Luke Melia


July 5, 2004

Personal Best

Saturday, I took the 6:08am train down to Asbury Park, New Jersey to play in a beach volleyball tournament.

The 6:08 is the first North Jersey Coast Line departure Saturday morning, and the train was full of Jersey club kids. Scantily clad; hung over, still drunk or passed out; the ladies’ make up smeared far from it’s Cosmo-prescribed state.

I hoped I wasn’t perceived as mocking them, bright-eyed and dressed for the beach clutching a smoothie and my volleyball bag.

The drive from the city to Asbury should take less than an hour, but the NJ Transit managed to squeeze one hour and 43 minutes into the voyage. Impressive.

I hopped a taxi to the beach, taking in Asbury Park from the back seat. There’s not much going on in that town. The Stone Pony, where Springsteen made a name for himself, is still around. The marquee touts some mid-tier acts: David Allan Coe, Taj Mahal. The buildings around it look like Beirut at it’s worst. I know there wasn’t a war there, but there sure is a bombed out feel to the place, especially near the beach.

At the tournament, lots of the players were chatting about the shrewd real estate investment moves one could make if you had the cash to wait on Asbury Park’s inevitable revitalization. Sounds about right to me, too.

In the meantime, though, we all simply picked industrial waste out of the sand and tried to win a tournament. We played ten games in pool play on a hot, humid day. The abundance of nasty crap in the sand made the sand unbearably hot. My partner Dan and I both had blisters on the bottoms of out feet from the heat. Waited too long to break out the sand socks, I guess. I’m also nursing a cut on my foot from some unknown hopefully-not-too-disease-ridden item.

The pool games went fairly well. We split our first pair of games against the team that we had pegged as our toughest competition and went on to win the rest of our games up until the last.

Our tenth game of the day. We needed to beat our opponents 21-5 in order to rack up enough points to get a bye in the semi-finals and avoid an extra 25-point game. Beating a team 21-5 in rally is a tall order and it would have been cool to succeed. It even would have been cool to almost succeed. Instead, we didn’t even come close. My offense fell apart; I made every mistake possible. Hit the ball out deep, wide, into the net; easy rolls to the defenders; misjudged a set and let it fall on our side. We lost the game.

And I nearly lost my mental game. The evidence was pretty clear. I had played ten games in the heat, jumping, blocking, digging, running down passes and roll shots. I was cooked. Out of gas. I wouldn’t admit it to myself though. I couldn’t. Not until the tourney was over, win or lose.

It burned me that our eventual playoff opponents were watching me choke, spotlighting our teams’ biggest weakness. There was nothing I could do about that but recognize what they must be thinking and let it feed my desire to side out every single time I got served.

A silver lining appeared. Because we lost that game, we ended up forcing two teams into tiebreak game for the third spot into the playoffs. It was only a 15-point rally game, but it gave me a chance to collect my wits, rest my legs, and drink a lot of water.

We went out to play the semifinal match against a team we had already beaten twice that day. We made quick work of them and I got a little confidence back. I was tired but happy to have made it to the finals. I had a least tied my personal best: taking second place in this AA division.

We stepped on the court for the finals against the team we had started the day playing. They had been sitting longer than us and that meant that they were more well-rested but also that they were not as warm. The knife cuts both ways.

Dan and I went ahead by two points right away in the rally-to-25 game, but then our oppenents settled in and wouldn’t give ground. We wouldn’t either, though, when I went to run down one of Dan’s digs, we were up 22-19. As I sprinted toward the left post for the ball, I knew I had a chance for it. I lunged low and reach out my fist, and then every muscle in my left leg cramped.

I’d never felt anything like it. My attention was constantly moving from muscle to muscle as each one refused to function. And refused painfully. We took a time out and I drank as much liquid as I could suck down. I tried to keep my leg moving, rub it a little. We were close to the end. I had to finish. We had to win.

Dan stayed calm, walking me through what was going to happen when we stepped back on the court. They were going to serve me. I was going to pass they ball nice and easy up to the net. Dan was going to set me, and I was going to get the kill. We needed three points. He later confessed he was unsure what to say to me; he knew if I couldn’t walk, it was pretty much impossible for us to win.

I stood up. That was a good sign. We walked back onto the court and took our sides. I crouched down into my serve-receive position. Whoa. Cramps. I stood back up quickly, but quietly, so as not reveal the extent of my condition too obviously. Fortunately, the serve was easy enough for me to pass without good form. I got a sweet set, and put the ball in the sand.

That was the point. We had to fight for the other two, but after that point, I knew we had it. First place. A couple of new volleyballs as prizes. A bunch of pride, and a new personal best to beat.

2 Responses to “Personal Best”

  1. mike melia chimed in:


  2. Monica chimed in:

    Hey! That sounds like something out of a sports fairytale movie or something…way to work through it.
    I just got back from Cali yesterday and we have to hang, I haven’t seen you in so long!
    Having Luke Withdrawls,

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