I am not a professional athlete.
You would think I would've determined this a long time ago. I did. I swear. It's why I cover professional athletes for a living.
But I'm a part of the Michael Jordan Generation in which pretty much every '80s baby wanted to "Be Like Mike" – even if we were never going to be taller than six feet. So, for a long time, I thought I would be a pro athlete. Why not?
My days of playing serious basketball ended in college, though. Two right knee surgeries, including an ACL reconstruction, and a Grade 3 ankle sprain were enough to tell me those days needed to come to an end.
So, in the last 10 years, golf has become my outlet for competition. I'm passionate about it, somewhat good at it and I'm more than happy calling myself a "golfer" over anything else. Now, I would still shoot around at the Y or go out and toss the football around with friends, but nothing too serious. Too old for that mess.
Despite such precautions, I tore the ACL in my left knee on Nov. 22.
This is where the fact that I am not a professional athlete really hit home. I had to wait out the weekend to see my primary care on Nov. 26, but only because there was a last minute cancellation and they were able to get me in. I then had to wait until Tuesday to see the orthopedic surgeon and get a full diagnosis.
Now, we have to wait to see when I may be able to have surgery – which includes balancing not only his time, but the whole other issue of managing cost. Can I get in all of the necessary treatments and tests before Dec. 31 when the 2012 deductibles expire, or should I wait until 2013 altogether?
Needless to say, those who make a living playing sports don't have such worries.
Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson tore his ACL and MCL on Dec. 24. He had surgery on New Year's Eve. He returned to practice on Aug. 12 – about 7 ½ months out of surgery – and started Week 1 of the NFL season on Sept. 9.
On or about April 28, Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs tore his Achilles tendon. He had surgery in early May, and reports suggested an 11-month recovery time to get back on the field. He returned to practice on Oct. 17 – 5 ½ months out – and played against the Houston Texans on Oct. 21.
It's a little different in basketball. Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose tore his ACL on April 28. Conservative estimates suggest Rose may be deemed worthy of NBA action in the middle of February – over nine months later – but reports are now leaking that he could be practicing soon.
These guys don't have the same problem we do when it comes to making sure all the paperwork is in order just to see a doctor, or even the financial worries of paying for visits, surgeries and rehab. But – and this is the biggest difference – their bodies are their livelihood. And, especially in football, they are repaired just to be damaged again.
Then, later in life, many athletes must pay out of pocket for their own health insurance, numbers that can be astronomical considering all of their pre-existing conditions. As we learn about more and more, the aftermath of a lifetime of serious pounding on the joints, tendons and muscles is pretty harsh.
In my case, I had my right ACL rebuilt in 1998 (I was a high jumper and basketball player back in my glory days) and it's been solid as a rock ever since and I have no real lingering pain. I anticipate that once this left ACL is reconstructed, I'll be good for as long as I need it to be.
My days of being a hardcore athlete are over. They have been for a while, actually. All I need is to be able to walk a golf course, get through the golf ball – and maybe run around a bit to play some catch.
While I may have to be inconvenienced by paperwork and appointments and dealing with insurance issues, my long-term outlook is good. I'll be able to do the things I have to do, as well as the things I want to do. It may not happen as quickly as I'd like, but that's not a bad trade-off.
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.