent the majority of his career with the Broncos. He originally began as a wide receiver, starting in his college days, before being converted to tight end before his third season with the Broncos. A series of injuries, ending with a hamstring injury, ended his career. Since then, he has written various articles and essays, usually about the NFL, for various places. My favorite piece by him is “After the NFL Comes Weed, Hollywood, and Fantasy Football” where he goes into his disappointing consultancy on the film Concussion, in addition to other topics. As you might have gathered from that title, he is a proponent of the NFL allowing players to smoke weed. A good place to start with his work, though, is “What an NFL Training Camp is Really Like.” This one, and other pieces, manage to convey an insider’s perspective of the NFL in a way that surprises me every time.
Follow this link to read “What an NFL Training Camp is Really Like.”
Moving away from athletes who are writers towards writers who are athletes brings me to James Dickey. Dickey is really more of an Easter egg for this list. He played football for Clemson as a tailback in 1942. Granted, after the semester, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps, but hey! Still counts. As far as his writing goes, he was a poet and novelist. He wrote the book Deliverance. Yes, that Deliverance, with the banjos. He even played the sheriff. He was also appointed the US. Poet Laureate in 1966. I enjoyed the poem “For the Last Wolverine” with lines like:
“Dear God of the wildness of poetry, let them mate/ To the death in the rotten branches,/ Let the tree sway and burst into flame.”
They are some weird lines, but oddly captivating.
Oh sure, you expected Hemingway when I got to athletic writers. That’d be too easy. Nabokov actually played a lot of sports, ranging from soccer (probably football to him) to tennis. But the one that he seemed to stick to the most was boxing. He was competitive at Cambridge as an undergraduate, and some of his early work involves poems with titles like “The Boxer’s Girlfriend” or short stories like “Breitensträter – Paolino” which reads more like a love letter to boxing than any traditional narrative. Of course, the work that Nabokov is known for is Lolita, the novel written from the perspective of a pedophile. Pale Fire also comes highly recommended amongst forums dedicated to him.
Lastly, I’d like to talk about the woman who actually sparked the idea for this list. Leanne Shapton is foremost an artist and graphic novelist. But in her youth, she was a national competitive swimmer, making her way to the 1988 and 1992 Canadian Olympic trials. Her memoir of this time, Swimming Studies, offers various interesting takes on how closely athletic and artistic disciplines mirror each other, often in grueling and painful ways. And, of course, she did the artwork for the book as well since she’s a more than competent illustrator. She has other works as well, including one with the incredible title of Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion and Jewelry, which is apparently slated to be made into a film.
Obviously, these aren’t the only writers who have been athletic (and vice-versa), but they are the ones who have stuck out to me the most while I’ve read various works about sports. I’d like to find more. So feel free to get in contact with me to hit me with your favorite athlete’s blog or some author gushing over their old tennis days or something along those lines. I’m not that picky about the topic, honestly.