Sucking Wind

“Are you sucking wind?”

This question floated out of the south Georgia night sky while I lay flat on my back in the end zone, chest heaving within the confines of my shoulder pads, trying to focus on the languid laps of the moths swimming through the humid air above my head. The stadium lights caught their wings with an iridescence that seemed almost blue against the silky blackness of the starless night. Weren’t moths brown?

Coach Durden’s face loomed into view, pasty white with splotches of red just beginning to dawn in his cheeks. How could a coach be so pale?

“Are you sucking wind, Peary?”

Struggling to sit up, I blinked and tried to orient myself. Behind Coach, I could see our halfback, Michael Fincher, pacing in the background, breathing heavily with his hands on his hips, but still on his feet. The whole team had gathered in the end zone to take a knee for our halftime huddle. Away games were the worst. Not even a locker room to hide my exhaustion in. Apparently, I was the only player using this brief respite to stretch out prostrate on the grass.

As a 15-year old sophomore with barely 150 pounds strapped to my six foot skeleton, I certainly wasn’t Coach’s first choice for fullback or linebacker. But this sad spectacle of a sporting event was something called a ‘freshman-sophomore scrimmage’, a game where schools suit up eleven boys with more limbs than sense and send them into the field of battle. Unfortunately, my school had barely eleven boys per grade, so I had been drafted in a coercive collusion between the coach and my father. I would have rather been curled up with a good book on a Friday night, but that was not to be my fate.

Hence, the question, “Are you sucking wind, Peary?”

To be honest, I was having trouble understanding the nature of his question. In my defense, we were not South Georgia natives. My father was from Boston, my mother from Nebraska. Although I had been raised locally, I did not spend much time with the locals. My father had been in the military, my mother was a teacher, and we spent most of our free time reading books and listening to National Public Radio. Although this was my third year playing football for this school, I had yet to puzzle out why we had to go 10 yards in order to get a first down. My parents didn’t watch TV and I think the coach had either skipped that part in practice (assuming all red-blooded boys lived and breathed football) or, possibly, I may not been paying attention. I couldn’t be sure.

So, back to my coach, who was by now standing over me, spittle flecking his lips. “Well, are you, boy?! Are you sucking wind?”

Although I couldn’t have articulated this in the moment, I instinctively felt that asking him what this colorful colloquialism meant would have probably pointed out our cultural differences which might not have gone well for me. So I opted for the 50/50 chance of getting the question right by guessing at the answer he wanted, and chose, “Yes, Coach!”

This proved to be the wrong answer.

I say ‘wrong’, but it turned out to be truthful although I didn’t know it at the time. If you aren’t familiar with this local idiom either, you might not know that ‘sucking wind’ means “to be out of breath due to lack of physical conditioning (usually a pejorative reflection upon the subject’s fitness and possibly character)”.

So, when I truthfully answered that yes, I was out of breath, my honesty seemed to snap a circuit in my coach’s brain. He blinked with a sudden jerk of his head and then his eyes widened as his face deepened into a beet red. “What did you say?”

Despite my glucose-deprived brain, I was able to pick up on these context clues and realize I had chosen poorly. “I mean, no, Coach. I mean…” And now, I decided to go with humility. “I mean, I don’t really know what ‘sucking wind’ means.” This didn’t help.

He sputtered and stuttered and searched for words between gritted teeth. I don’t remember what his exact answer was but it went something along the lines of, “Are you inexcusably tired, you worthless piece of cow dung?”

I immediately felt a flood of relief. Why, yes! Yes, I was tired. I think part of me had wondered if he was asking if I was injured – obviously shamefully injured – I was picturing a hole in my lung where I was sucking wind incorrectly (I’m not sure how that would have been my fault, but I could tell the coach thought I was doing something wrong).

But out loud, I said, “Oh, no, Coach. I’m not tired,” I lied. I’m just laying on my back pouring sweat and heaving for breath for no reason.

And yet, I could tell there was something wrong with me being tired, I just couldn’t puzzle out what that was. If I could be allowed to hypothetically explore my coach’s perspective, I would guess that he was as flummoxed as I was. I had shown up to all the practices. I did wind sprints with the other players. He knew I wasn’t the most athletic kid in school, but neither was I the least gifted.

Perhaps, he suspected I had stayed up all night or gone out drinking (or some other shenanigans that a 15-year old might be guilty of). In truth, however, I had gone to bed at my normal time, probably falling asleep with a book about dragons or knights clasped in my unconscious hands. I was one of those sheltered children who did not drink in high school (other than that one night when a friend of mine and I raided my parents’ liquor cabinet and mixed the contents of every bottle we could find into one horrendous drink and got very, very sick, warning me off alcohol for years to come).

The coach glared at me, his right eyelid quivering as though in indecision. Was I lying or just an idiot? Was I making a fool of him or incredibly ignorant? Either way, my prostrate form was a disgrace to the team and he shook his head in disgust. “Get up and take a knee! You don’t see anyone else on their back, do you?”

As I struggled to my knees, I looked around and saw that this was true. There were many ruddy, sweaty faces staring at me, but the other players had managed to stay upright, on one knee, leaning on their helmets with their opposite hand. I hadn’t bothered to check the social etiquette for halftime breaks in public before I had collapsed gratefully on my back. One of many of the social faux pas I committed in team sports.

But this begged the question, was their something wrong with me? Why had everyone else been able to take a knee when I was laid out flat? Were they in better shape? Were they upright out of sheer will or discipline or observance of social norms? We had gone to the same football practices. I had run the same number of laps they had. I appeared to be in the same shape. But yet they somehow had more stamina or energy or something. What was it? How did they have it and I didn’t?

Was there something wrong with me?


That is the question I am trying to answer in this book.

According to my doctors, I did not have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, anemia, or diabetes, and yet neither did I have the same energy as others. Was there some other root cause? Or many causes? How could I find out?

As I grew older, I would witness my father bed-ridden for years with fatigue and, soon after, see my four-year old with dark rings under his eyes. Something was going on with our family, but none of our doctors knew what.

After being unable to find any comprehensive books on energy, I decided to try to research this myself. I would research the causes of energy, how our bodies turn air, water, and food into energy, and how we restore our energy. I would experiment on myself and try to share those lessons with my father and son. And I would interview experts, share my information with an online community here, and eventually try to publish a book to help others with their energy problems.

Along the way, I would hopefully improve my own energy, quality of life, role as a good son and loving father, and (much to my wife’s delight) my productivity at home and at work.

And, somewhat surprisingly, I would end up losing weight and reducing my craving for certain food.

But first, the question: was there something wrong with me?

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