Editor’s note: Ray Glier is a veteran reporter and author who lives in Atlanta. His work has appeared in major news outlets, including The New York Times, Washington Post, ESPN, Los Angeles Times, MSNBC, Vice, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and many others. He has created Geezer Jock News, a website devoted to senior athletes. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
By Ray Glier for VolleyballMag.com
“I’m gifted with not being able to jump high.”
Who would say such a thing? Jumping high in athletics is supposed to be a gift from the gods. When you are able to soar, you make highlight-reel catches in football, breath-taking dunks in basketball, leaping catches over the outfield wall in baseball.
It must have been a golfer who said that.
It wasn’t. It was a volleyball player, an athlete who typically would kiss a hot iron to add an inch to his vertical.
But Boyd Haynes, 64, is not a typical volleyball player.
He is an orthopedic surgeon in Newport News, Virginia, and he plays on a very good volleyball team with an uproarious nickname, The Bonesetters. Haynes really did say the blasphemous thing about leaping ability being overrated.
There are some true revelations to be had when talking to an athlete who is an orthopedic surgeon and who also has been around a while.
Like this whopper of a paradox:
“Be careful what you wish for in great genetics. Your mom and dad might have blessed you with great leaping ability. But what goes up, comes down hard, especially for the sky walkers. They are not high jumpers forever. It takes a brutal toll on their knees.”
Haynes has been at his orthopedic business about 30 years, which is about the time he started playing volleyball. A very good soccer player growing up in Richmond, Virginia, he just happened into the net game — “looking for something to do” — after residency. The sport stuck … in a big way.
Haynes mixed in with younger guys, and they melded into the Bonesetters, which was first a short-lived enterprise of selling Bonesetters gear of T-shirts and the like. His practice demanded time, so he ditched selling gear but kept the name … and the team.
Three decades later, the core group of eight is still at it, and has taken its game to the National Senior Games and various state senior games. They Bonesetters are good, even with Haynes at 64 playing in tournaments against men who are 50.
In the National Senior Games last spring, the Bonesetters took bronze medals in the 50-54 age group in beach and indoor.
Enough of the youngsters had turned 55, so the team was able to enter the Maryland Senior Olympics last weekend. It took silver in the 55-59 division, losing in the final but achieving the goal of qualifying for the 2023 National Senior Games in Pittsburgh.
The Bonesetters also play in Open tournaments where age cannot be used as an excuse. They can handle it.
“We’re always the oldest team there,” Haynes said. “When you get to a certain level where the guys are super jumpers and athletes, it’s hard to compete with them on their level, but we can hold our own.”
You might be thinking the youngsters could ditch the ball-and-chain, the Geezer (Haynes), and go win.
Why would they? One, Haynes can play really well. His savvy on the court and athleticism beyond his age make him an asset. Two, the knowledge of how the body works and the fun and the personality he brings to the team — not to mention the name he created — makes him indispensable.
How many left-side hitters can offer this?
“Motion is life. If you don’t have the motion, you are going to damage something. What I’ve seen in the long haul of things is the better flexibility you have, the less injury patterns you have.
“I can fix ligaments and bones and arthritis and rotator cuffs. You can have the best rotator-cuff repair in the world, but if your arm does not move, it doesn’t matter. You got to have the motion that is commensurate with your repair. Everything’s about motion. Strength is important, but you’ve got to get motion first, and strength comes with time.
How cool is it to have a doc you can relate to on your side?
“If you could do one thing for yourself as you get older, maintain great flexibility of your joints because they always get stiff. If you’re watching a movie, you don’t just watch a movie. Stretch. You can be in your car and stretching your fingers out. You can take your arm and stretch it like this (he takes his left hand and reaches it behind his right shoulder).
“If I try to tell a patient you need you to stop your life, go to the gym for two hours, three times a week, nobody does that for me. But if I ask them to make stretching part of their life they will. Take every opportunity and stretch any muscle you can, and if you feel tightness, you should stretch that direction.”
There is one more reason Haynes is indispensable. He’s pretty good with a knife, or whatever it is they use in an operating room these days. He has operated on six of the eight Bonesetters with whom he typically plays. Rotator cuffs and meniscus tears are the usual calamities with volleyball players.
Haynes talked about how knee injuries happen.
“You’re not in the right place for a ball, and the ball comes hard to your left. Well, you might have to move sideways pretty quickly to get there. You may tear something doing that, so it’s all about understanding positioning and body mechanics.”
It’s awareness on the court that can prevent injuries. Haynes said if a teammate has an injury, or some recurring pain, he has the knowledge to tell him why it is occurring and how to prevent it.
“The player fixes it, not me,” he said.
You can get injured with improper technique. Everybody knows that. But do you know who to blame it on if you are a hitter?
That’s right. The setter.
“Do you know who your setter is and what he’s gonna do for you?,” Boyd says. “Most commonly with injuries, you are lunging and swinging your arm outside your body line, and that creates bad mechanics (rotator-cuff injury). Most commonly the issue is the setter sets the ball incorrectly.”
That’s harsh, Doc. He waits a moment as I catch up. Then he smiles.
Haynes is a doc so, of course, he has a needle. It is extra-long. It is not for administering pain relief. It is for administering fun.
“I’d be a better player if I had a better setter,” he said with another dig at the injury-causing setter.
You want me to put that in the story?
“Yeah, yeah,” Haynes said.
Then he smiles wide again. The needle is aimed at Mike Mather, the setter, an accomplished player and an even better high-school coach in Charlottesville, Virginia. Haynes might be the soul of the team, but Mather is part of the brain trust.
This is how the Bonesetters stay loose. Nicknames are a great way to build chemistry, but so are jibes, the ones followed by laughs, not scowls.
It is because he is having fun, not to mention the coaching and savvy and enthusiasm, that Haynes can compete with these younger players. He knows he has lost a step. So he bears down on the opponent in warm-ups and early in a match looking for ways to exploit weaknesses.
“I constantly look to try to improve the mental game because it’s pretty hard to improve the physical game when you get older, and I’ve never been a true workout guy,” Haynes said. “I’m always trying to think through the game. It’s like my surgeries. How can I improve?”
Here is the big deal about volleyball: It is exercise without the grind.
“I like exercise for sport, but I don’t like exercise just to exercise,” Boyd said. “Some guys love doing that. I’m not that kind of guy. I could play volleyball all day long. I’m good with that. But I don’t want to go to the gym all day long.”
The enthusiasm for the game drives the Bonesetters after 30 years. They have built a chemistry that is reflected in their medal-winning. They can also stay on the court, in one piece, because the Geezer Jock Doc is watching out for them.