My old John Deere


I’m not a fan of country music but there’s a bit of country music lore that’s loosely relevant to my recent training exploits.

Legendary country singer George Jones was known as an enthusiastic consumer of “adult beverages.” In fact, he was such an incorrigible booze hound that his wife once hid the keys to all his vehicles so he couldn’t drive to a liquor store or bar. But wily old Jonesy still made his escape after noticing a key dangling from the ignition of his old John Deere riding mower. This incident and more subsequent ones became well known in country music circles and were further immortalized in Vince Gill’s 1993 song One More Last Chance, which featured the line, “but she forgot about my old John Deere.”

How this relates to me is that I think I may have bested old Jonesy when it comes to unconventional usage of a John Deere riding mower.

You see, by about the midway point of this off-season I got my leg strength up to the point that I could start pursuing serious speed work. This is an endeavour that hockey players and other athletes typically pursue through the pushing or pulling of heavy objects, which develops the legs for explosive bursts of going real fast. An example of such training can be seen in this video, which shows NHLer Martin St. Louis engaging in a mind-blowing display of sled hauling (pertinent bit starts at :40 of the video).

As a lowly beer leaguer, I don’t have access to the types of resistance mechanisms that the pros use, so I’ve had to improvise.

Earlier this off-season I experimented with sprinting up the grassy hill that lies next to our house. The scheme didn’t take root because the uneven terrain was face-plantingly treacherous after dark, which is when I usually do my training.

A couple of times (during daylight hours) I loaded one or both of my kids into a wagon and pushed it as fast as I could up our sloped driveway, with the oldest kid (age 7) in charge of steering the wagon. This method didn’t take off either, as the gravel driveway provided rather poor traction and was therefore unsuitable for fast starts. Also, once the kids realized that I wasn’t really doing the exercise for their enjoyment, they stopped agreeing to participate.

Another time I loaded a wheelbarrow with bags of dirt and sprinted it up our driveway a few times. Again, traction was a serious drawback to the scheme.

As all these trials and errors were taking place, I often eyed the old John Deere SX-95 riding mower that was sitting innocently in front of our garage. I knew the thing was heavy and difficult to push because I’d experienced these facts many times in the course of mowing our wild environs. So one night I decided to accomplish my speed work by pushing the mower up our driveway.

It was a decent system. I’d push the mower up the slope for about 10 seconds then let it roll back down into position for the next rep. But again the one problem was traction on the gravel driveway. Still, I felt that the mower was the right tool; I just needed to match it with the right location.

I knew that solid traction and a relatively level surface were available on the paved road of our subdivision, but even I wasn’t willing to endure the humiliation that would occur when a neighbour came driving along as I was pushing the mower down the road after dark. Such a meeting would be inevitable and would most certainly yield a healthy dose of slackjawed gawking and possibly even force me into offering some sort of explanation. What could I possibly say?

“Hey neighbour! What’s that? Oh, just taking old JD here out for a spot of exercise! Tootle-loo!”

I don’t think so.

Fashion risk

That left our front lawn as the only remaining option. It has the benefit of being quite flat and it’s also sheltered from the view of passersby. I knew there would be a traction issue here too as the grass is always damp and slick during my workout times. The best solution would have been some form of cleated shoes like those used for soccer, football or baseball, but I don’t have any of those and I’m too cheap to buy some just for one exercise.

So once again I made do with what I have. I set off wearing the most aggressively treaded footwear I own – a pair of green rubber oilfield boots that are still caked with bitumen stains collected on drilling rigs throughout Western Canada more than a decade ago. Imagine that look with cutoff shorts and pasty poultry legs – now that’s a three-alarm fashion faux pas! But like I’ve said many times, hockey training ain’t no fashion show.

Anyway, back and forth I went, grunting the 400-pound mower in a bouncing, clattering trajectory across our front lawn, which proved to be much rougher than it appears.

But the scheme worked. By holding onto the steering wheel and pushing the mower backwards, I was able to keep it on course while providing my legs with a burningly productive workout.

So, just like Vince Gill’s song of more than 20 years ago, my ode to the old John Deere has proven to be a hit and has achieved regular rotation ... in my workout schedule that is.