June 04, 2022 3 min read 3 Comments
By Ray Glier
Ft. Lauderdale__Mike Lavigna, who was a competitor at the National Senior Games, told me his version of the story of the "Pragmatic, Practical, and Theoretical."
“This guy was going to walk on a tightrope over Niagara Falls and he asked the 100 people watching ‘How many of you think I can walk back and forth and not fall’?”
Everyone raised their hands. He made the walk and didn't fall.
“How many think I can put 200 pounds in the wheelbarrow and walk back and forth and not fall?”
All the people raised their hands. The man made the walk and didn't fall.
The man came back to the people the third time and said, “Who is going to volunteer to sit in the wheelbarrow as I push it back and forth on the tightrope over the gorge?”
No one raised their hands.
“When it’s you being asked the big question,” Lavigna said, “it's different. You don’t know how you are going to react. It’s easy to talk about how you are going to respond to something until it’s you. You think you know, but you don’t know how you’re going to react...
...like when you're told you have cancer.”
A week before he left for Ft. Lauderdale and The National Senior Games, Lavigna, who is 75, was told his prostate cancer, which he thought he had licked in 2018, had returned and it was now advanced prostate cancer. Not a death sentence, but not welcome news either.
It was Mike himself who was faced with the wheelbarrow question. How was he going to react to the ultimate question, "Can you deal with what is to come?"
“No, I didn’t crawl into a corner, I came down here for the Games to be with these guys, people I hadn’t seen in three years, or longer,” said Lavigna, who was a high school wrestling coach in Ohio and now an attorney.
The people here, many of them strangers, picked him up and gave Lavigna a dose of good will and can-do spirit. The kinship was a boost for a man who understands how the dread of an illness can overwhelm people.
We should appreciate the vulnerability. We should appreciate the emotional support group of 11,938 Geezer Jocks.
“So far, I haven’t let it (cancer) run my life,” Lavigna said. “We’ll see what happens when I get home.”
Lavigna, by the way, finished 8th in the shot put and 12th in the javelin in the 75-79 age group. Just so you understand, the modest finishes were not why he was here in the first place.
Lavigna competed and had fun. It was his way of not allowing the prostate cancer to hijack his life.
“In moments that I get depressed I tell myself I don't want to go to some doctors who are going to put a bunch of hormones in me and tell me 'you’re going to lose 20 percent of muscle mass and lose bone mass and go through all sorts of changes', I don’t want that for myself,” Lavigna said. “Then I saw that Father Stu movie before Easter Sunday."
His self-pity melted away.
“I can't explain it other than it was like a quiet voice said ‘Are you doing everything you can do to help people?'," Mike said. "The answer back from me to myself is consistently, ‘No’.
“So, I’m trying to think about other people, not myself, and use that to get through it.”
What Lavigna was doing at the National Senior Games, besides throwing the shot and javelin, was making himself available to people and wrapping himself up in people, not pity.
“I struggled with it at first, but watching these athletes down here has perked me up,” Lavigna said. “I’m not going to go home now and focus on getting stronger for the shot. I’m going to go home and try and do more for people.”
Lavigna slept on a couch for several nights in Ft, Lauderdale after friends invited him to stay. He was grateful for that. He said he planned on going sailing and then, in the middle of a sentence, said, "You know I'm grateful I'll be able to see out there on the water because of these injections in my right eye."
Gratefulness, not dread, was taking hold. Mike is going to rely on people for his coming fight. It is something else to be grateful for.
“There are so many untold stories, like the friend who has been in recovery for 20 years who visits every Friday another buddy of ours who had a stroke," Lavigna said. "We so idolize celebrities. But it’s these people we should idolize.
“These are the angels.”
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