Butterflies Before Labor Day

Labor Day is only a few days away. I know this because a few days ago, I got that weird, jumping feeling in the pit of my stomach commonly referred to as “the butterflies.” Almost all fall athletes whether its football, field hockey, or even soccer have come down with their version of “the butterflies” at some point in their athletic careers. Degrees of the affliction can range from mild to, as is my case, severe.

Typically striking in mid-August, it is a fluttering in the stomach that can keep a person from eating for days. It also makes it almost impossible to sleep or even sit still. Common symptoms include the constant need to be in motion and dreams involving MVP honors and championships.

I am sure winter and spring season athletes can also be afflicted with this disease but there is something special about the Fall Sport Butterflies. Perhaps it is the combination of sports and school starting or perhaps it is because one’s summer of rest and carefree living is coming to an end. Either way, that fluttering in my stomach is more reliable then a calendar. While I was afflicted in high school, it was in college that I became “addicted to the affliction.”

At my New England small college (I can say that literally. Those four words make up the first four letters of the athletic conference, NESCAC), football preseason began the Thursday before Labor Day weekend and ran for about 10 days. Compared to high school, camp began two weeks later in college so in my freshman year; the “butterflies” came early. Desperate for release, “the butterflies” had my body shaking so much in anticipation that I could barely fill out all my paperwork the first day

“The butterflies” would always arrive at night. There would be a change in the air. Air conditioners on the entire street would sit in silence. I would open my window for the cool air which no longer had that summer smell of heat and thickness. Instead a wet softness would gently roll in through my window. It was the type of air that you knee would a morning dew on the practice field. The same dew that would soak your pants through during morning stretches not two weeks later. Sleep would come easily for the last time in many months.

I would awake early with enough energy to pass fifty fitness tests. If you could get me to sit at the table for more than five minutes, it would be a miracle. I was no longer hungry with that “drink milk, eat anything” off season attitude as I tried to pack on as many pounds as possible before camp. I had gathered as much clay as possible and now it was time to sculpt that clay into a superhuman football machine. Food was now for sustenance, strength, and survival. Everywhere I went I had a large Gatorade bottle at my side. My thought was that if I drank enough now, I wouldn’t be too dehydrated during camp. (If you haven’t guessed yet, I wasn’t pre-med.) Food became high protein, and very plain. Chili, though delicious, does not help you when running for hours.

I would stop by the high school each morning to run. That first morning after the arrival of the “butterflies” I will swear every one of my sixth senses had been enhanced. I could smell that dewy grass while I stretched. It’s more than just the freshly cut grass of summer. There is an essence of sweaty men in battle that must be permanently stained into the field of battle. That morning’s workout would be the first of many where I would try to control my affliction and fail. A common side effect of the butterflies is the growing need to run everywhere and run much faster than one should when attempting to go long distances. While my lungs would tire, my legs would not and that night they would twitch and kick while I dreamed of touchdowns and glory.

This is where “butterflies” becomes an affliction not a blessing. After one week of this, I am absolutely exhausted from lack of sleep and the constant need to run. All that water drinking has been able to keep me hydrated about an hour of practice and my enhanced sense of smell can now allow me to appreciate a room without windows filled with more than 75 men’s sweaty, dirty clothing and equipment.

For myself and others like me, there are some ways to combat “butterflies”. For hydration, my three roommates and I would take our Ford Ranger to Costco and buy as many cases of Gatorade as we could possibly fit in the truck. To help us sleep, my roommates would watch Disney cartoons (I highly recommend The Emperor’s New Groove, hilarious). I can’t sleep during movies but classical selections from the soundtracks to Gladiator, Glory, Braveheart, and of course, The Last of the Mohicans could get my body to stop twitching. As for the smell, get used to it.

The “butterflies” aren’t all bad either. When it comes to the fourth quarter of the game, that need to still run everywhere always comes in handy. And when the whistle blows and you can finally release those butterflies and play, whether its practice or a game, there is no better feeling. I should know. My final snap will have been three Labor Days past come this Monday and even though I have no training camp this fall, I still have “the butterflies.”

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