My Time in Texas

“Areté implies a respect for the wholeness or oneness of life, and a consequent dislike of specialization. It implies a contempt for efficiency… or rather a much higher idea of efficiency, an efficiency which exists not in one department of life but in life itself.”

-Robert M. Prisig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Have you ever heard of Michael T. Joyce? Neither had I. Until author, David Foster Wallace introduced him to me. He is an incredible talent, who has worked for years to tirelessly develop his craft.  At 22 years old, he had aspirations to improve, and to beat the best and to push back the walls that bound him. During the summer of 1996, Michael T. Joyce was ranked the 97th best tennis player in the world. If he played on a public court, he’d be a spectacle and amass a crowd of onlookers who’d watch in awe. He’s fast, he’s strong, and he can hit a tennis ball with pinpoint accuracy with a backspin that could bring the ball right back. But he’s not Pete Sampras, and he hasn’t earned his way to play against Andre Agassi. That’s when I realized; I am Michael T. Joyce.

I skipped my cool down. It never even crossed my mind to do it. I was done, and my collegiate career was over. I entered the showers more numb than upset. I stood there for a moment, with my eyes closed as the cool water rushed against my face, and then I sat. My back was against the wall as I was sitting in a puddle of my own filth. The thought popped into my head to where I was about a year ago. Finishing the season prior with a similar sense of disappointment, but with an optimistic outlook of what this year would bring. If I could go back to then and see where it is that I am now, would I do it all over again? Undoubtedly, yes.

When I committed to run for Texas following my junior year, I had missed the three previous seasons and had not produced a single result in over thirteen months. But in an act of faith, Coach Hayes and Coach Thornton decided to take a risk on me, for which I am forever grateful. Unfortunately, this year did not unfold as I had planned. There was so much more that I wanted to give to this team, but I did not PR and I did not hit my goals. I was perpetually injured and unable to compete at the level my teammates deserved. My performances were lacking, and I was a constant headache for our training staff. Following my final race, when Coach Hayes entered the locker room and saw me hanging up my burnt orange jersey for the final time, we shook hands and I thanked him for everything. But there was one thing I wanted to make sure he knew, as well as everyone who I had the pleasure of meeting and interacting with while spending the last year in Austin—I loved it.

I woke up this morning, and I still have a smile on my face, and isn’t that the ultimate purpose of running, to find happiness? It just so happens that in my hedonistic pursuit I stumbled upon the sport of running and acquired the desire for arbitrary feats of endurance. Athletics is one possible mean to the same end we are all chasing. And while it is easy to become absorbed by the tunnel vision required to be successful, now at the conclusion of my season, I can look back with the proper perspective that is no longer blinded by frustration. Although the list of things I hope to accomplish continues to grow, I try to remind myself that they are all part of the single greatest achievement worth pursuing, and that is satisfaction.

As articulated by Aristotle, the ultimate virtue is namely eudaimonia, translated literally as “good spirit,” but often intended to mean “well-being.” As people we are ceaselessly striving towards this ideal, but perhaps aiming towards it is what provides it most fully. And through the various stages of my career, I expect to have many bad days to accompany the good. But much like an aspiring tennis star, I will continue to look towards winning against the best. Yet whether I get there or not, I hope to conclude in much the same way Michael T. Joyce was personified: “He will say he is happy and mean it.”

———————————————————————————————————-

I was recently told that the biggest advantage a post-collegiate athlete could have is a strong support system. To be surrounded by people who believe in you and accept your decision to put aside some of the temptations of the real world (re: money), to pursue a dream you have been chasing since you first started competing at five years old. Throughout my years in college, I was given endless opportunities by so many people to play a sport I love, and I could never thank everyone along the way enough for what they’ve given me. To my parents, family, coaches, teammates, friends and fans, thanks for being a part of the journey, and I am excited to enter into the next stage of my career, and I trust you will join me. Right now, I need some time off to recover, get rested and healthy, but I am excited to make up for some lost time.

 

David Foster Wallace-The String Theory

 

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Author: kylemerber

Kyle Merber is a professional runner for HOKA One One and the New Jersey*New York Track Club. He has personal bests of 3:34/3:52 but would prefer that not be included in his bio because he believes his writing should be judged independently. He tweets a lot @TheRealMerb.

7 thoughts on “My Time in Texas”

  1. Well said Merber. I’m in the same position, but I was in the first heat before you. I finished happy, and not quite sure what just happened. Removed the jersey for the last time in the tent, and walked out with head held high. If you want to train, hit me up.

  2. Keep at it and run world-class times. My 13 yo son’s counting on it….we pulled two sets of spikes down from a tree at EP Sawyer Park three days after the NCAA XC meet (visited my folks in Louisville in part to see the meet) and one pair was yours!

  3. Steven: On to the next chapter. Better to enter with optimism.
    Jay: That’s awesome! That took me quite a few throws to stick. How did you know that they are mine?

    1. Absolutely. Looks like a sick road trip. If you are in San Francisco, and want to run, hit me up. I can show you around the trails, and city. Maybe expel some of the myths about SF…

  4. Kyle, The chip loop was still on the laces and has the competitor # on it, we looked up the # on the results on the meet website. Got down a pair of your teammate’s spikes as well. We had just bought my son his first pair of running shoes and went there to run. He ran (jogged) 5K, his 11 yo sister and I went 3K. I had gone to the meet but he didn’t have enough interest yet to do that. As an aside, I ran in Louisville in the late 1970s and ran in what was probably the second or third meet ever held at Sawyer, a duel meet in 1979, the first year we went from 2 miles to 5K. One of the local HS coaches created a course there, it was a relatively new park, very few trees, wide-open like Kansas, you could see a mile from one side of the park to the other. Really hot in mid-Spetember, mid-80s that day. The 1981 US Trials race for the World XC meet was held there, Craig Virgin nosing out Nick Rose (GB) who ran as a guest.

  5. Glad to see you’re reading more of the DFW & Tennis “genre!” Joyce once reached the 4th round of WImbledon… Success will come.

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