Excerpt from Letters to My Grandchildren: Why Do Sports Matter?



When you pre-order through Greystone Books before May 1st, you’ll receive all of the following:

• A signed copy by May 8th, in advance of publication
• A bonus copy of David Suzuki’s The Legacy
• A free ebook download of Letters to My Grandchildren

In addition, Greystone Books will donate 10% of the purchase price to the David Suzuki Foundation when you pre-order Letters to My Grandchildren.

LTMG
The following is an excerpt from David Suzuki’s forthcoming book, Letters to My Grandchildren.

Pre-Order Now

My darling grandchildren,
As you know, I take great joy in cheering for you when you participate in sports, whether it is soccer, hockey, or snowboarding. I spent many, many early-morning hours at the ice rink while Uncle Troy played hockey, and I embarrassed your mom, Ganhi and Tiis, and Aunt Sarika with my rabid cheering when they played basketball. I loved watching you play hockey, Midori and Tamo, but your snowboarding stunts always terrified me, Tamo. I am a big spectating fan of certain sports, especially football and basketball.

But I wasn’t raised playing sports. I was six when we were moved to the camps at Slocan shortly after the war began. For over a year, there was no school because there was a shortage of trained teachers among the Japanese-Canadian population. So I spent all my time roaming the lakeshore and the mountains around the camps. It was very remote country, and in the 1970s and ’80s, it became a battleground over logging. The battles ended in 1983, when the mountains on the west side of Slocan Lake were declared Valhalla Provincial Park. For a kid without any school, you can imagine what a magical playground it was.

Once school started, I don’t remember there being any organized sports or even formal phys ed classes. During those years, few resources were available in such a remote place. When we moved to London, Ontario, in 1949, I was thirteen and Dad’s emphasis was on school. He had taught us that the way out of our poverty was hard work and education. When he was mad at me, his worst threat was to pull me out of school.

My cousins Art and Dan were my age and had lived in London during the war, so they were completely integrated into the community. They also played football and basketball and were excellent athletes. I knew nothing about those sports. One time, my cousins needed one more player for their touch football team and recruited me to play. I stood on the line without any idea what to do, so everyone ignored me. Consequently, no one bothered to cover me, and there I was, wide open. The quarterback threw the ball at me, and it bounced off my chest because I didn’t even know how to catch the torpedo-shaped ball. My cousins never asked me to play again.

Life for me was going to school and coming straight home after classes to do homework or chores around the house. On weekends and during summer holidays, I worked for Suzuki Brothers Construction, a company my uncles had established to build houses. (I was amazed to learn in my civics class that most of the kids didn’t work over the summer; they had holidays.) From shoveling gravel into cement mixers to hammering sheeting onto rafters to finish roofs, I loved working in construction. As always, every paycheck went straight to Mom.

Dad regarded playing sports as a frivolous activity because it meant time spent away from chores or work. He thought my cousins were wasting their time by playing sports and saw no irony in the fact that we did a lot of camping and fishing. So it never occurred to me to try out for any team. But at school, I would eat my lunch in the gym and watch kids play pickup basketball, which looked like a lot of fun. Eventually, I was tempted onto the court to shoot baskets and finally to play with a group of other nerds like me. Because I worked in construction, I was in great physical shape, and I found that I was coordinated too. Soon I started to play every noon hour after bolting down my lunch. Then I discovered volleyball and, finally, touch football. Now, as an old man looking back, I wish I had tried out for teams in high school, because I think I could have made them—but I didn’t have a clue how to play the games or what the rules were.

Activities like tennis, swimming, and walking are great and can be continued into old age. But I also think team sports teach vital lessons about getting along with others, cooperating, and working together toward a goal. And there’s also something very primal and tribal about identifying with a team—we get so bound up in its fate that we can be at the height of elation or in the depths of despair for days, even weeks, after the victory or the defeat of our team. Identifying with a team can also be a unifying factor, as we saw in the magnificent film Invictus, about Nelson Mandela and the South African rugby team. And as Mandela once said, “We can’t have a healthy mind without a healthy body.” I see now that Dad was dead wrong; playing sports is a vital part of both growing up and adulthood. The most important aspect of playing sports of any kind is that it keeps us active, makes us move our bodies, and that’s what they evolved to do. Our evolutionary roots go back to the plains of Africa, where we often had to respond to threats or opportunities by hitting, grabbing, running, or climbing. We had to be in condition to survive. And when you think about it, exercising the body is how its parts stay strong. I mean that’s what lifting weights is about, isn’t it?

We need to be active, so if there are sports that we enjoy doing, what better way to stay in shape? When you look at the profile of diseases of aging like diabetes, cancer, stroke, and Alzheimer’s, the one common factor that reduces the risk for each of them is exercise. I tell the proprietor of the gym I go to that I don’t go to bulk up and look good; rather, at my age, exercising is the best preventive medicine there is.

We don’t think about that reality when we build the world around us. It’s as if we want to eliminate every reminder of our biological needs. A car, for example, is a wonderful technology that enabled us to travel farther than we could by walking or even riding a horse. But we began to design our cities, not to do what was best for us, but to serve the automobile. Cars pushed bikes and public transit to the periphery so that our transportation system was primarily focused on serving private automobiles. In a time of cheap oil, we could use a car to take a quick trip to the grocer’s or visit a friend rather than walking or taking public transit. Not only have cars created pollution, they have made us less healthy. It may be convenient to drive a few blocks, but walking is a lot better us—and besides, what’s the hurry?


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COMMENTS:

  1. Gail Webb

    Reply

    I would love to be a winner of this contest! The reasons being, I am getting to be one
    of his oldest fans, I am just a couple of months shy of sixty.
    I watched his program The Nature of Things on a black and white TV.
    I am of Metis decent, the land and it’s flora and fauna are so interesting to me.
    I watched every program with absolute fascination.
    I also watched the doctor change from a young man, to the great leader he is today.
    I missed meeting him when he came to the Salteau band, 20 to 30 years ago, we were fighting the development
    of the site C dam.
    I did finally get to meet him in Edmonton. I apologized for to him, for being in the prison
    camps. He said that no Aboriginal should apologize for that. For a time we shared the same
    fate, but they let them out, we are still prisoners.
    I do think activity is important. I used to be a cowgirl! Worked at hard labor most of my life.
    But equally important is exercising your brain! I love to read! I would love to read these books!
    I will read books I have read before just to read! Love it, have to do it!

    Thankful and honored,
    Gail Webb

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