I am trying to do more things out of my comfort zone in 2019, and two recent events proved to be much more uncomfortable than usual.

But despite jumping into a frozen lake one day and feeling old and slow in front of a crowd of people I didn’t know on another day, everything turned out very well. Let me explain.

First, I was somehow signed up to play in a charity basketball game that was expertly organized by my friend Tamika Williams. The event was part of the MLK Week activities, and I was proud to be involved.

When I arrived to warm up with the other players, though, I found that I was old enough to be a parent to most of them. It took me a little longer than them to warm up, and I made sure to mention that the ball slipped out of my hands whenever I missed a shot. In addition, I honestly thought I hurt my back once when I was getting ready.

I took a shot and then saw it bounce far to the side, so I quickly pivoted to my left to run after it and my back said, “Are you sure you want to go left?”

After a few stretches and internal pep talks, though, I was ready for the game to begin. The men and women on both teams were very good, and they were all much faster and better than me. I enjoyed watching them from the bench (thankfully), and also liked the opportunity to talk with them and be a part of their group, even though I didn’t know what they were talking about half of the time.

WHEN I GOT INTO THE GAME the first time, I proudly got a rebound and then passed the ball quickly before I could dribble it off of my foot.

“Just don’t fall down,” I thought to myself.

Also right away, I found myself guarding a very quick and good player on the other team. One of his teammates came up to set a screen on me to help him get around me, and the guard casually waved off the screen. I told his teammate, “I don’t think he needs a screen to get around me,” but the player very nicely passed the ball instead of running past me.

In the second half, I was in again and jumped up to get a rebound and definitely knocked the ball out of bounds.

“That’s out on me,” I said to the referee, who ignored me and awarded the ball to my team. And while I wanted to be honest in the charity game, I also wanted to win, so I accepted the charitable call and quickly inbounded the ball.

The second half moved rapidly and both teams battled valiantly while I tried not to get injured or embarrass myself. Near the end of the game, I subbed back in when my team had a comfortable lead.

I was concentrating once again on not falling over, when the ball came to me and I heard my whole team yelling for me to shoot.

“That doesn’t seem right,” I thought to myself, so I passed the ball to a much better shooter.

A short time later, though, I saw my opportunity. One of my teammates was shooting from the left side of the court, and I noticed there was a lane open on the right where I could get a rebound. I quickly cut into the lane (more like strolled) and got there just in time for the rebound. I caught the ball cleanly, put it back up quickly and missed the easy shot.

I was embarrassed and a little mad at myself, but then realized that I had heard my teammates yelling for me to take the shot. And while I didn’t get any more opportunities to shoot in the game, after the contest ended several of my teammates came up to me and told me how much they were hoping my shot would go in and how happy they were that I had played.

They may have just been so nice because I reminded them of their grandparents, but I didn’t care because I was so moved that they were cheering for me. I was also thrilled that I had the opportunity to play with them for a while and get to know them a little.

JUST TWO DAYS LATER, I was with another group of people I didn’t know as one of my friends invited me to take part in a polar plunge type activity at Lake Snowden. I had never done this before, but it was for a great cause so I decided to get involved.

I should point out that I hate cold water and don’t even really like swimming, so I was not super excited about running into a lake on a cold Saturday morning.

The only person I knew was the “friend” who invited me, but it turned out once again that the whole group was filled with extremely nice people. Sure, they may have been slightly crazy for volunteering to run into the icy lake, but they were all in good spirits.

When we ran in, my friend took off ahead of me, and I saw him dive under the water smoothly. I ran in (more like strolled) for several steps until I realized my legs were shockingly cold and didn’t want to move. I was not expecting that, but I kept trying to move deeper into the water while also attempting not to cry.

“Just don’t fall down,” I thought to myself again.

Soon, though, I made it into the water up to my neck, turned around and slowly inched out of the water back to the freezing-cold beach where I continued to be miserable. At the same time, though, there were some really neat moments where people I didn't know congratulated me for running into the water, and I did the same for them.

After changing into warm clothes, it only took a few days to feel somewhat comfortable again, and I'm happy that I was able to help out and be a part of the event. 

LOOKING BACK ON BOTH experiences, I'm a little disappointed that I didn’t score or dunk my head under the water as I originally planned. At the same time, though, both events proved to be a lot more fun and memorable that I had thought possible.

I had a fun time with my friend at the lake, I met some cool (literally) people willing to do something crazy for charity, I had the opportunity to play basketball with men and women all much better than I am, I got to know several of the players, and I had these really meaningful moments when complete strangers were cheering for me and we were all supporting each other.

It all meant a great deal to me, and I'm immensely happy and thankful that I stepped out of my comfort zone, enjoyed some new experiences and didn't fall down.

Nick Claussen is a freelance writer with too much time on his hands. To read more of his work, please visit nickclaussen.com

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