My dad was the best pool player I ever saw — and I’ve seen a lot of them in my day, having spent 11 years on the road with a touring band, which included many long nights in barrooms with pool tables on the premises.
My dad played snooker, a game “regular” to pool like chess is to checkers; both are played on similar surfaces (a billiards table with six pockets and a flat board with 64 squares of alternating colors), but snooker and chess require considerably more skill, tact and knowledge.
We had a snooker table in our basement when I was growing up: a classic 1917 Brunswick, solid oak, 2-inch thick slate in three sections, knitted pockets and perfectly cushioned rails. It was there I learned the game, and marveled at witnessing the delicate touch and utter control my father had over the spin, movement and placement of the balls.
He could make the cue ball come backward, follow forward, or go right or left after making contact. He could attack it aggressively from the top to make it go around a ball directly in front of it; and he could make it jump over other balls. My dad was the master of the "three-bank shots," and I never once saw him get snookered (unable to make contact with a target ball because of how it was blocked by other balls.)
About the time I was in eighth grade, he started missing shots, and he always blamed it, not on miscalculation or execution, but on his eyesight. I get it, now. It’s the same with me and my great skill of catching a thrown ball. My hands are still good enough, it’s my eyes that aren’t. So, when I came across the headline today that said “Exercise can slow or prevent common causes of vision loss,” I read through the article.
It said the key contributor to macular degeneration, which is the most common cause of vision loss for people over 60, is an overgrowth of blood cells on the eye. According to researchers at Virginia School of Medicine, a small amount of regular exercise can reduce the harmful overgrowth by 45%.
To me, it’s no great revelation that exercise would have a positive effect on a health-related issue, even if it’s eye health. What was different, though, about this study was that they quantified the effects of exercise on deteriorating vision. Previous studies only used interviews with subjects to determine how much they exercised. I’ve always thought experiments that relied on people to report their own behaviors were fundamentally flawed because people are adept at deceiving themselves and not wanting to reveal their shortcomings or true behaviors.
Perhaps it was just a device to help sell the study, but the lead investigator said his personal dislike for exercising is so great that he was actually hoping to prove physical activity doesn’t make much of a difference when it comes to macular degeneration.
But the evidence was indisputable.
I guess that’s the difference between a scientist and a dogmatist; the one adjusts their beliefs to fit the evidence, the other adjusts the evidence to fit their beliefs.
The problem is, as elderly people progress through vision loss, they become less comfortable and confident moving around, even those who previously had been quite active. I saw it happen with my father, who went blind a dozen years before he died, due to complications from diabetes. The worse his eyesight got, the less he moved. The less he moved, the worse his eyes … and legs and back got. The one fed the other, and it went in both directions, which is why the researchers are now looking to develop a medication or method that can impart the same benefits as exercise.
It may have been the overgrowth of blood cells that caused my dad’s vision to deteriorate, but it was his inability to accept it and the repeated attempts to clear away the overgrowth that eventually killed his eyes and left him in the dark.
But when he could see, boy, could he play pool.
Ron Colone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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